Why I’m estranged from my brother

People sometimes ask about my brother: ‘How’s he doing? Have you seen him lately?’

I usually deflect this by saying evasively: ‘He lives in the USA.’

It’s weird, but though I’m very open about most things, I don’t like talking about my brother. I can kind of feel the condemnation and judgement coming off the other person when I admit to being estranged from him: what kind of person doesn’t speak to her sibling?

I’m not the only one who has a difficult relationship with their brother. My wonderful friend Kia is also through with hers, as she explains in this blog.

Unlike Kia’s brother, though, mine isn’t a drug addict. Relations between us are difficult for different reasons.

When my brother was born, three-and-a-half years after me, it soon became clear that we had nothing in common. I was loud, he was quiet; I was messy, he was neat; I was creative, he was academic; I was a rebel, he was obedient; I daydreamed through lessons, he was studious.

Unlike me, he was everything my mum had ever wanted in a child, and she adored him.

I was jealous of him, and would push him over when he was learning to walk. I would suffer my father’s abuse and my classmates’ bullying at school, and take it out on him. We would argue, and I would hit him, pinch him, nick his stuff, pull his hair.

He would scream, and I remember my father holding me down and telling my brother to hit me: ‘Hit her! Be a man!’ And my brother wouldn’t want to do it.

I know that siblings often fight. The difference between us, though, was that we never played – not even when we were both happy, which was a rare occurrence in our dysfunctional household. We weren’t remotely interested in each other or in each other’s thoughts or personality.

Aged ten, I put the distance between us down to him being Capricorn and me being Cancer. Of course we were opposites! Astrology said we should be.

These days, older and wiser, I think perhaps it’s as simple as having different genes for personality – even though the answer to the question of whether there are genes for personality is complex.

Me asleep.jpg

Aged 16, when he was 12, I pulled out my brother’s internet lead because I wanted to phone a boy, and back in 1996 you couldn’t be on the phone and the internet simultaneously.

He drew his fist back and punched me in the face, giving me a huge black eye. When I told my parents, my dad laughed.

After that incident, I stopped talking to my brother, and we never really started talking again. The last time I had any contact with him was after my dad’s funeral in 2016, before he flew back to America.

It was so awkward – we had a hard job making eye contact, and we didn’t hug. We talked about our violent dad, and my brother tried to convince me that my mum wasn’t responsible for not walking away from him: ‘She’s tiny! She’s one of us.’

‘She’s not one of us,’ I said. ‘When he started hitting me, I was three-and-a-half and she was 36. That’s the same age as I am now, and I’d never countenance a man hitting my daughter.’

He said: ‘All I know is, Mum’s been the most supportive person in my life.’

I replied: ‘All I know is, Mum’s been the least supportive person in my life.’

My brother went back to the States soon afterwards.

The thing is, I don’t miss him or think about him at all. You know a conversation with someone to whom you have nothing to say? That’s us. People tell me that I should make an effort with him, but that’s only because they can’t imagine being estranged from their sibling. If they had grown up in my family, they’d understand.

There are seven billion people in the world, so why maintain contact with someone with whom relations will always be strained, just because you share the same DNA?

Me lotus

The pictures are of me.

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The affair and the coded diary

When I was 16 years old, I had an affair. That makes it sound torrid and sexy, like Jeremy Irons and Juliet Binoche in Damage, when in fact it was anything but.

I had just been kicked out of school, and had been dating my boyfriend W for a year and a half. He was gentle and funny and kind, a super-smart straight-A student with blond hair, a huge toothy smile and a warm, tanned body. I wrote in my little black pocket diary when we met about how much I looked forward to seeing him and how happy he made me.

We met through another boy at his school. Our first date was on 5th November 1995, when I was 15, and we went to see Clueless at the cinema in Harrow. After that, we sat on a bench in the cold sunlight, and he asked if I had a boyfriend. I didn’t, so he kissed me. To this day, I miss his kisses.

On our second date, I remember straddling him on his bed at his parents’ house. He was shaking with nerves, and said ‘I have to leave soon, as I have a dentist’s appointment.’ I asked if he minded going to the dentist, to which he said no. I deadpanned, ‘Good, because I think you’ve done enough trembling for one day!’

(Very early in my journalistic career, I wrote the story of our relationship for a newspaperThough everything I wrote was true, I left the affair out, because I was too ashamed to include it.)

W was so sweet, but he was only a year older than me, and immature in the way 17-year-old boys can be. I mentioned before that he said that, if a genie were to grant him a wish, he would wish for my tits to be bigger. He also bought every issue of FHM and Loaded to ogle the women, and used to get porn magazines (Playboy and Penthouse) out from under his bed after we made love, and compare me unfavourably to the female porn stars.

Regularly, at least once a week, he would tell me he fancied other women, despite my explosive anger each time he did. The word ‘jealous’ doesn’t encompass how I felt. It was jealousy bordering on insanity. I remember showing him my school photo from my year group, and him singling a girl out and saying ‘She’s the best-looking girl in your year.’ He really didn’t understand the effect his insensitivity had on me. It was so important to me to be thought of as desirable, as I had been friendless for so many years when I was ugly.

The affair was with T, a man ten years my senior. I was so ridiculously infatuated with him, possibly because he was older, and also because he was a fan of my favourite band, Duran Duran. He knew the band personally, always went backstage at their concerts, and kept £30,000 worth of DD memorabilia in the flat he shared in Ealing.

I knew T wasn’t besotted with me in the way I was with him. But in my stupid muddle-headed teenage way, I figured it was my right to have an affair with him, because my boyfriend kept making me seethe with jealousy.

The affair didn’t last long. On one occasion, I remember T putting U2’s Pop on the stereo before we slept together. The track ‘Do You Feel Loved?’ came on, and T murmured into my mouth, ‘It’s such an important question’ – which is ironic, as he didn’t love me at all, and in retrospect, was just using me for sex.

Ariane at 18
[Me, aged 18, a couple of years after the affair.]

Each time I saw T meant 100 times more to me (at the time, at least) than it did to him. After each tryst, I’d write about it in my tiny diary. But I decided to write in code, in case W read it, though he hadn’t in the past. I was such an idiot that I made the code super-easy to crack: I wrote the first half of the alphabet above the second half, and then swapped in the letters. So the word THE was GUR, and the word AND was NAQ. Not exactly Bletchley Park-standard.

Eventually, T got bored of our affair and started avoiding my phone calls. I was devastated. I still remember the last time I saw him: I turned up at his workplace, and he was horrified. I remember him marching me outside, and telling me, ‘You’re crowding me! Stop crowding me.’ The moment he turned to walk back to work, I burst into huge noisy sobs, my shoulders shaking. Several passersby stopped to see if I was OK, and one gave me a tissue.

That night, I wrote one of my first ever songs, ‘Sweet Revenge’:

One day you’ll see me in a different light
One day when I’m long gone
In your mind but out of your sight
You’ll know that you were wrong

When I asked you to hold me
You didn’t want to know
Took my love and then told me,
‘It’s over, just let go’

And every day, you’ll spend longing
Just to hold me once again
Knowing you did the wrong thing
That’ll be sweet revenge

One day you’ll look at me a different way
One day when it’s too late
Kick yourself for causing me pain
Realise your mistake

When I needed you badly
You tore my heart in two
Cut me out once you’d had me
So now the hurt’s in you

And every night you’ll lie wondering
When the empty feeling will end

Wishing that you had loved me
That’ll be sweet revenge

Never thought that you’d use me
Believed you were for real
You never thought that you’d lose me
Now you’ll taste how I feel

And every day, you’ll spend longing
Just to hold me once again
Knowing you did the wrong thing
That’ll be sweet revenge

And every night you’ll lie wondering
When the empty feeling will end

Wishing that you had loved me
That’ll be sweet revenge

After the affair with T ended, I carried on seeing W. All was fine between us, until I picked up the phone one day and heard him crying. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘You had sex with T!’ he sobbed. ‘I’ve read your diary and it says you slept with him several times. You described one of the times as a perfect day!’

I was appalled that I’d hurt him so much. I didn’t know what to say.

‘I can’t tell anyone but you,’ he cried, ‘and you’re the person who did it! I feel so stupid.’

‘I’m so, so sorry,’ I said. ‘It’s over. I’m never going to see him again. I wish I hadn’t done it.’

Hearing W cry was the ultimate punishment. I felt so guilty. We carried on seeing each other, and would date each other on and off until I was 22 – but the trust had gone.

I never think of T these days. I can’t understand what I saw in him.

Conversely, I often have dreams of W and wish I were with him. He’s the only one of my exes that I really miss. He’s married now with two little boys, and I wish I were his wife.

Ironically, the song ‘Sweet Revenge’ could have been written by him, about me.

Age 16 (2)[W and me, aged 17 and 16 respectively.]

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