When my mother came home from the hospital after delivering my brother, I hurt her feelings by being more interested in seeing him than in the fact that she was home again. We were Irish twins, born 16 months apart, and he was my best friend throughout my childhood, my partner in crime, my favorite person to play with. We made up fantastical games together, had water fights, rode stick horses, built a tree house, wrestled, sat up talking late into the night until Dad pounded on the door and said, “Go to sleep!”
He’s tough on the outside – so tall and muscled that calling him my little brother makes me smile. Little. Little like a mack truck. He is strong and solid and a good person to have around in a crisis. He has, on more than one occasion, talked sense into my parents, and into me. He doesn’t bear fools happily.
But on the inside he’s all marshmallow. He’ll do anything for family, and while he talks a tough game, he’s kind, even when it hurts him to be. I watched him, this past weekend, with my daughter. When she said his name, he melted. When he sat her tiny self on his lap and read her farm book with her, working on her animal noises, I melted. I sneak glimpses of him watching his wife with Dot. She’s so beautiful, my sister-in-law, and smart and together, and fun, and she’s so kind and patient with her niece, who adores her. I know they’ve largely come to see my amazing girl, but I worry that the vacation has turned out to be very Dot-centric, so focused on baby games and baby schedules and talk of babies. They’ve been trying for a while now, and while they don’t talk about it, I know it’s frustrating, and exasperating, and hard, and that every month is harder.
On the second day we are all together at the lake house, Dot points out at the dock where my mom sits with my sister-in-law, and when we get out to where they are, I see this beautiful young woman is crying, her shoulders shaking, and I hate so profoundly the unfairness of this world where, for whatever reason, my brother and his wife aren’t parents yet. They’d be so damned good at it. And I’m angry because, after losing Teddy, no one I love should suffer from any baby-related grief or anxiety ever again. I took that bullet, damn it. Didn’t I? Unreasonable, but there it is. Standing there on the dock, I feel like I’m intruding, but I give her a hug and stand quietly for a while before heading back to the shore.
Later, when we take Dot for a walk in her stroller, my brother holds his wife’s hand. She comments on it a little, laughingly, and I gather it’s not something they do all the time. We aren’t as close as we used to be, but I know, know, that he’s offering her what closeness and comfort he can in the face of the bittersweetness of this visit. See? Marshmallow.
Between the games and the walks and the chasing after Dot, we talk a little, my brother and I. He doesn’t really like the warm weather in the place where they live now, but his wife does, and it’s a good place to be. They have friends, but most of them have or are having babies now so they don’t see them as much as they used to. He likes their house, but it’s too big for just the two of them. Hopefully they’ll have little ones running around some day, he says. I find myself wishing for some of the closeness we used to have so that I could ask him how he’s holding up, tell him I’m so sorry that they are struggling, that I am hoping for them and loving them and ready to listen if he ever wants to talk. I wish there was more time for conversation so that more of this could come out.
But there’s some distance there, now. We’re no longer 12 and 11 years old, sleeping in the same room in the old farmhouse, and I’m afraid of hurting his soft heart. We’ve been well-trained not to wallow, and there are good aspects to that, certainly, but it makes these kinds of conversations hard. I love him as much as I ever did, more, in fact, but it’s harder to express now that we’ve somehow turned into adults with adult responsibilities and relationships and problems and jobs.
But, oh, my brother. I hope next Father’s Day, we’re all buying you cards.