My second-oldest brother David was just kind of strange growing up. Always. I don't remember really ever hanging out with him. I mean, I'm not sure we ever even had a conversation, even in that awkward, half-mumbled sibling way. Once my brothers convinced me to drink some baking vanilla based on the smell, and then laughed uproariously at my gagging reaction, and I'm pretty sure he was behind that scheme. That's my clearest memory of him.
Because another brother was already using me as his whipping post, I needed someone to take my anger out on, and somehow David fit the bill. I used to mock him for repeating funny punchlines of commercials. It drove me crazy as he laughed, mouth full of popcorn or saltine crackers, shaking his head, slapping his knee, saying "oh man..." followed by whatever he'd found so hilarious.
I'd snap "Um, we just
HEARD that, you don't have to REPEAT it!" then roll my eyes, kick out my hip and huff as if he'd just dumped a can of tomato paste down my favorite peach-colored pastel sweater.
Since moving to California over 14 years ago, I've taken the time to dust off the bones that my family kept stored in closets during my childhood. When preparing for a particularly strained visit home, I had to call David to arrange a family barbeque. Gone were the days when I'd visit each family individually, and David had offered to host a cookout in honor of my visit. We got to talking. We talked for over an hour. I felt like I was getting to know a stranger for the first time, yet we had a shared history, and he offered to tell me everything he knew about anything I wanted answers to. "You can ask me once," he said. "And I'll tell you once. After that, no more."
I had a great time at his home. My son got to play with goats and dogs, I got to see my growing nieces and nephews, and I was distracted enough to avoid the people I didn't feel like making more than minimal small talk with.
After everyone else had left, David and I sat in his wood-paneled dining room, and I knew the time had come to ask my questions. But I didn't. Instead we talked about education, ours (very poor) and those of our children (much better, but still what you make of it). We talked about California versus Michigan ("you couldn't pay me to visit California! You get mugged just walking down the street, no thank you!"). Before I knew it my husband and David's wife were coming back into the house after having given us some time alone, and I was just as in the dark about the past as I'd been when I arrived. I'd missed my chance. But I realized I was afraid of whatever it was he'd have told me. I'd harbored enough loss and disappointment in my family already, and something told me only more would come if I'd ventured further down that path. I chose to be thankful for this unexpected rediscovery of a brother, and to leave it at that.
I've talked to David more in the past 5 years than any other time
in our lives, and that's only been for about a total of 6 hours. I
like him well enough. He's a nice guy, he means well. Something tells me he won't be visiting me in California any time soon, though. And that's probably for the best - I'd feel terribly guilty when he got mugged...walking down the streets of Wine Country.