Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Stirrings of Guilt

It was my brother’s birthday yesterday. I managed to completely forget this phenomenon, but it is not the forgetting that makes me feel guilty.

I would call my brother the black sheep of the family, but upon consideration I think that the phrase “black sheep” indicates someone who has chosen a life path which conflicts with family mores. I’m not convinced that my brother can be considered to have chosen a life path so much as having failed to get on a life path at all.

The guilt comes from the fact that it is so easy to forget my brother entirely; to block the fact that I even have a brother out of my daily mind. And from the fact that I don’t miss him. For so many years my every contact with my brother has come at a time when my brother is in need; in need of money, in need of a place to stay, a new winter coat after foolishly losing the old one. Note that none of my brother’s neediness takes an emotional form.

My parents tell me stories of how excited I was to be getting a new baby brother, how I was so taken with the two and a half year old that came into our lives when I was three and a half.

Sadly, I have a pathetic memory. I have only the untidiest of fragments from times before I was eight or nine years old. What I remember about my childhood experiences with my brother was the times when we were twelve and thirteen; expected to be old enough to get ourselves off to school successfully after our parents left for work. In those few minutes between the departure of the parental units and our departure for the bus stop, we heaped physical and verbal abuse on each other without any restraint.

To my shame, I must note that the physical fighting stopped after we moved to Hong Kong, a fact which I attribute to my brother’s continued growth for years past the time when, at twelve years old, my height stopped dead.

One of the very few fond memories I have of my brother is of an occasion when we were visiting our grandparents’ cottage at Lake Ena. The cottage was on a tiny island in the middle of the lake, with no means of departure or arrival save a boat. (Technically I suppose that a very strong swimmer might have been able to swim the distance, but as it took at least ten minutes travel while whipping along in a motorboat, my brother and I were never at risk of attempting the feat). Two kids trapped alone on an island with only grownups for company; though we didn’t necessary hang out much during the day, the nights were different. We’d talk our way through the initial shock of going to bed in an unfamiliar cabin that made unexpecting creaking and thumping noises, and then I’d sing my brother to sleep.

I have traditionally had the habit of staying awake until everyone else has fallen asleep before trying to sleep myself. This is a habit that I’ve broken after a couple of relationships; there’s nothing like sharing a bed with an insomniac night after night to convince a person that they’d better get their sleep while they can.

But I’m not sure I ever really knew my brother on any kind of emotional level. And years of being the sole pipeline to the bank of Mom and Dad have soured me on any thoughts of having a relationship with my brother.

I think it is only sensible to disconnect from someone who consistently causes me pain and distress; but I can’t help feeling guilty for having abandoned my brother in this fashion.

As for birthday wishes, I can only hope that my brother gets lucky enough to find himself on a path to a comfortable life. It seems clear that he will not be searching out that path for himself.


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