I've not mentioned Brother lately. There has been much turmoil and drama, but the physical distance has helped retain some emotional separation as well. I'm bothered when Mom is upset, but appreciate that we all tend toward the dramatic so I try to react with some sympathy without lending credibility to her idea that she'll never see the girls again.
"Mom," I say gently, "you provide free babysitting 3 days a week and most weekends. When they are sick or terrible or unwanted, they come to you. It makes no sense for their parents - both pretty selfish individuals - to cut you out of an arrangement that benefits them greatly. So relax. Let things play out. And stop giving Brother money!"
After months of unemployment (it's actually semi-employment but the whole story is overly complicated) and with encouragement from our parents, Brother has headed out of town to accept another job. I shall join the family in my parents' bitchin' van - Little and Smallest Ones, my parents, myself and my dog - to venture to Brother's new location for a visit. I'm dreading it a bit, honestly, since spending time with my entire family is a bit like therapy in that I am confronted with facts that I'd rather ignore.
Brother, since he was a little guy, was beloved by his peers. I can remember, when Little and Smallest One's bedrooms at my parents' house belonged instead to Brother and me, two girls visited the house over the summer to perform for him when he was in 2nd grade. They had a dance routine choreographed to Barbie songs on their boombox, and I shook my head and left the room while he watched. While I read books, alone in my room, he went through girlfriends at a steady pace. They would call and giggle at first, but it would soon shift to complaints, sometimes sobbing others screaming, as he'd move on to the next pretty girl.
I attended a single dance in high school - with a great guy named Jason - who gave me a corsage with a white carnation and baby's breath and smiled gently back at me when we danced on the creaky wooden floor of the old gym. We didn't date afterward - I found some set of flaws that I now can't recall and decided I'd rather wait - alone - for someone who valued me as I deserved. Someone sexier, stronger, more admired by those around him.
Brother, in sharp contrast, never missed an event. He thrived on female attention and had a habit of letting relationships overlap so that he was never alone.
"How," I asked him as he grew older, "can you convince new women that you won't cheat on them? When they start sleeping with you knowing you're involved - hell, engaged even - and expect to develop something deep and lasting and real?"
He shrugged, brown eyes the same shade as my own meeting my gaze, and grinned. "It's easier to believe it's not my fault - for them and for me. It was the other girl - she was bad for me, didn't treat me well - and they believe they'll be better?" he guessed.
"And do you?" I asked, genuinely curious even as I was repulsed by his habitual abuse of emotions.
I don't remember his response, but it's clear he's always in search - perhaps subconsciously - of someone better. As am I.
"He doesn't want her to go with him," Mom told me of his latest girlfriend. They met at a bar, and she's a nice woman, though about 20 years Brother's senior. His marriage ended, shortly after Smallest One's birth, for a number of reasons but the new girlfriend was one of them. I have avoided getting close to her for the same reason I maintained my dislike of his ex-wife. I'm worried and bitter that Brother can't get his life together and finds women to enable his self-destruction. It's not their fault, of course. But I also know they will eventually be replaced. So I don't get overly attached.
Perhaps it's also a twinge of jealousy - he has people to love him, to sleep beside him and share his happiness and fears - while I instead have four bathrooms and a job I love. He is storing his stuff in my parents' basement while he lives in a studio and has only a motorcycle for transportation. I have a PhD and post-doctorate training while he didn't finish an Associates degree my parents tried multiple times to fund, though I estimate we're equally smart. He has two girls - wonderful, amazing children - while my chances of having a baby are minuscule. So while he won't be alone for long, I'm sure, and I won't be with anyone for a long time, if ever - I wonder if we'll both end up unattached - always in search of something that can't be had in a partner. Perfection.
"It's good to get away," I assured Mom when he moved and she agreed. "A change of scenery is sometimes a necessary shift in the system to let someone change. Look how well things have worked for me in Industry."
But, at the heart of it - where we love and are loved - does anything really change?