My brother and I are 2 1/2 years apart. I’m the oldest. I’ve always been the most serious. The worrier. The good kid who never got into any trouble. The thinks-too-much-about-everything sister. My brother has always been the happy-go-lucky sibling. The most relaxed. The kid everyone liked. The kid who did a lot of dumb things but somehow rarely got caught.
I suppose, then, it’s no surprise that he eventually ended up in laid-back Austin and I ended up living a few miles from eternally amped-up New York City. Our personalities match the places we call home.
So it was with great anticipation that I left behind the brood a few days ago to spend a long weekend, one-on-one, with my brother in the capital of Texas. No kids. No spouses. No mom. No other assorted relatives. Just a brother and a sister taking a few days to reconnect after decades of grown-up obligations prevented us from spending any significant time alone together. Until now.
The last time we had a chance to bond like this was when he came to visit me in college, about 25 years ago. We were still pretty much kids back then; we weren’t yet 21. We were on the cusp of adulthood, but not quite there. Adulthood hovered over us from a galaxy far, far away.
My brother, who is in the process of getting divorced, just bought an apartment in Austin, down the street from a 13 ft. tall, 2,500 lb. Buddhist statue, which I think is a good omen should he ever decide he requires spiritual guidance.
One evening while we were relaxing in his new digs, he remarked with a smile, “This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone! Can you believe that?” I paused and thought it over. My brother is 43 and I’m 45. It was an astonishing realization, but then again, it wasn’t really. Other than the two years I had my own dorm room in college, I’ve never lived alone. As I considered his observation, it occurred to me that many of the people I grew up with have never really spent any time living alone, either.
We didn’t have many set plans during our weekend together. We spent some time with his friends, visited his office, went to a couple of movies (the person at the Alamo Drafthouse who digs through archives to find the esoteric commercials and short films that precede each feature is my pop culture hero, by the way), gorged ourselves on food and drank some unique cocktails (how about some raw egg and ginger with your cognac?) at the speakeasy-style Midnight Cowboy bar on Sixth Street.
And in a quest to leave increasingly congested Austin behind, we took a Sunday drive to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which remains a working ranch inhabited mostly by Hereford cattle (they’re raised for beef) that belong to ‘we the people’ of the United States. It was at the ranch that I took photos of the statuesque mockingbird (the Texas state bird) that graces the top of this post.
Interesting fact: LBJ was born on the ranch and died there – perfectly exemplifying the cliché that life is indeed a circle.
In between the movie-going, eating, sightseeing and sleeping, our days were filled with laughter and ample reminiscing about our childhoods. We remembered the broad outlines of many of the same stories, although the details in our recounting of those stories sometimes differed. “I hid under your bed.” “No, you hid in my closet!” “I held your chin.” “No, you held my belly.”
Every so often, one of us didn’t recall the story at all. “Remember when I crashed my moped?” “Shit, I didn’t know you crashed your moped!” “Well, it wasn’t really a crash. It was more like I just fell off the thing.” Most of the revelations came from my brother, which is not at all surprising, since his teenage years were considerably more eventful than mine and I was at college in Boston when he was sowing most of his wild oats.
My brother and I live more than 1,700 miles apart, a physical distance that has separated us for almost a decade. We don’t see each other more than once or twice a year, on occasions when we’re always surrounded by family. We talk infrequently on the phone because life always seems to get in the way. But our visit together this weekend proved that our ties remain strong, in spite of the distance, in spite of the divergent professional and personal paths our lives have taken, in spite of our vastly different personalities. Spending a few days with my brother made me feel, if only for a relatively brief moment in time, like he wasn’t so far away after all.