November 22, 2019 | Narrative
a story of siblinghood
We were anything but two peas in a pod. First of all, we didn’t like the same things; second of all, we didn’t like each other—at least, that’s how we acted. We would “accidentally” step on each other’s shoes, hide each other’s teddy bears, and maliciously embarrass each other in public (I told our friends that he wet his bed every night, and he told them that I made him smell my farts). Kaitlan and Thomas, Thomas and Kaitlan, the brother-and-sister duo that always wound up staring at the wall, arms crossed, impatiently waiting for our time-outs to end.
It’s your fault we’re in time-out.
No, it’s yours! Dumbo!
I hate you.
I’d peek around the corner of the wall separating us, leaning just enough to the side to reveal one frowning eyebrow above one glaring eyeball. He’d glower back at me. It was a very dramatic display of fury, but it lapsed as quickly as it flared; we’d simply get bored. Either I’d lean right or he’d lean left, smiling tentatively and whispering “…sorry…” Then we’d play silent games, quickly hushing each other when our dad emerged from his office suspicious that we were not properly in time-out. He’s coming! Straight backs, arms over chests, noses to the wall. Another three minutes of strained silence.
Do you think we should say sorry to Dad now?
Yeah. Let’s tiptoe over.
Okay. I’ll talk. You be quiet.
And we would go, hand in hand, Kaitlan and Thomas, sister and brother, to redeem ourselves from punishment.
We saw much less of each other once I entered high school. He was three years younger than me, into baseball and KFC and that sort of thing. I was into K-dramas and volleyball and journaling. Whenever he bounced into my room on an inflatable rainbow hopper ball, I’d plug in my earphones and repeat: Stop bothering me. I need to do my homework. Go away.
We used to be anything but accommodating to each other, but after additional rebuking from my parents, he listened. He stopped. He went to his own room and played his own games while I immersed myself in biology, Spanish, YA novels. The house was quieter. I didn’t give myself time to glare at him from my side of the wall, and in the same way, I was never moved to say “sorry.”
By the time Thomas was a freshman, I was a senior reflecting on my high school experiences and looking forward to moving away for college. The clock was ticking towards my departure, and I realized that my brother and I would never be in the same house again—at least not in the permanent way of our childhood. So, I became the kid bouncing into his room on an inflatable ball, childishly asking him to watch a Disney movie or to go to the park with me.
But he only parroted my annoyed response from three years earlier: Stop bothering me. I need to do my homework. Go away. Hurtful words, I recognized, now that I was on the receiving end of them. But I understood—we might not have been two peas in a pod, but we were still siblings. That’s why I wanted to spend time with him. And that’s why, in that moment, I saw my brother as a reflection of myself.
I’m sorry for not realizing it before. I’m not mad at you anymore. Want to hear a joke?
Thomas didn’t answer me, but I understood; he had to go through his own phase, and before that phase was over, I was 2,569 miles from home. And I wasn’t staring at a blank wall anymore; a wall of photographs I’d tacked by my dorm room bedside was staring down at me: Thomas giving me bunny ears at graduation, Thomas and me drinking boba, Thomas carrying my backpack in New York City.
Out of everyone, I missed him the most. I didn’t expect that.
Though I’d regularly text him “how are you,” my phone didn’t regularly ding in response.
When it did, the reply would be a skimpy “i’m okay.” I missed him, but he was running on the all-too-familiar high school treadmill: English presentations, weekend competitions, math tests, more competitions. So I understood. I wish I didn’t, but I understood.
When Christmastime came that year—when I returned home for the first time since leaving it—I tackled my brother in a full embrace. “You know, I missed you the most,” I told him.
“I missed you too,” he said, with no text pauses or typos in between.
I remember holding his hand the entire car ride home from the airport, an admittedly weird thing to do with one’s 16-year-old sibling. But I have to say, it was so nice—a tangible reminder that no matter what, I have a brother. It was a reconciliation of all those moments of siblinghood I had dismissed as a toddler and then a teenager. It was a kind of homecoming, no pun intended.
The next four weeks were saturated with 1) evaluating his updated K-pop playlist and 2) listening to his broken-record recitation of “funny” YouTube one-liners. Though I would have scorned all these things less than a year before, I told him the songs were some “fine bops.” I think that was mostly the tenderness of my love—not my knee-jerk opinion—speaking, but I can’t be sure.
They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m thankful that it only took a temporary separation for me to appreciate my brother. I was (and am) increasingly grateful for all our unintentionally shared moments and lessons on humbling-yet-easy forgiveness—time-out wall or no. I’m even grateful for the burden of responsibility I bear as the older sibling and the burden of expectation he bears as the younger one. These are the valleys we trek through together, hand-in-hand, as only siblings can do.
It might have taken a while to reach this bittersweet thanksgiving, but this time, things are different. We’re navigating a new wall of distance, time difference, doubt. I hope Thomas hears me now, because this time, I think I understand.
It’s not your fault we’re so far from each other.
You can do it. You are strong.
I love you.