Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

It was a stupid argument on the surface, about something so minor it shouldn’t even be considered an argument. Yet just underneath that surface, it was an argument about everything that has always been wrong in our sibling relationship. It is a familiar, painful pattern.

I remember long afternoons at home, mostly without supervision, arguing about who even remembers what. He seemed purposefully cruel to me then, taking out his 11 year-old chubby boy with a crazy mother angst on me, the 1st grader who seemingly got all of the attention. I was far from a perfect child, but my grandparents would dote on me, obviously praising me and doting on me more. The excuse given was that they were used to little girls, having only had daughters, but try explaining that little bit of rationalization to a small boy. The preferential treatment burned into his tiny mind, humiliating and hurtful images buried under layers of self-doubt and fury, still broiling and twisting away in there all these years later.

My poor unwitting father only added to the problem, as I guess he saw something of himself in me, a smaller, female version of himself, and took me under his wing as a partner in crime. Add to that the maternal neglect that was due to mother’s mental illness, and you have a recipe for one troubled, angry man. And I will forever pay the price of those subtle and not so subtle shows of preference, when it comes to my adult relationship with my brother.

Every conversation has the following subtext:

“You always went out and had fun, and left me to take care of Mom alone.”

“Well, YOU got more attention than me.”

“ But I ended up having to be the responsible one when I was too young to handle it.”

“But I’m the responsible one now, with a wife and children, and you go out to shows and concerts with your boyfriend.”

“Well, you chose one lifestyle, and I chose another – it doesn’t make me irresponsible.”

“Yes it does, because when I ask you to do something, you don’t do it immediately.”

“Well, your definition of an emergency is skewed. You can’t prioritize, you are obsessive, and you nag me about things endlessly.”

“But I’m stressed, and you have to help me. I didn’t have a Mommy, so you are my Mommy.”

“ I don’t want to be your Mommy, I was Mommy to OUR Mommy, and it nearly killed me.”

“Well, you are all the family that I’ve got, so you must take care of me, and praise me even when I drive you crazy.”

“I’ll try to be as supportive as possible, but your passive aggressive behavior is suffocating me.”

And on and on and on.

A conversation about the cable bill is loaded with more charges than the ridiculous fees. A problem with the DSL is a mountain of guilt and recriminations. A seemingly sound and logical financial decision to live in the same house has turned into a prison, both financial and emotional. We are close, and yet we are on the opposite ends of the solar system, shooting stinging rays across the cosmos at one another.

I love my brother. I would give the man a kidney if he needed it. But the unresolved conflicts from our emotionally tortured childhood sometimes make me want to run to another country, to get out from under the burden of being near so much repressed rage and fear. Had I known then what I know now, I would never have tethered myself so tightly to him by virtue of that one real estate closing.

And so we squabble about the bills, the fence, the yard, the roof – our lives.

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