30 June 2013
There are, were, six siblings in my family; three boys and three girls. I am the eldest. In childhood, it was my responsibility to care for my younger sisters and brothers, often to distract our lunatic father and protect the younger kids. After we moved away from my father and my parents divorced, it was my job to interpret events for the younger kids and to help my mother raise them.
It was a shared burden, each child who was older than the others had a responsibility for the younger ones in succession. I guess that’s where the failure occurred with Brian and Joe. Brian was born with arthrogryposis. He spent the fist two years of his life in the hospital, where he was adored by the staff because he was cute and smart. It must have been awful for him to come home to be just another one of many. Joe was the baby. He was spoiled, by all of us, as the youngest so often are. Neither of them had to be responsible for anyone else.
At 15, I rebelled in earnest. My siblings were not my children or my responsibility. At 18, I moved out. At 19, I moved far away. I lived a new life and reveled in autonomy. Coincidentally, Brian relished his autonomy as well. A social worker once told my mother, after he was diagnosed with HIV but before he had full blown AIDS, that she didn’t know he had any siblings other than Joe. Brian loved to be free and I did too, free of the burden and disappointments inherent in sibling rivalry, free of the chaos in our family, free to live lives we hoped would be better than the ones we’d left. Free to be just us, independent of the family connection, roaming anonymously. If he had a headstone it would declare, “Not all who wander are lost.”
The kids who had responsibility for younger siblings became more traditionally independent. A couple of them have advanced degrees and enjoy professional success. They were not dependent on my mother. Brian wasn’t dependent on Mum either. Even Joe, whom Mum bankrolled until the day she died, held several state regulated licenses to practice a trade. We were raised with a certain expectation of achievement. We have helped each other in attaining goals.
I have never completely abandoned my sisters and brothers. It is unlikely that I will. I’ll be available for legitimate emergencies and tragedies. I’ll send cards and gifts for milestone occasions. I won’t be calling any time soon. Conversation is more than I can bear. Talking and listening is too much. I just can’t.