I hear it all the time. Even now, as an adult. Even as recently as last week.
“You’re their little sister? I never knew they even had a little sister!”
It doesn’t surprise me anymore. I roll with it now. Sometimes with invention: “I was locked away in a tower” or “I grew up in France.” Sometimes with humor: “I’m the best thing about my family, and they just didn’t want anyone to know.”
The truth is, I was a latecomer. The last of the progeny. The baby. They were learning to drive when I was learning cursive. When I started middle school, they were starting their adult lives – moving out (and back in), working, dating, and leaving a legacy with friends in the Tri-State Area. Friends that I met in my adult life, and continue to meet as time goes on.
It’s like being the little sister of a couple of celebrities. People instantly recognize my maiden name. And it’s not “Oh, are you the daughter of So-and-So?” No. It’s “Are you related to So-and-So? Oh, they’re your brothers? I didn’t know they had a sister!” And so on, and so forth.
I can remember a handful of times they let me, their tomboyish kid sister, tag along – but this was the exception rather than the rule. A day at the amusement park there, letting me hang out while they played computer games here. But I was just a kid, you see. And nobody wants to be responsible for their kid sister when they’re trying to have fun . . . unless there are girls involved. Then I became a commodity. Look at how awesome and sensitive I am, taking care of my little sister. Right.
Sometimes my oldest brother T would let me hang out in his room while he played video games, with the ubiquitous array of electronic innards scattered about the floor. He was the child of the Commodore 64, growing up in the utopian age of computers, and familiarized himself so much with the technology he made a career out of it. He used to try to explain to me what everything did, and how it all fit together so I could play Lemmings, but I never quite understood what the heck he was talking about. It wasn’t until I was about 13 and he was 23 that he had vital information for me: how to download music using the program Napster. Those were the days, my friend.
My other brother (and he is definitely the “other” brother and poster child for Middle Child Syndrome) never let me go near his room. I was mostly okay with that, though, because it smelled pretty bad in there. On the rare occasion J would come out of his room, we would usually start fighting, and more than once it got physical, to the point where I do believe I took off a few layers of arm skin with my fingernails. But to his credit, he probably could have literally killed me, and he didn’t. He just disappeared into his room with a bowl of cereal and a Band-Aid.
Nevertheless, as I was growing up, I always knew that both of my brothers were extremely talented.
T is the artist. His artwork is meticulously crafted and breathtaking. From cartoons to comic books to detailed portraits, his talent is second nature, but never superficial – his subjects have heart and soul. His portfolio is an extensive marvel of precise skill.
Not just a talented artist, he is well read and intelligent, taking his skill with computers to “wizard” status and running the gamut of the English language. He was the first one to teach me about Word Of The Day and introduce me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as the prolific sci-fi genre in general. His quick, sarcastic wit often goes over the head of his audience, a fact which often amuses only him, but has pushed the parameters of my own understanding to get his jokes.
However, with his massive brain comes a deep and attractive quality of humility and compassion that permeates everything he does. His intimidating size throws people off, but his friends know him to be a great listener, diplomat, and mediator. He is something of an oxymoron, with his deep brow and terrifying glare, but absolute disdain for controversy. It could be said one might be able to walk all over him. Except no one would ever, ever try.
J’s talent has always been poetry, though this might come to a surprise to those who don’t know him well. For as long as I can remember, he has kept a folded piece of paper and a pen in his pocket at all times, and will produce it randomly in any given setting to scribble down a verse or two. His poems can be shockingly painful, about life and death and heartache. But he, too, is an oxymoron. The same person who can take your breath away and break your heart with words can also make you laugh until you can’t breathe. He is the paragon of middle children everywhere, demanding your attention whether it’s positive or negative. It doesn’t matter. You got mad. You laughed. You reacted. He is pleased with all forms of attention, even going so far as growing a handlebar mustache for controversy’s sake. He uses Instagram like target practice, taking aim at every picture you post with sarcastic wit at your expense. Sometimes I will go on there just to read the comments he leaves. He walks the very thin line between a good-natured dig and an offensive remark, and he is beloved for it . . . for the most part. But even the ones whom he offends amuse him.
Though close in age, they’re both very different, but equally beloved by those who know them. They have an extensive group of friends of different ages, one so large it often overlaps with mine. And every once in a while, I will meet someone who knew them when they were young adults, and only later will they realize I am their little sister.
Maybe we’re not as close as we could be, or should be. Time and age has influenced that up until recent years, but as I became an adult and started a family of my own, things began to change. I wanted them around more. Sometimes this came back to bite me. Such was the case during my first time seeing The Airborne Toxic Event. I rounded up a couple girl friends and my brother J. Mostly, I wanted protection an older brother affords – just in case. I had never been to a concert without my husband since I got married, and for all intents and purposes, I had never been to one like this at all, as a fangirl in the front row. But J – well, he can only be himself. The Middle Child. The big brother who never grew up.
In the middle of the show, during a prolonged and quiet pause, my brother took aim at my expense in a singularly public way, much like he does on social media. Very loudly, and with great pleasure, he yelled out “MY SISTER IS IN LOVE WITH YOU. AND SHE IS MARRIED.”
In horror, I whipped around and whisper-yelled back at him. “Shut up, you moron! What is wrong with you?!”
And of course, he just smiled. Because all he wanted was a reaction. And maybe that was his way of putting me in my place. Maybe he thought it was his job, as a big brother. Or maybe he is just a turd. Whatever the reason, in the end he smoothed things over with the purchase of my first band T-shirt. And thankfully, no band member past or present seems to remember my total humiliation.
I didn’t have those classic sibling moments growing up that you see on sitcoms or read in memoirs. I just have what I’ve got now, as we are all grown up and trying to make sense of our lives and the challenges along the way.
Those challenges define who really is your family. It doesn’t have to be the person your mother gave birth to before or after you. Sometimes a friend can be like a brother, and I am blessed to have many “brothers” in that sense.
But these men with whom I share my maiden name are both my friends and brothers, and they have proven to be such in my own times of distress.
The brother who can meticulously craft a portrait of the anguish in the eyes of a human was there at my son’s funeral, with tears streaming down his cheeks, as he held my head against his broad shoulders. And he was there in the days after, quietly listening with compassion – his intimidating form never an intimidating presence, but that of a welcome and warm companion.
The brother who delights at making others laugh or pissing me off was there at the funeral with a poem he had written for me, about the nephew he never knew. A poem about life, death, and a kind of heartache he couldn’t possibly understand, but somehow seemed to capture in verse.
These are my brothers, the men who have preceded me and left a legacy. And I’m the little sister no one knows about.
For a long time, I wondered where I fit into the trifecta as the only girl, the little sister, and the baby. We are each so different, yet there are overlaps in our respective interests and abilities. I draw a little bit, but I’m not even close to being an artist like my brother T. I’ve tried writing poetry, but it pales in comparison to J’s raw exposure of emotion through verse.
I guess I’m just trying to write it all down.
And maybe this is my legacy, a string of words on a nonexistent page.
But I would hardly be the person I am today without my brothers, and I am proud that, for some people, their first impression of me is built around their last impression of my brothers.
*For T and J with love, from your li’l sis