Michael Smith: Siblings

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Siblings: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Michael K Smith


Chapter 1:

[…from chapter 1…]

My sister, Alexandra, and I had (and have) an unusual relationship, and it was the direct result of birth order and our closeness in age. At least, that's what I prefer to think – that it was circumstances beyond our control.

I was born in Mendocino County, California, at 3:45 a.m. on January 6, 1955. Alex was born at 3:52 a.m. on the same day in 1956. One year and seven minutes difference. We looked very much alike: dark auburn hair, gray-green eyes, lots of freckles, a certain sharp narrowness in the nose. We were about the same size, too, especially as teenagers.

People frequently assumed we were twins, we were so similar. And especially because there was only a single digit's difference when we had to fill out bureaucratic forms that required a birth date. More than once, some clerk increased Alex's age by a year or shaved a year off mine. Before we were even in school, we had begun to think of ourselves as twins, too, in all the important ways, identical twins who happened to be of the opposite sex.

We weren't the only kids in our family. Jack was five years older than me and Philip was eight years older – post-World War II babies, both of them. They had half a decade in which to become mutually supportive before Alex and I showed up, and the difference in age between them and us was large enough that we were almost like two separate families.

I don't mean they picked on either of us. I realized later that they could have made our lives hell, but both of them behaved well enough toward us. They were just too far ahead in age to have anything in common with us. So they practiced benign neglect toward "the kids" and Alex and I stuck more and more to each other's company.

More important, our parents naturally were more concerned with the school activities and career plans of their two oldest boys. When I was starting junior high, Philip was a year away from finishing his college degree and was beginning to interview with company recruiters. Jack was about to go off to a good college on a scholarship and had his own ambitious plans. Nobody was much interested in what I was learning in seventh grade. For whatever reason, I never developed any bitterness about this casual disinterest. I didn't throw tantrums or break windows to get my parents' attention. I was proud of my brothers and they did give me their attention when I sought it out (which wasn't often). But they could have been uncles instead of brothers.

Alex had it a little worse. She wasn't "planned," of course, being so close to me in age, and she became aware early on that her conception had been unexpected. When we were little, we both heard Dad making what had obviously become a standard joke to friends and relatives – that their only daughter had arrived postage-due, "but we kept her anyway." And he didn't mean it maliciously, which was almost worse. It was an unconsciously hurtful thing to say, and Alex WAS hurt by it. That stupid joke made me angry as well, and it bonded me even closer to my sister. I was only eight or nine years old, so I could hardly say anything to my father about his unfeeling jokes, but I comforted Alex when she cried in her room. We began about that time to think of ourselves not even as twins, but in some way as one person.

By the time I was twelve, Dad had reached a moderately successful level as a regional sales manager in his company and he began to travel much more extensively and frequently around his enlarged territory. He was often gone two or three weeks at a time.

At about the same time, Mother's arthritis, from which she had first begun to suffer at the age of 35, became increasingly severe in her legs. Now, she was confined to walking only very short distances and was often in a wheelchair. She chafed at the inactivity forced on her and discovered new ways to do her shopping and cooking and laundry. She hated it when people tried to do things for her that she could still manage to do for herself, so she didn't demand our sympathy and constant attention.

Looking back, I admire her for that determination not to be a burden. At the time, however, it had the principal benefit for us that she almost never came Upstairs. It exhausted her and she showed up above the ground floor less and less often. After Jack abandoned his room and went off to college, Upstairs became*our* territory, Alex's and mine.

Dad usually came up for a few minutes when he returned from a trip, so we kept our rooms as clean as anyone has a right to expect from active adolescents. We hauled our laundry down to the washer and took turns mopping out our bathroom once a week. We folded and put away our own clothes and changed our own burned-out light bulbs. We made sure Dad was satisfied with our attention to our living quarters and he pretty much left us to manage the upper part of the house to suit ourselves, which confirmed our territoriality. And it gave us an almost adult sense of privacy.

Again, looking back, I realize Dad just wasn't much interested in the two of us. Philip and Jack together formed the focus of his paternal instinct. They were born in the lean years following Dad's discharge from the Army, when he drove a cab and sold furniture while going to college on the G.I. Bill. He and Mother lived in a tiny apartment and scraped along through the tail end of the 1940s, first by themselves and then with a son. In 1950, almost 30 years old, Dad finished college and landed a good sales job with a company that wholesaled office machines. Jack was born a few months later.

By the mid-1950s, when I showed up almost as an afterthought, my older brothers were in school, riding the forward curl of the Baby Boom wave. Apparently, Mother and Dad had intended to stop at two children but took a chance on a third, and never expected a fourth at all. So our parents weren't cruel or even deliberately unkind. Just not terribly involved with their two youngest. As Alex and I outgrew clothes or toys, they disappeared from the house, passed on or donated somewhere, with an air of relief hanging over them.

When I went over to some friend's house to play, we usually did things in his room – especially if he also had brothers and sisters. Any younger sibling who entered the room uninvited was pushed out and the door shut behind him or her. I accepted this as natural and normal at the time. It wasn't until I was entering adolescence that I realized that very few of my friends or Alex's had ever seen the upper half of our house. We had a large den and TV room downstairs where the family's supply of games was stored (now used only by the two of us), and that was where we usually played with our friends, whether separately or all in a group. Since Alex and I were so close in age, we had several good friends in common. Those few were the only ones ever invited Upstairs, and then only rarely.

When children begin to enter puberty they become physically very self-conscious. Bathroom doors are shut and even locked. Boys discovered sorting their sisters' underwear out of the dryer are tongue-lashed by its owner. One of my friends once playfully hid his younger sister's first training bra, and she nearly had hysterics when she realized her brother had actually touched it. Anyone who's not an "only" has had similar experiences, I'm sure, especially in a brother/sister mix.

I mention these things only to say that Alex and I were different. When Alex was standing in front of the hall linen closet in her first bra and panties, digging out the fluffiest towel she could find, I didn't make snide cracks. The first and only time I hooked a finger under the back strap of her bra and snapped it (doesn't every brother do that?), she ignored me… until I turned and began to walk away. Then she snapped me with a towel with such accuracy and finesse it felt like a needle had been jabbed in my ass. I jumped, she giggled "Gotcha!," and that was all. We were even-up and there was no escalation.

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