When you're little, you think it's you and yours against the world. And then you grow up and realize the people in your childhood, your family, are people you actually have to work at having a relationship with. A real one, not just the one in your head. Or the one based on childhood memories.
My May-baby brother was born 28 years ago and for some reason that surprises me even more than the fact that I'm 30. Martin is someone I survived childhood with. When memories of us together start dancing through my head, I feel a warming in my heart: playing Judo, complaining about calisthenics with my dad (but secretly liking it), staying up late talking about nothing and everything ... it was sad when all of that gave way to sibling rivalry and teenage trauma. But it was a subtle shift and I didn't know how much our relationship was changing until it did, and then what we had as kids was over. Through college we made scattered attempts at being in touch. Seeing Martin's handwriting on an envelope in my mailbox made my day. Still does.
Martin and I are so completely different from each other in all the ways that I can think of, but the things we have in common, love for our parents and our childhood, the bond of being siblings - that's enough to keep us connected. I have no idea what music he listens to or how he spends his day-to-day life, but I do remember where he spent a string of birthday parties, Le Snack and Red Robin. And I do remember how badly he wanted the Castle of Grayskull and how he generously agreed to saying he wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid (Joseph Marvin) so that my Mala Suzy could have a brother and playmate. I remember the ease with which he made friends while I remained a wallflower until my mom would drag me by the hand to the closest kids in sight and introduce me. I remember how he kicked ass at pretty much anything he tried. I remember how homework that took me hours to do, he could complete effortlessly on the ride to school. I remember how he always knew when to duck to avoid a par fatsek. I remember how his smile lit up his face and his laugh was contagious. So much so, that sometimes at dinner when our parents had had just about enough, we got to laughing about something stupid and just couldn't stop. Even when it meant one of us had to eat the rest of our halusky in the garage, still we kept laughing.
I remember him showing up on my wedding day with the most beautiful flowers, looking as handsome as could be and I was so proud of and happy to have my brother there with me, with us, to celebrate the new family I was coming into. His being there, his reading and standing up for us, proved that we would always be a family, always show up for each other and continue to navigate our relationship as siblings. Whatever that means for us during different times in our life. So, bro, happy birthday! I'm glad you were born and I'm glad you're my brother.
(Looking through old family photo albums, you'd think we were twins, Martin always in blue, me in red - but no, we really were a boy and a girl born two years apart, delivered at the same hospital and bundled up by the same nurse).
(Looking at how we're dressed, you can see what I mean by "surving" our childhood. Our mom was naturally well-intentioned, but not quite hip to the importance of American fashion in our American grade schools.)