(My brother - 12 years old, my sister - 3 months old, and me - 3 years old)
Technically I know I am a middle child. I just feel like an only child. To this day, I tend to behave like the stereotypical middle child. I try not to be the one who makes waves, who adds to a difficult situation, however small it may be. For instance, I am usually quick to oblige and agree to the restaurant where my husband wants to eat.
As a child, I was the peace-keeper, the diplomat, the one who tried to smooth things over. When asked about hamburgers, my brother would mention one fast food restaurant, my sister would mention another with equal urgency, and I would bite my tongue and defer to my mom, claiming that I would be happy with either one. Truth is, I wasn’t always happy with any of them.
I never felt as strong or assertive as my two siblings. My brother was older, and in my eyes, wiser and cooler. He was in high school while I was in elementary school. His life was eons away from mine. He couldn’t understand my desire to do extra homework; he was always trying to get out of his homework. I couldn’t understand his excitement at summer vacation; I would miss school too much.
Somehow, the connection my older brother and younger sister shared skipped right over me. They were so alike; even their walk -- the way their feet protruded at a certain angle. I didn’t fit in. My brother had a temper than frightened me; I remember him punching walls. My sister had an anger I didn’t understand-- how could this sweet, little girl bite me or hit me?
I have been told that I’m not always adept at handling conflict. I agree. I can handle unpleasant situations for only so long, until, like a pot of water that isn’t being watched carefully, I boil over. And then it’s done.
That is how my relationship with my siblings unraveled. My brother expressed nothing but displeasure at my wedding. I remember his refusal to pose for a picture, his verbal disapproval of our choice of chapel and cake-and-champagne reception. My big brother wasn’t there with support and love. At my wedding, he was more like a work acquaintance -- in attendance because he had been invited and felt obligated to attend.
My sister and I took wildly different paths after high school. From where I sit, her road was easier: a well-paying job, an apartment, a car. She married, had two children, moved to the suburbs, bought a mini-van, began driving to baseball practices and weekly birthday parties.
Our decisions were different, but to her, my differences were wrong. I chose to wait on motherhood, instead concentrating on my teaching career and saving money with my husband to build the “nest” we coveted for when our “egg” arrived.
There were arguments, there were tears, there was finger-pointing and blame, and then there was nothing.
This rift with my siblings scares me. In moments of weakness, I fear I must have done something to drive away these two people. And what if I do it again, but this time, to my husband? I question myself, wondering what is wrong with me. In moments of strength, I can say that nothing is wrong with me. I am me. And there is nothing wrong with my sister and brother. They are who they are.
My son is growing up an only child, and without the close relationship with his cousins I had dearly hoped for. They are merely faces on the wall in dated pictures.
But unlike my son, I do have beautiful memories of my siblings. I remember my sister and I walking around in our pink cardigan sweaters, the closest replicas we had so that we could pretend to be “Pink Ladies” from the movie Grease. I remember us playing store, making our own credit card for an establishment we named, “The Odd Box.” I remember my brother keeping me safe during the night, when I was convinced clowns were coming in from around the edges of my window and were going to get me. I don’t remember him ever teasing me about those clowns, instead he’d let me wake him up, and climb into bed next to him. My protector.
Maybe some sibling relationships only work when you’re all living together, and you’re forced to make it work. Maybe as three stubborn adults, it’s easier to let things go and to not work as hard to keep it together. I have no nice, neat explanation for the why’s or the how’s.
I only have these words that sum up how I feel:
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
- W. S. Merwin