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?”
“You could have called.”
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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