Sunday, May 17, 2015

My mirror opposite

I read somewhere that full siblings are your closest relatives, and if that's the case then my brother Brian, born thirteen months after me, is technically the closest of all my relatives. But we represent a complete failure of nature and nurture to influence beliefs and behavior. Not only are we closely related genetically, but we were raised together in the same houses, with the same cast of characters, and went to the same schools. We even both played sports although I only lasted for two years in girls softball, which I joined up in the first place to show that I could play sports like a boy - I was pissed off about the unfairness of the world towards girls long before I heard of feminism, and being good at sports was the universally agreed-upon way, so it seemed to me at the time, of getting respect.

But while there were many talented athletes on "The Bensalem Doves" and we won the championship both years I was on the team, I was personally terrible. Mainly because I never felt like I really understood the rules of softball and also because I had stage fright and was terrified of screwing up. Which only made me screw up more. But I'm sure I took it all much more seriously than my team coach, whom I remember looked like Suzanne Pleshette (or "Bob Newhart's wife" as I knew her then)  holding her cigarette between two long and well-manicured fingers and chuckling when any girl screwed up.

And yet with all that in common we could not be more different. In every important socio-political way we are polar opposites: Republican vs. Democrat; anti-abortion vs. pro-choice; devout Catholicism vs. atheism; hunting/fishing/football vs. arts/science/philosophy. And on and on.
I was reminded of all this because this past Easter when the whole family was together I mentioned to the other siblings that Brian had defriended me on Facebook over something derogatory I had said about the Catholic Church. So he re-friended me, only to have us immediately disagree about something. And then there was the police sympathizers up in arms this weekend over the fact that a few high school students somewhere in suburban New Jersey did artwork on the theme of police brutality. Resulting in the Facebook exchange between my brother and I that you can see in the image posted here.

I've taken it for granted most of my life but it really is weird when you stop and think of it - in spite of our nature/nurture commonalities, I have almost no memories of my brother and i together when we were young. Just two I can think of: when we were toddlers, and we suddenly realized tomorrow was Christmas and we hugged each other in ecstatic anticipation; and then when we were pre-teens, singing along together to Carly Simon's "Your So Vain." And that's it. And I don't think we've ever had any actual conversations as adults without it almost immediately turning into an argument. We have nothing to say to each other.

Although as a rule my family is not big on communication. When we meet up for holidays there's barely enough time to bark out the latest big updates of your life (and thanks to Facebook even that's not strictly necessary) before someone turns on the TV and at least half the family plunks down to watch the professional sports game of that season.

But also I think my family generally finds me boring - I can say all these things here because they find me so boring that not one of them, I am confident, ever reads this blog. And I don't exactly find them riveting. They have zero interest in the life of the mind, except sporadically, my youngest brother Paul, who is also politically liberal. To be fair there are very few people anywhere interested in the life of the mind, and when you find one of them you gotta cultivate them and hang onto them for dear life. That's a reason why I stayed with my old boyfriend John for over ten years, in spite of the fact that he was a suicidal manic-depressive and incredibly self-centered and didn't appreciate me at all (until I was ready to leave him, and then he decided to propose.) But he cared about the arts and sciences and philosophy. He was a remarkable autodidact, and I could literally talk to him for hours and not get bored.

And that's why I miss my dear beautiful friend Earl so much. He's been dead for almost 18 years now. Wow. I think one of the few ways to avoid social isolation in the US, especially as a member of the lower-middle class, is to be a sports fan. Even dear Earl, who was beleaguered by all the people who wanted to spend time with him (I have never had that problem), once admitted to me that he didn't like sports very much but he followed them because that was one of the few things he could talk to his father about.

It's amazing to me how much closer I felt to Earl, whom I mostly knew as a work colleague and object of unrequited love, then I've ever felt to my own brother. I don't believe in the supernatural, in spite of the strange occurrence surrounding Earl's death, but it does make you think that what really matters is the communion of souls. Earl was a soul mate. My brother is a virtual stranger.