15 January 2008


If you have an older sibling, then you have someone in your life who has known you for as long as you have known yourself. (This becomes more acutely evident when both of your parents are gone.) Furthermore, if you're lucky as I was, your older sibling is your hero.

Youngers everywhere, reminisce with me. Remember that feeling when you were little, and your sib got some awesome toy or other that had pieces you'd probably choke on, or instructions you couldn't comprehend--and you stood alongside breathing that little-kid refrain, "Cooool..." ? Remember trailing after your sib on some mundane errand and copying his stance, his gait, his very bearing? After that, every time your sib wanted to do something or go out, you'd pipe up with those words you had compressed into an urgent tumble: "CanIgotoo?" When your sib was in the room, you worked triple-time to make him laugh. (Really, for a while there I was like his personal clown.) When your sib wasn't in the room, you picked up some more-expensive-than-your-toys possession and imagined yourself old enough to do whatever this object did. In my hand, the tactile memory is of painstakingly constructed gray battleships, with spindly pieces sticking this way and that, labels lined up and stuck down with precision, random parts painted with calm care, everything miniaturized, and so, so tempting to prod with a chubbed-up kiddo finger.

My brother was (and is) cooler than just his toys. He embodied unerring musical taste, the best Levi's jean jacket ever (which I still own), an easy demeanor with his friends, a sensible temperament shot through with a creative spirit, and a steady hand at draftsmanship and drawing, not to mention the most perfect handwriting anywhere. He had teenage ambition, but it was never obnoxious. And his persona: resilient, cheerful, almost always nonplussed. His work ethic surpasses mine (just ask about the difference between a dish rack of his washed dishes, versus mine. I'll give you a hint: mine = iwwwww).

Much of what I am depends on the example he set. I am not implying perfection on his part, because a) I am not a fan of perfection, and b) the best heroes are flawed and human (cf. Han Solo and Mulder). My brother's tribulations, such as they have been, have galvanized him into someone better. Some of the things he's taught me, I learned not to do by his example. But mostly, I selected from his attributes because I admired and emulated them. When I obsess over a quilt square or a scrapbook page, it's my attempt at that model battleship--a hobby that results in something tangible, that says this is me. I made it my business to gather pop-cultural ephemera as a younger person, and it turns out I'm a veritable font of trivia (the next stage of my personal-clown service, basically).

When I left home for college, a handful of dear people were responsible for the wings with which I flew. Mom, obviously. My summer boyfriend, who urged me forward despite his yearnings to keep me home. My best friend D.J., my champion and confidante. My grandparents, whose home state I was headed for, proudly. And then there was Sean. I knew he was encouraging me at every step: "Go, go, go."

I came home a few months later for my first extended vacation. I couldn't get to a record store fast enough to buy King Crimson's Discipline, because it was the soundtrack of my fraternity that fall, and its angular, schizo sound would appeal to my older brother, I just knew it. Well, in fact, he disdained it with a hand flip. Which stunned me. And then, almost instantly, made me feel a little more adult than I had before. Indeed, I had graduated.

Sean came around, by the way, sheepishly admitting that Adrian Belew wasn't as destructively cheesy as he had once thought. I was waiting there, because now my sib and I had become more equal. Friends, with our own spheres that overlap in places. To this day, we fling new bands and TV shows at each other eagerly. I've honed the personal clown thing (ask my husband), and Sean's pretty good at it, too, so we can always crack each other up. We're both parents, and we trade information and advice. Okay, he learned to drive at 30-something, and I've still ducked that. His first vehicle was a bitchin' Camaro (could there be any more of a cool-older-brother car?) I have a bigger iPod, though.

Equals we may be...he's still my hero. In writing this, I'm amazed to see how my brother is threaded through my memories, a constant in many times that needed constancy. I'm still counting myself lucky.

1 comment:

Shadow Dancer said...

Great stuff, Nessa! Get an agent and publish!