This week my brother turned forty.
Siblings aren’t supposed to get old. It’s disturbing.
I want my brother to stay the same age he was when he would bring home a big bag of Skittles, divide each candy by color into separate piles, have the rest of us siblings sit in a circle, and then distribute each pile evenly so that everyone had the same amount of red, green, yellow, purple and orange.
Kindness and fairness. This is what I think of when I think of my big brother.
But siblings grow up, and together you experience all the things in the world that aren’t fair. And when it’s your own brother or sister who must endure the pain of being human, you cry alongside them.
No matter how much you once fought or competed with your sibling, when a sh*t storm strikes, you’re reminded that your siblings are an extension of yourself, a walking time capsule of your past, and a guaranteed presence in your future. Their pain is your pain.
I remember each of my siblings’ sh*t storms like they were yesterday. I remember mental hospitals and paper gowns. I remember holding painful secrets and hearing shameful confessions. I remember helpless sobbing on the other end of the telephone. I remember when dreams were shattered.
In each of those moments I didn’t know what to say. I pretended to be strong, for their sake, and then I cried in privacy afterwards, thinking: No. Not them.
But I think what’s so special about siblings is that words aren’t needed. Presence is. Particularly, the presence of people who know your story inside and out, no explanation needed. Their presence on your worst and best days says, I’ve got your back.
But back to my brother turning forty. That’s his crazy festive birthday cake in the photo up top. All of the party attendees were asked to bring a cake topper or candle. Then we were instructed to place it on his cake, and tell him, as he sat blindfolded by a handkerchief, how we feel about him.
When it was my turn, I placed a tiny Darth Vader on the icing. I embraced him, remembering all the quality time we spent together on a recent cruise vacation. And then I told him I loved him so much, and that I’m glad we’ve gotten to know each other in a deeper way, as adults. He said, “It only took forty years.”
I can only hope for another forty more years of togetherness with my siblings. And even then, it is not enough.