“Remember the times that we used to share…  You got to remember the times that we used to share….  But the only way for you to survive is to open your heart, it will guide.”

-Lenny Kravitz, Sittin’ On Top of the World

I didn’t want a younger sibling.  I wasn’t completely opposed to the idea, it just wasn’t something I had wished for.  What I wanted was a puppy.  The day that my mom and step dad announced they were having a baby I knew the dream of a dog had just died. I acted happy, just kind of went through the motions of how I figured I should feel.  It wasn’t that I was unhappy,  more like indifferent.  I found the subject completely boring and all the talk about the baby for nine months (which to a seven year old feels like about 3 years) got really old and boring.

Then he was here.  My little brother.  Todd.  I was expecting to be unimpressed.  I didn’t expect to really care too much about this little thing that had taken over my family before he was even born.  But I was sucked in.  I had never seen anything so adorable.  I immediately felt love and protectiveness and awe.

My life didn’t change much at first.  Aside from having to tiptoe around our house when he was sleeping, I still went about my business.  I still played with my friends every day.  The only thing that was different was that I rushed home from school to see him before going outside.  There was  a different feeling in our house.  There was a light, an excitement.  He made our little blended family a real family.  We all were madly in love with this little person and we all laughed together at his every coo and grimace.

Eventually the baby became a toddler and no less cute.  He continued to charm us all.  But our roles became clear.  My sister was like a second mother to him.  She was 11 when he was born and had always had a maternal side.  I was his sister.  I doted on him briefly, then I would go do my thing.  As my brother got older, it was clear he and my sister had a very special bond.  He adored her and was very attached to her.  And it was clear that I was his sister.  I was the person he would harass when the urge struck.

I was defenseless against his antics.  I couldn’t respond in kind.  I was 8 years older than him and any retaliation would have resulted in swift punishment.  I couldn’t even really complain or tell on him.  The response would be Really?  He’s 8 years younger than you and you’re tattling on him???   I’m not saying he was ever mean to me.  His stuff was just mischievous little brother shenanigans.  But annoying to an older sister for sure.

One year, his best friend brought him a souvenir from a trip to Asia.  It was a Japanese spinning drum, just like the kind used during the final fight scene of Karate Kid 2.  I was about 15 or 16 years old.  Like any typical teenager, sleep was incredibly important to me.  Not at night, night time is fun.  But in the morning.  All week I would look forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning.  My brother was an early riser at that age.  He would get up early on Saturday mornings with my Stepdad and they would watch He-Man cartoons and eat Cocoa Pebbles together.  At some point, when he got bored with cartoons, he would sneak in to my room with his little drum and get as close to my ear as possible and spin it fast.  I would wake to the sound of this hellish toy, jumping out of bed in a startled flurry.  “Todd!!!” I never really yelled anything else.  Just his name.  What else can you yell at a little mischievous twerp who is so good natured at the very moment that he’s pestering you?  He did this off and on for months.   He would scamper out of my room gleefully.  He wasn’t scared of me at all.  And he was super proud of himself for riling me.

Other times he would sneak on to the phone while I was talking to my friends.  I would only realize he was eavesdropping when we would say something that made him laugh.  I would hear his laughter that sounded like light bouncing around the room.  He didn’t even try to muffle it.  “Todd!!!”  I would yell, then apologize to my friend.

When I went off to college our relationship changed.  I was still his sister and he still enjoyed playing his little jokes on me, but this is the time when we became friends.  He missed me.  Or maybe he missed having someone in the house to harass.  Either way, I had transitioned from his annoying older sister to his cool sister who was in college and did all kinds of cool stuff like go to awesome concerts and parties.  He occasionally would call me at school to ask for my advice about girl problems.  The first time he did this I got off the phone and cried.  My little brother was growing up, he was starting to be in to girls.  And he wanted my advice.  I was honored.

We both loved music.  He leaned more towards hip hop and I was definitely more into rock and alternative, but sometimes our musical tastes melded.  He started liking Bob Marley.  I started liking Biggie.  We both loved Lenny Kravitz.  I would make him cd’s when a new Lenny album came out and he made me cool mix cd’s of rap songs I liked. Even though our relationship had matured beyond sibling rivalry, he still didn’t miss an opportunity to tease me or make a joke at my expense.  Except now his humor had evolved and it always had me laughing hysterically.  I couldn’t stay mad at him.  He could annoy me one second and have me laughing in spite of myself the next.

Then Todd got sick.  Real sick.  He had Stage 4 cancer.  It was bad and we were all devastated.  He was only 16.  Somehow he still managed to be funny.  He took his comic antics to the chemo room with him, to the hospital, everywhere.  No one was safe.  His Doctor, who was brilliant and wonderful was also quite serious.  My brother always found a way to break through his facade and get him to laugh. He had a gift for making you fall for whatever prank he dreamed up.  When the nurses would flush out his i.v. lines, he would act like the saline was burning him.  They would fall for it every time, panicking for a second before realizing he was just having fun with them.  A lot of people laugh in the face of pain, but we were all amazed at his way of coping with things.  He actually was having fun, he was finding little moments, little pockets of time, when he could lighten the situation and have a good laugh and look around at a room full of smiling, laughing faces.

He took to prank calling me at work during this time.  He was missing a lot of school for chemo treatments and I would often meet him and my Mom for lunch near the hospital on my lunch break.  But he couldn’t just call me and tell me where to meet them.  He had to take advantage of these moments and be my little annoying brother once again.  He was a master at using different voices and dialects.  He would call me up, claiming to be one of my customers and would make up crazy stories about his pager and what he “accidentally” did to it, or he would be an angry customer getting me all flustered before revealing his identity with his trademark laugh.  A laugh that was pure joy and glee and self satisfaction.  I was barely able to feel happiness during this time.  Yet somehow he laughed and joked and didn’t let the situation get the best of him.  And in the process he helped all of us get through those days.  I know his intention when he would pull these pranks was not to brighten my day, he was doing what he loved doing.  Finding a situation that no one else would think of laughing about and figuring out how to make it funny.  Every time I would hear the laughter over the phone and realize I’d been had, I always said the same thing, “Todd!!”  I still had no other words of recrimination for him.  Even being the butt of his jokes I had to laugh and aside from the early Saturday mornings, I can’t say I every truly minded.

For 18 months life stood still and moved at breakneck speed all at the same time.  We packed a lot in to a year and a half.  Every Thursday Todd and his girlfriend would come over to the apartment where Joe and I lived and we would go out to eat dinner and go see a movie.  We took them to one of my friends’ Halloween parties with a lot of my college friends.  He later told me it was the best night of his life.  We took him to a Lenny Kravitz concert with us.  We spent a lot of quality time together for those last 18 months.  That time was a gift that I will cherish more than anything the material world could ever have to offer.  I got time with my little brother.  Time to bond as adults.  Time for him to really get to know my husband before we got married.  Time to laugh.  It was by far the most difficult time in my life, yet the most precious.  In spite of the gripping fear I felt every day that I would lose my brother…  in spite of waking up every morning for 18 months and being hit with the realization that it all wasn’t some bad dream…  in spite of everything, I wouldn’t trade those 18 months for anything.  And through those last months, he gave me the greatest gift.  He was still my little mischievous brother.  He still played his pranks, he still made me laugh.  He still annoyed the hell out of me.  I still said my exasperated “Todd!!”  multiple times a week.  He always said he didn’t have time for cancer.  By that, he meant that he wasn’t going to let cancer stop him from living and having fun.  But he also showed me that cancer wasn’t going to change our relationship.  Yes, it evolved, as it would have if he hadn’t gotten sick.  But he still was the little boy, catching me off guard, pulling off his jokes and making me laugh even when I wanted to get mad.

Even now, I revert back to those times.  Sometimes when my husband has teased me or pulled off a prank at my expense.  Or when one of my kids does something mischievous and funny at the same time.  I catch myself blurting out my little brother’s name in mixed joy and frustration.  Those moments, I know they happen out of a conditioned response to certain behaviors, but I also think it’s my brother’s way of telling me to lighten up a little.  There’s always a reason to laugh, always a reason to smile.  And it reminds me of what he and I shared.  Yes, it was sibling rivalry.  But out of sibling rivalry comes the best friendships.  And when I look back on my memories of him, the ones that come to my mind the most- the ones that make me smile- are the ones where he was being my little brother.  Those times when he irritated me and exhausted me and frustrated me, those are the times I cherish the most.  Those memories are the ones I share with my children so they will know who their Uncle Todd was.  Those memories are the ones that I reach for when I’m missing him most.  Those antics that helped me laugh through 18 months of pain and fear, and those are the memories that help me now.  After 14 years I still get caught off guard and overwhelmed with the pain of missing my little brother.  But I always think about those times.  Inevitably they have me shaking my head and smiling… laughing through my tears.

remember-the-time-blog-hop

Once again I have the joy of participating in the “Remember the Time” blog hop.  The subject this week was “Sibling Rivalry”.  I’m so grateful to the hilarious and talented writers of The Waiting and Are You Finished Yet for creating this and allowing me to participate!

“And you can tell everybody this is your song, it may be quite simple but now that it’s done, I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words…  How wonderful life is when you’re in the world”

-Elton John, Your Song

I occasionally get to participate in a blog-hop with some funny, talented writers. They pick the subject and the rest of us get to write about it. This week the subject is our imaginary friend. I recently wrote about Billy Monkey and all the trouble he and I got in to. I don’t think we need to re-hash his short stint as my partner in crime. Selena was an imaginary friend of a different kind. She wasn’t my creation…. she was inflicted on me.

My sister is 3 years older than me.  And she spent most of our childhood leveraging those three years for all they were worth.  She was older, smarter, cooler, prettier.  I looked up to her, I wanted to be her.  I must have driven her crazy following her around, trying to copy her mannerisms, trying to hang with her friends.  Where she was cool, I was awkward.  Where she had boys of all ages fawning all over her, I was getting into fist fights with the boys on my street.  Where she had perfectly feathered blonde hair, I had mousy brown hair that wouldn’t be tamed, that she “affectionately” called “Greg Brady hair”.

Her.
Her
Me.
Me.

Even though we were very close, we fought often and we fought viscously.  It didn’t take much to set us off.  A simple disagreement would escalate into a scuffle in a matter of minutes.  Some of this was due to the fact that we were constantly in each other’s way.  We shared a small bedroom and a tiny closet and a half broken dresser.  It was tight quarters and her 80’s glam leg warmers and glittery hairspray didn’t mesh well with my dirty socks and endless piles of junk.  But the living arrangement also made us closer.  We would stay up late at night talking in the dark, long after we were supposed to be asleep.  In those moments we were each other’s confidants, supporters, therapists, best friends.  But in the light of day, it would fluctuate from camaraderie to down right brawls.  We would be covered in bloody scratches, pulled hair, bruised limbs, sometimes bloody noses.  I usually held my own in these physical match ups, but in the messy minefield of psychological warfare I was outmatched and outplayed.

She took joy in finding small ways to torture me.  She would wake me up for school in the morning by spraying me in the face with a squirt from a water bottle.  To be fair, I have never been a morning person and the job of waking me up every morning probably wasn’t a pleasure.  The worst was when she would wait until I was walking out the door to the bus stop in the morning and say “Aren’t you going to fix your hair today?”, or “You’re wearing that?” or sometimes she would just look at me and snicker, implying that I looked ridiculous.  I eventually started getting ready at my best friend’s house so I wouldn’t have to go to school with her words echoing in my head all day.

One night she just started talking to someone in our room and carried on a one-sided conversation.  Of course I played right in to her hand and asked who she was talking to.  After pretending to not want to tell me, she finally revealed to me that there was a spirit who lived in our closet named Selena.  It became pretty clear that Selena was on team Kristen and didn’t care much for me.  Selena only communicated with my sister.  My sister would often ask me to do things for her.  “Go get me a glass of water”, “Get up and change the channel”, you get the idea.  I think this is part of the older sibling DNA, they are inherently bossy and demanding.  If I refused, she would just have a little conversation with Selena that would always end in some kind of implied danger to befall me or veiled threat from our closet dweller.

Of course, I kind of knew that Selena wasn’t real.  But after years of looking up to my sister, the power she had over me, coupled with the occasional abuse, it was like a sibling’s version of Stockholm Syndrome.  I bought in to it.  I usually gave in to Selena’s requests because what if?  Selena had an evil streak and I didn’t want to piss her off.  And my sister was incredibly convincing.

Selena didn’t last for too long.  I don’t remember if my sister got bored with the whole thing or if my mom caught wind of it, but eventually she just stopped appearing in our lives.  She is just one part of the timeline of our childhood that all seemed to center around that tiny little bedroom with the broken dresser.

My sister got married after high school and moved out and I had my own room for a few years before I left for college.  She only lived a few miles away, and I loved having a room all to myself.  But I missed her.  In spite of the teasing, the fighting, the manipulating, she was my friend.  No one knows me like my sister knows me.  We can speak volumes with a look, with one word, with a hug.  No one else has shared the experiences we have shared together.  I don’t know if anyone can understand you better than the person you shared your childhood with.  These are the years that form you, that make you who you are.  And your sibling goes through all of it with you.  There’s nothing I can’t talk to her about.  I know that I can go to her, call her, show up on her door step- and she is there for me.  And I can do it with little explanation because she knows me that well.

I still look up to my sister.  We are both married.  We both have three kids.  We still tease each other.  Scars from bloody scratches have healed.  Bloody noses have dried up.  Name calling has been forgiven.  And what remains is the two of us.  I call her on the phone and it’s just the two of us and I’m back in that little bedroom, laying in my bed in the dark speaking to the night.  Revealing my thoughts, my feelings, my insecurities or frustrations or joys – and she is there.  She is still that little girl in the bed next to mine listening and confiding.  She is still the one who understands, she is still the one who is there for me.  She is still my best friend.

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