growing up dalston house

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Once, in a Proust Questionnaire, I was asked for my greatest accomplishment.

“My brother,” I responded quickly, without thinking it through.

I could tell by the looks on people’s faces that I’d gotten the answer wrong.

I blushed, and it slowly dawned on me that another human being’s existence could probably not be my accomplishment.

I mean, I know that.

Clearly, my brother waded through our sometimes-overlapping lives with his own brand of survival.

*

When I was about 22 and Trip was about 11—after he’d come back from Germany but before I took custody of him—I drove down for a visit at our growing-up house.

As I pulled into the neighborhood, I recognized him playing football with some other kids in the upper lot, and I pulled the car over so that I could join in.

We were happy to see each other. And Trip’s face took on a particularly adorable look of playful competition when I was assigned to the opposing team and I got into position directly across from him on the line of scrimmage.

Right before the snap, I lifted my eyes to his. And it sounds strange to say, but honestly? For a split-second I couldn’t tell us apart.

I don’t even know what I mean by that.

*

When I consider my family of origin, there’s always a little bit of Dalston House illusion tied in.

Otherwise, none of it quite makes sense.

*

After the football match, I drove Trip down to the familiar house in which we’d both spent sporadic years of our lives.

“Where is Mum?” I asked, when we pulled up out front.

Her car wasn’t in the drive.

“She’s not here.”

I could tell by his tone that he didn’t mean she was out on a errand.

We had the same mum. But a decade apart. When my mum left, there was always a dad or a sister or a grandmother or a stepdad getting left too.

Not so for Trip.

“How long has it been?”

He shrugged.

“You could have called.”

Another shrug.

My brother and I walked through the lawn. Across the threshold.

Bare hardwood floors stretched in every direction.

“Where is all of the furniture?” I asked, worriedly.

“I’m pretty sure it’s in the attic.”

“The attic?” I asked, but I wasn’t really asking. I was just trying to get the information to stay in.

“I think she was afraid I’d spill on it or something.”

I tousled Trip’s hair. He smiled.

I headed to the door leading up to the attic.

A heavy padlock hung from it.

It would not have been easy to move all of the furniture up the attic stairs. And she would have done it single-handedly. But we both knew Mum and her bouts of superhuman strength.

Trip came up behind, stared at the padlock with me.

I didn’t know what to say.

“Should we saw it off?” he asked.

Questions like that should never be asked.

Because they are too confusing. And there is no right answer.

*

My brother, eleven years my junior, lives on an island now.

We speak almost daily, occasionally about the riddles of a childhood that, because of our age difference, we both shared and didn’t.

I enjoy our conversations, but prefer when they are void of questions.

Questions make me decidedly nervous.

“I think I’m getting island fever,” he says today. “Do you think I should move?”

My palms start to sweat.

Deep down I know he’s just shooting the breeze, asking a simple question.

But my brother and I are all that is left of a family that once was.

And half of our connection is built on mirrors.

*          *          *

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