This was my submission to the CBC Non-Fiction Prize this year. I didn’t make it to the longlist, but that’s okay. That means that I get to share it with all of you. I chose to write about my brother this year, a topic I hadn’t attempted before. I hope you enjoy it.
I have not spoken to my brother for twenty-four years.
I’ve often thought about what I’d like to say over the years that have passed. Those conversations have ranged from angry outbursts to pleading. The truth is, I don’t know what I’d say to him after all this time. It’s not like we can have a relationship of any substance.
Yet, there still feels like there is this part of me somewhere out there in the world that I can’t touch or hold. A part of me that’s missing. Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror and, though I can’t see it, there is a hole where a piece used to sit. I can hear the wind whistling through it.
We are identical mirror image twins. Our fingerprints are the same, but they swirl in different directions. My cowlick was on the right side of my head, his on the left. I’m right-handed and he is a southpaw. When I was in pain, he felt it and when my brother hurt, the pain felt like it was my own. My mother says that for a time in our youth, we had our own language. I’d like to think part of that language remains and that I’ve heard it on the edge of my dreams, vowels and consonants shaped into words.
As we grew older, we began to show our differences. He was into all kinds of sports; it didn’t matter which kind. He excelled at football, hockey and baseball. I didn’t know my way around any kind of field and couldn’t throw a baseball to save my life. I found my comfort in words and in dramatic arts. I could happily spend my entire lunch period in the library. By the time high school came around, we ran in different circles. We became strangers to each other.
Like a lot of kids, we were also pushed apart because of our father. We were twins, so he expected us to do the same in school. When report card time came, my father would place both cards side by side and judge us based on those marks. When I got a higher mark in English or art, my brother was called stupid and dumb. When I got lower marks in sports or physical education, I was called weak and a cripple.
I can’t pinpoint the moment that we started to dislike each other. He went from being my best friend, someone with whom I shared a language, to somebody I didn’t know. Often, I tried to recall the language that we used to speak, but like a lot of things between us, it remined lost to me. He began to be someone that I would turn away from instead of turning towards.
We took our anger out on each other. At one point during a fight, I slashed my brothers left hand wide open. During another altercation, he broke the pinkie finger on my right hand. We were destructive towards one another. We were both so angry at ourselves and we didn’t know any other way to express our feelings, so desperate to be individuals instead of a pair. We left our marks on each other, both internal and external.
Over time, my brother and I began to move further and further apart from each other. I took solace in school and writing, he took joy in getting into trouble. While I kept trying for good grades, my brother got into trouble and on occasion he got arrested. We were both trying in our own way to get noticed; we wanted to be seen. I tried to hide behind the visage of the good twin while he took joy in being the bad twin. More and more, time chipped away at the bond between us.
There had been a small creek that ran between us the moment our father pitted us against one another and over time, it had widened to a lake. Now it is a swiftly moving ocean. Whenever I looked at my brother, I could hear the sound of water.
We came together again when he briefly left home. He welcomed me as the link to the family that he still loved. I would be able to ride across the ocean between us and find my way to him. All I had to do was climb the mountain and look inside myself to find the small grain of light that still existed and connected us. For a few months, it felt like I had my old brother back, the one who had been my friend and confidant.
All too soon, the family took him back and when he came home, I lost him to the waves again. Things went back to the way they were, and the roar of water became deafening. Life would continue as it was for only a moment longer, however I didn’t know that it would be my turn to leave.
Just as my brother went home to find a piece of himself that had been taken away, I left home so that I could find a piece of myself that I was missing. I knew that when I left, I would not be able to see my family again. I had hope that my brother would come to find me, that he would try to find a path over the water like I did for him, however the words from my brother stopped and the wind carried only the whisper of silence to me.
I would send words to my brother across this ocean between us. I tried sending poems across the water, little bits of journaling; memories of the past that came to me in my dreams. I tried for years to evoke some kind of a reaction, hoped for some kind of response, but all it did was hurt me when the only reply I got was the sound of water.
Lately, because of the state of the world, that missing piece of me that is my brother has been a loud whisper in the back of my mind. I can hear the wind from time to time and it catches me off guard. I feel even further from him that I did before, the ocean having grown to a sea of unfathomable blueness.
And yet, for all that longing to speak to him, I wonder what I would say. Would I tell him what’s happened in my life over the twenty-four years we haven’t spoken? Would I regale him with everything that I have done? I’d like to think he’d be proud to be my brother as I am proud to be his. I’ve come to realize that you can love someone even if they are no longer in your life. I have been sending that love to him for years.
When I look out at the ocean that sits between us, I can see everything I’ve ever sent to him over the years, every word or trinket, every memory I’ve had of him. They fill the ocean and when the moonlight hits them, it looks as if the water is filled with stars.
Whenever I hear the sound of water, I think of him.