I have no sisters and an only brother, eleven years my senior. Reportedly, he was the happiest young boy ever when our mother brought him a baby sister from the hospital. (That says a lot, as I assume an average person would much rather have a puppy or a kitty than a sibling. I’ll have the kitty, please.) Throughout our respective childhoods, we liked each other a lot, though we rarely spent time together. Of course, a sixteen-year-old wants to hang out with his peers and looks to procuring beer and fags, not to play with a first-grader. (Dear North American reader, my brother doesn’t happen to be gay, neither was he chasing gays, fags is what cigarettes are called in these parts.)
I couldn’t pronounce the r in George until an alarmingly advanced age, so I whimsically renamed my brother George to Jerry. (Why, yes, I know now, but I didn’t notice back then that there is not one, but double r in Jerry.) George aka Jerry had it tough, as became immediately clear to me when I got old enough to have some sense of my surroundings. A secondary school and later a vocational school dropout, he was persecuted by our parents and sought refuge with relatives, friends and whatnot. Occasionally he confided in me, and once he took me to his companions’ den. It was in a dilapidated summer house in a park, and the entry was through a trap door in the ceiling. There was smoking, drinking and card playing. I loved it.
At eighteen, my brother was drafted for compulsory military service. He hated it, attempted to desert and was eventually diagnosed with asthma and dismissed. (Rumour has it that not before he chain-smoked two packets of cigarettes, resulting in an asthmatic seizure.) That much to me taking pride in my soldier brother, comely in a new buzz cut and uniform, complete with a cap. I didn’t have the chance to spot him marching in formation, though we travelled across the country to attend a parade of new recruits swearing their oath. Jerry swore nothing because he was assigned to guarding the flag somewhere off the parade square. (It’s not like anyone would steal a flag, right?)
At twenty-one, my brother rang the doorbell one winter evening after dark and asked me to go ice-skating with him for a while. Surprisingly, my mother allowed me to go. Jerry was not alone. I never realised he was dating someone, and his announcement that he was getting married came out of nowhere. The invitation to go skating was to introduce me to his fiancée. First I didn’t mind her, and then she hugely impressed me with her ability to skate backwards. Several months later, when the bride-to-be turned eighteen and was legally old enough to marry, the reason for the unexpected marriage grew rather visible. I became an aunt to a newborn boy when I was only ten.
Ten years later, having divorced and then dated a series of wildly different girls, my brother did the right thing. He decided to complete his secondary education, whose lack was a major hindrance to his getting any other than a menial job. I wrote his English homework for him. (But I deny it.) Before the final exams, he would sit at home in a room next to mine and we would study simultaneously. My method was to learn things by heart, his was to transcribe bits from books in a notebook, very slowly and consciously. We graduated in the same year. He didn’t know that the exam would make no difference for his career.
My brother doesn’t like my husband. He never did. I wonder why. Did I complain of him unwisely when he was yet my boyfriend and failed to stress that no matter his shortcomings, I’m better off with than without him? (That’s how romantic I am.) Perhaps Jerry mistakenly believes otherwise. He didn’t show up for my wedding, though I and my significant other were there when he re-married, and I was looking forward to returning the invitation. Accidentally, my family was in the midst of an entangled feud then, and he was the only relative whom I invited. (Because I’m mean.)
Since then, we had several lengthy phone calls. It was always me calling because Jerry wouldn’t pay for the call. Whatever, I always enjoyed the good luck of being able to afford these little things. On the phone, Jerry would unfalteringly moan about his lot. It’s not like he has no reasons to complain, but it’s no great fun to listen. It hardly left me with the impression of having had a pleasant chat and actually learned what my sibling was up to. He disowned me for talking to the wrong relative in our ongoing family feud. I don’t plan to reach out to him any time soon; I prefer to think of him as the young boy who was very fond of his baby sister.