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.
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?
The pictures are of me.
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