In normal circumstances, today we’d all be together celebrating your birthday. But then, for many years, circumstances haven’t been normal, have they?
My first memory of you is from the evening you were born, and it’s not a pleasant one. I can picture myself sitting in the car outside the hospital with my nanny, with the horrible feeling that everyone in the family had deserted me, as they were too busy with the newcomer. From that moment on I was terribly jealous – even before I had actually set eyes on you.
I was not particularly keen on you as a baby – after all you were useless, as I couldn’t play with you!, and you can see that very clearly in some of the photos taken during your first months, when I looked at you (occupying my old place in Granny’s lap) with a sort of “murderous” look. I resented the fact that everyone paid you so much attention – or, rather, that I was not the only centre of attention anymore.
Time passed and I found out you were someone I could play with, after all. And we played – oh, how much we played! Do you remember our bicycle races that almost inevitably ended with a sore arm or knee; our climbing up the huge tree that stood against the wall of our neighbours, and talking for hours on end with the old lady who lived next door who by an incredible coincidence was the mother of one of Mom’s friends; and how we discovered he had been secretly in love with Mom for many years (or so his mother told us…); playing hide and seek among the luxuriant vegetation of our garden, in the place that later became the swimming pool where we spent so many unforgettable moments; watching in awe the terrible tropical storms from the first floor balcony and feeling the smell of damp earth invade our nostrils while the rain poured from the sky and the lightning blinded us; playing together with my Barbie dolls and your Action Men; racing each other down the huge staircase on Christmas day to see who got to the Christmas tree full of gifts first; and jumping into the pool like a “bomb” precisely when the other was relaxing on one of the comfortable floating lounge chairs and getting him or her furious and wet…
And then, sharing our heartbreaks too. Having to leave our beautiful house, our beloved country…coming to live in a strange city, to a strange school…I remember the first winter, when we left home together before dawn and walked some fifteen minutes to school in the cold, under the rain…the road was and dark and we were scared but being together gave us the strength to carry on; and then we came back home for lunch, and back to school for our afternoon classes…how much we talked, during those walks…I guess they must have brought us together and as we grew into our teens we became best friends. More: we were accomplices, and we always stood together against our grandparents’ strict rules; and how much you helped me break the rules – without their knowing, of course.
I am particularly grateful for the help you gave me when I started going out at night in secret. As we lived on the floor above them, in a separate apartment, when I went out at midnight you closed the door softly, very softly so they would not hear it. I also remember the first time you got drunk, how I tried to conceal it from Mom and how I stood up for you and tucked you into bed. I suppose I felt somewhat guilty, after all you had been going out with me and my group of friends and we were all older than you.
You were my best friend, my confidante, you knew about my loves, I knew about yours, we understood each other completely – I even forgave you the insufferable Sunday mornings when you and your friends were in the living room (next door to my bedroom) listening to those dark songs by Iron Maiden whose lyrics and record covers terrified me. I knew we would stick together throughout our lives, forever and ever.
But somehow it didn’t happen, and we lost each other along the way.
It all began one sad day, one of the saddest of my life. Due to what I didn’t understand at the time but many years after concluded must have been a terrible misunderstanding of some sort, you reacted in a highly aggressive way when I brought my boyfriend – and future husband – to have dinner at home while Granddad was in hospital recovering from a minor operation. I was utterly shocked and my heart was broken. Instead of talking to you and trying to understand what had happened, I simply ignored you from that moment on and inevitably we grew apart. I never asked why, and proud as you are, you never tried to explain either, so we became like strangers, drifting away from each other day after day, month after month, year after year.
Our family tried to reason with us but to no avail: I was deeply hurt and felt you’d have to justify your actions; as for you, I could never tell what your thoughts were.
Years passed. I left home to marry. We avoided each other. On the rare family occasions when we had to be together we mostly ignored each other. We felt embittered against each other. And I suppose we got used to not having each other as we used to.
And then one day, incredibly, pain brought us together. When Granny had a stroke and we went to the hospital where she was fighting for her life it was so natural: instead of ignoring each other we simply greeted each other as if we had turned back the clock to those years when we were so close. Our family could not believe their eyes, and nor could Granny, who fortunately recovered only to face this happy news. As for us, we had so much catching up to do that we began having lunch together almost every week, to tell each other about our lives, our careers, our children who had been born during our years apart…that first Christmas was so happy, as we brought the cousins together and they met for the first time – my boys and your girl, slightly younger than Pedro. I still keep a photo of this memorable occasion on my desk.
Some years went by and we remained close. You were incredibly supportive when I was gravely ill, in hospital for almost two weeks. I remember you went there every day as your work was close by. You gave me hope when I was in despair, you told me I was going to be okay, you even bought and brought to the hospital the latest Harry Potter book that had come out that very day … I was so grateful that we had found each other again, I was so happy to have my brother back.
But I suppose the universe was against us. Your wife was never really at ease with me and I never understood why. There were other relatives who were not happy about us getting back together and I believe they worked against us. I felt you were drifting away again, you were becoming distant, and you seemed suspicious of something. And then when we were discussing Dad’s inheritance again you had a most unexpected, unacceptable attitude that made me lose my temper. I wrote terrible things to you – being so hurt myself I felt I wanted you to you suffer too. And I know you did, and while after all this time I have come to forgive you it seems you haven’t been able to to the same.
And again we grew apart, and again I stopped having a brother; for the second time around I lost my friend, my accomplice, my companion, the one and only person with whom I could look back and remember my childhood and teenager adventures, the one being in the world who would always be there for me as he had been for so many years. Again I lost my brother.
It is a sad thing to be estranged from someone who once was so close. Who has become a complete stranger as nowadays I know next to nothing about you. My boys deeply regret not having the chance of having a relationship with their cousin, the only one they have as their father has no brothers or sisters. Afonso is a few years older than her but Pedro is only slightly older so they might well be close and share the same group of friends. And when they bring up the subject – and they know the whole story – I can only tell them that I am truly, deeply sorry that things turned out this way. And also that I have changed very much in the last few years, and that I have long forgiven you so that, were you agreeable, we would certainly make peace and become close once again, hopefully this time forever. But you won’t have it. You have told Mom you will not go through the same pain I caused you with that terrible letter again. So you prefer to keep your distance. While I have leaned my lessons and forgiven you, you are not there yet. There is still too much pain and anger in your heart. And I’ll just have to accept that.
So here I am, again writing you a few words, not out of anger this time, but out of sadness, of regret. But also, looking back, of happiness for the happy times we had together, when we were truly brother and sister, always there for each other no matter what. What a privilege to have had you during that time, in our childhood and teens, and then again when we were adults, for those brief years when we were reunited. I’ll stay with the good times and try to forget the empty years, the years when I have become accustomed to being without you in my life. But you will understand that there are occasions when it gets harder and today – your birthday – is always one of those days. When I remember you and all I want to say is I miss you terribly. And I think that maybe one day, if not in this life, in another, maybe we’ll be together again and realize how utterly stupid we were for having lost so many years, so many opportunities, out of pride and lack of understanding. By then maybe we’ll be wiser and we won’t make the same mistakes. And maybe, only maybe, we can be brother and sister all over again.
I miss you little brother. And I wish you a Happy Birthday, with all my heart.