When you’re a single woman at twenty-eight years old, the fact that you live in a small apartment with your younger brother adds to the general imposing curiosity of those around you. “Oh, I thought you were going to tell me you had a boyfriend,” one of my closest friends tells me after I expressed to her that I had a life update, which happened to be a raise and promotion. “How’s your love life?” even my boss at work questions me every now and again, craving for me to indulge her so she wouldn’t have to feel sorry for me, as if being single at this age were an unfortunate crisis, something she would try to help me “fix” by giving me relationship advice.
I’ve already strayed off topic, though. Late at night I lie in my bed, awakened by the sound of a high-pitched voice coming from the living room, which happened to be one door and a hallway away from my bedroom. The soothing rain sounds have turned themselves off by now on the Amazon Echo which is set to play for exactly one hour while I doze to sleep. I reach to my bedside table, hand grasping for a phone in the darkness. I pick it up, the back light illuminating the space around me, screaming into my brain that it is 1:12am and I have been woken by my brother’s girlfriend’s obnoxious voice. I listened closer, realizing they were playing some sort of video game, and she was just having a blast. The more her entertainment and joy rose, the more my bitterness and frustration leaped, a space shuttle erupting in flames and smoke as it ascended higher into the sky. How dare she wake me in the middle of the night from my precious rest.
One more screechy laugh set me off. I was being personally, deeply, directly disrespected, and I had to do something about it. I flopped out of my bed, still interwoven between the intricacies of my sheets. I stumbled to my door without the wonderful idea of turning on a light, feet crashing into various articles of furniture and shoes left on the floor. I was drunk with anger and disoriented with sleep.
I left my brother, Ryan, at home with my parents when I moved off to college after I graduated high school. He was fifteen. I didn’t realize at the time that maintaining closeness in relationships requires work and effort. I was used to the naturalness of being around Ryan every day, and our friendship was something glorious we shared but hadn’t really acknowledged because it was just there. I didn’t realize what it was until I didn’t have it anymore. And I was supposed to be the mature one, the leading example.
Ryan is what Inner Child therapists would label the “Lost Child” dynamic of the family system. His head was filled with Marvel superheroes, Star Wars quotes, and videogame characters. He was downstairs, lost in his own world, while the rest of us were upstairs, me usually attempting to solve the petty arguments my parents were getting in. I was the “Family Hero”- the one who got good grades at school, planning my future collegiate aspirations, making the family look good to outsiders. I couldn’t tell you when or how our roles switched temporarily, or how they switched back, but here I was, ten years later, fumbling for my doorknob, seeking vengeance for an interrupted sleep cycle.
I stormed across the ten-foot hallway, prepared for retribution and sturdy boundary-setting. “Would you please keep it down?” the bitter statement formed as a question burst out of my barely-awake lips. Two sets of eyes gazed back at me, one horrified and the other confused, a lost puppy stopped dead in the blinding headlights of a rampant vehicle. I was taken aback by the meek reaction and compliant nods of approval, but this didn’t stop me from dramatically stomping back to my dim bedroom for extra theatrics. I don’t know what I expected, but it was like I craved a rebuttal, an argument to allow me to release my critical anger, or at least to put me back in my place.
My heart raced into a puddle of tears as I lied back down, trying to cover myself up into a cocoon of blankets despite the heat beaming throughout my body, wanting to shed the parts of me that harbored the guilt of abandoning my brother during his most malleable years, and the parts of me that blamed him for not trying to stay connected with me either. But here we were, living together, trying together, learning together. Outsiders may not understand the intrinsic rationalities of why some people do the things they do, just like I didn’t realize my own purpose of living with my brother until I wrote this essay.