Friday, November 09, 2007

Chilly State of Affairs

My brother and I have a semi-adversarial relationship.

It came to a head just a little over a year ago when I got one condescending email too many from him instructing me about something I was supposed to do in quite a rude manner. I retorted with one of the longest, and probably meanest, emails I've ever sent into the ether telling him I'd had enough. Needless to say, what followed was several months of silence on both our sides.

I refused to communicate with him and he with me. And if I'm perfectly honest, I didn't really mind that. In fact, I even sort of liked it.

Being incommunicado meant I didn't have to participate in any of the strained family gatherings that had come to be a semi-annual norm. There were no gritted teeth and fixed jaw during our brief phone conversations because there was no contact. And since our only real tie is an elderly father in a nursing home with limited memory capacity, our estrangement really didn't effect any one else either (except for my husband who is close to his family and thought the whole thing was "crazy" and "weird"). My young niece and nephew might have noticed Aunt Maggie's absence if their father had every really made an effort to make me a regular part of their lives. However since he hadn't, not seeing me was, for them, the norm.

But the thing about my brother is, he's all about appearances. He drives a Lexus. Wears Ralph Lauren at every opportunity. Lives in an affluent suburb devoid of any old-growth trees where every house looks like the one next door. Maintains a perfectly manicured lawn with tasteful seasonal decorations that never go up too soon or stay up too long. And so, when Christmastime rolled around, it clearly seemed unforgivable to him to let it pass without extending an olive branch and pretending like none of the silence and anger between us had ever really happened.

But for me, that just wasn't acceptable.

I had stored up so many slights over the years that there was no way that I was just going to move on without letting him know that the status quo of our relationship had to change dramatically. So, one cold and snowy day about a week before Christmas, I met him at the neutral ground of a suburban sports bar/restaurant for lunch and told him everything I'd been holding back. For three hours, he sat through my barrage of anger and hurt feelings shaking his head every now and again, his mouth hanging open most of the time in what appeared to be disbelief. And while he never denied a single thing that I accused him of, frustratingly, he never apologized either.

At the end of that meeting, we agreed to move forward and in the year that followed he's made some small efforts to bridge the gap between us. I have to, at least, give him that.

But today, on the phone with him again, I felt that horrible yet familiar feeling creep up the back of my neck. My jaw tensed. My teeth began grinding silently together. In chatting about Christmas, I told him that I was going to take my Dad out of the nursing home and have him stay with me for a couple nights. He's done it before and loves it. And he's never broken a hip or gone into a diabetic coma on my watch.

When I told him of my plans, my brother said flatly, "I don't think that's advisable," in a voice that for him, seemed like the final word on the subject. This coming from the man who lives about 15 minutes from my dad, but barely has time to visit him maybe once a month.

For some reason, my younger brother feels like he has veto power over my decisions regarding my father. And the reality is, he doesn't.

Why is it that any time we discuss holiday get-togethers, it feels like a battle? Why can't things just be more easy going between my family and his? And why is it that within the confines of the tiny family I have left, we can't actually like each other. . .even a little bit?

If my mother was alive, she'd be none too happy about our chilly state of affairs. But maybe if she was alive and had been with us for the past twenty-plus years, it never would have come to this. My brother and I really couldn't have been more different growing up. And the truth is that the love for our mom was probably one of the few things we did have in common. "Did" being the operative word.

1 comment:

amber said...

Family issues are SO hard, I applaud you for meeting with him and trying to make efforts. I think the reason it's so hard is because we care what they think so much, so when they say something, we take it straight to the heart. Good luck with it all, I have some similar experiences, I tried to be the "bigger person", but to no avail...