My memory works in strange ways. I’m good with names and faces. I have all of the important birthdays memorized. When someone reminds me of an experience we’ve shared, I can generally retrieve it from some pocket of my mind where I keep such things, but those memories rarely present themselves on their own. I can never conjure up experiences in their entirety. I only remember pieces.
I remember the scent of my old school. I remember the way the sky looked at dusk on nights my father and I would throw a baseball back and forth in the backyard after dinner. I remember the weight of the baseball. I remember the feeling of crisp fall leaves on my face after jumping into a carefully raked pile of them. I remember which floorboards in my house creaked. I remember the scratchy bits of my childhood couch. If I concentrate, I could probably draw a perfectly detailed map of that house, down to each object on each shelf.
But I can’t remember much about my time there, the specifics anyway. I can’t remember much about what happened beyond our daily routines. My memory doesn’t work that way. I remember being happy. I remember celebrating holidays, although they’ve mostly all rolled into one. I remember growing up with my parents and little brother, but also, I don’t.
I have very little memory of Harry as a child. I know that we spent all of our time together as kids, as siblings do, but I can’t remember it. It pains me not to. I have lost so much of what happened between us, of what we shared. I have lost so much of our connection.
We have a lot in common, which undoubtedly stems from growing up in the same place with the same parents. We’re both sociable. We’re both smart, and for the most part, reasonable. We’re both impulsive and adventurous. We both have an insatiable hunger inside us to create. We’re both talented, and artsy, and a little bit strange. We both joke and laugh and care about the world. We have felt common losses and loves and sorrows and joys. We have known what it feels like to have a sibling.
But we’re also extremely different, in ways that make it unclear that we grew up in the same place with the same parents. Harry is fearless and confident in ways that I have never been and most likely will never be. He prefers his life to be big and unsettled in ways that I would find uncomfortable. He doesn’t like to be tied down. I like to be attached to everything. He is a rock star. I am a nerd. He remembers so much about our childhood. Maybe that’s the problem.
I have always been jealous of people who are close with their siblings, who have a best friend tied into their brother or sister. I don’t have that. Growing up, Harry always thought that my world was too small for him. He wanted more than what I had or what I felt I could offer him. Our parents didn’t set very many rules or boundaries or consequences, and so we both struggled to create our own. Mine were much more confining. I liked my rules and boundaries. I depended on them to keep me safe in my happiness, to ensure a constant guideline between right and wrong. I felt secured and sheltered between their limits.
But it was those very same limits that my brother feared most. He wanted more out of life, something I have in my later years – perhaps too quietly – admired about him. I couldn’t understand it when we were younger. It infuriated and frustrated me that he had no interest in following in my footsteps. We began to lead very different lives. We grew apart.
Harry is not the first person I call when things go extremely right or wrong. I can think of only a few occasions in our young adult life when we have spent any significant time alone together. I feel guilty that I didn’t try a little harder to be a part of his life. I feel sad that we couldn’t find the strength or courage or desire to understand each other a little better. I feel the loss of the relationship that could have been, more than I’d care to admit.
Still, I love my little brother. We have more in common than I think either of us realizes. We share parents. We share blood. We share a common history. And recently, when things have happened that have warranted my presence in his life, I shouldn’t have waited for him to reach out. I should have been there anyway. I should have done what I wanted to do.
Because what I wanted to do was to show up, to hug him, to hold him in my arms as big sisters should hold their little brothers. I wanted to tell him that everything would be okay. I wanted him to know how proud of him I am, how amazing he is, how it is an honor to be his family. I wanted to protect him within the boundaries of my love. I wanted him to know that we are not so different, that I have also felt loss and lost. I have also felt weak. I have also felt sad about the past and doubtful about the future. I have also wanted someone to be there without having to reach out to them.
I have also needed a sibling, someone who has known me all my life, someone who loves me unconditionally and allows me to love them in return. I have also needed that reminder. My memory works in strange ways, Harry. I don’t remember much about our childhood, about who we were or what we did together. I don’t remember the games we used to play. I don’t remember our fights. I don’t remember exactly when we began to grow apart, but I’ve never once, in all of my years, forgotten how to love you.
And I hope you’ll always remember that.