Princess: O Brother, where art thou?
So my brother left last week to go back to Costa Rica, where he has been living for the past 10 years.
Daniel came home two months ago to have neck surgery. He’s suffered from neck pain for as long as I can remember, which is ironic because he’s always been a pain in the neck. OK, bad joke. But he is my little brother, so I have the tendency not to take him seriously. I’ll often accuse him of overreacting or being a bit of a hypochondriac because he is constantly riddled by these ailments I don’t understand.
“You should go to yoga,” I always say. “You could probably fix that in yoga.”
Little did I know the poor kid actually had a herniated and ruptured disk, evident even to me on the MRI that showed a disturbing bulge in his neck. It reminded me of the time my friend Eric said he couldn’t breathe after shoulder surgery and I said, “You’re probably just having an anxiety attack,” when it turned out he actually had a blood clot and had to be rushed to the emergency room.
I don’t know where this arrogance comes from considering I am one of the most neurotic people I know when it comes to health issues. I’ll travel with a sizable stash of prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies for just about everything from allergies to urinary-tract infections. But in the end, I never use any of it and almost always end up giving it to someone else who needs it. Let’s just say I’m sick with worry more than anything else.
Maybe that’s why I resent that quality so much in my brother. I think the hardest part about being a sibling is recognizing things in the other person you don’t like about yourself: genetic things, qualities that are hardwired and can’t be changed or fixed.
Just the other day, I was giving Daniel a hard time because he was complaining about how his knees hurt after he took a bike ride.
“That shouldn’t happen,” I said. “You probably just need to raise your seat.”
He rolled his eyes, totally irritated.
“Suddenly you have all the answers,” he retorted. “God, you’re so annoying. You’re just like Mom.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard “You’re just like Mom,” which is a nice way to insult two people in one fell swoop.
The truth is, I am just like my mother, a fact my husband hasn’t let escape me. He loves to call me out when I start my sentence with the word, “No,” as in, “No, that isn’t how it is; it’s this way.” My mom is famous for her penchant to argue for argument’s sake.
You’ll say, “I like that pink sweater,” and she’ll go, “No, it’s not pink. It’s mauve.”
I agree these are annoying traits, but what are you going to do?
Once, my brother went so far as to accuse me of sneezing like my mom. She makes a huge production out of sneezing. I agree that her sneezes are also unpleasant-sounding. There’s no demure “ah-choo.” Instead, it sounds like a freakishly large cat coughing up a hairball. It sounds more like “wah-HUH” and continues to grate on you because she is prone to sneezing in threes. I will actually make an effort to force that little “choo” onto the ends of my sneezes so I don’t sound like that.
While Daniel and I will always have those sibling ties, we have grown apart over the past several years. I don’t know how he ended up living in a foreign country, but he did. And he stayed. And the longer he’s lived there, the deeper he’s gone into a culture I know but don’t totally understand. Part of it is he’s just far away and is totally disconnected from my day-to-day life. But part of it is something more.
As kids, I was almost seven years older than he was, so we had nothing to fight about. He worshiped me because I was a pretty cool older sister. I taught him to drive when he was 10 and I was 16. He taught me how to snowboard when he was 14 and I was 20. He gave me his old board and had written messages all over it in a Sharpie pen, like “Best friends forever” and “Bro and sis.”
I was so bad at snowboarding at first that my dad pulled me aside and said, “Are you doing this for your brother?”
But eventually I landed a job as an editor at a major snowboarding magazine and ended up traveling the world with the pros. I had a boss who was cool enough to let me bring my little brother on a trip to Austria and Switzerland once, a fact I still find hard to believe. It was the trip of a lifetime for both of us.
I remember the first time Daniel ever left the country was on a whirlwind trip we booked at the last minute to Sayulita, Mexico.
“That’s so weird how all the towns here are called Salida,” he said as we rode the bus on the highway from Puerto Vallarta.
“No, silly. That means ‘exit’ in Spanish,” I said.
Now he’s totally fluent in Spanish, doing business deals over the phone and rambling away to the point where he sometimes forgets words in English. He’s street-savvy and knows a lot about traveling in Central America. He loves being single and says he doesn’t want to get married or have kids, which I accept as long as it makes him happy, even if it does make me kind of sad.
But this time, he emailed me as soon as he got home.
“I miss Colorado,” he wrote. “I miss my family.”
It hit me that maybe the pain in the neck had been fixed. And maybe, just maybe, I’d get my baby brother back.
The Princess is excited for fall. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tom Fridstein promises to act in the community’s best interest as the newest member of Town Council.