Preamble: Lee is my stepbrother, which is something I say only to clarify for anyone who is trying to figure out how my family works. My dad and I moved in with Lee and his mom Ellen when I was I think 10. (I never know how old I was when anything happened.) Anyway my point is that I grew up with him and he is my brother but we don’t have any parents in common.
Today was my brother’s birthday. When we were kids, the 15 months between us made him my younger brother. Now he is 36 and I am 37, so we are the same age.
I did not want our parents to move in together. I did not want another adult arbitrarily ending up with the power to make decisions for me. I did not want to leave Ajax for Port Perry. I did not want to start another new school. I did not want to share a room. I did not make a secret of any of this.
While I can assume that Lee also wasn’t thrilled to unexpectedly have a super angry and freaked out 10 year old girl move into his house, I actually have no idea how he felt about any of it. That has always been one of the main differences between me and my brother: While I broadcast every emotion the second I have it, it is rarely immediately obvious what is going on in Lee’s head. He is composed at all times, and speaks about heartbreak and lunch in the exact same tone of voice. Even if he is going through something life-changing, he might mention it so non-chalantly that you will miss it entirely if you are not paying enough attention.
There have absolutely been times when I wasn’t paying enough attention.
In 2009, my brother nearly died of H1N1. When he started getting sick, he went to the Emergency Room. They sent him home and told him he just had bronchitis or something. He got worse and worse but had to return twice more before they finally took him seriously. By then he was in really rough shape and had to spend weeks at the hospital, in isolation. The doctors said they were praying for him which to me is a bad sign from every angle. He eventually got better.
Since then, every year on his birthday he does something really scary, like jump out of an airplane or bungee dive.
I secretly hope that next year the big and scary brave thing he does is move the heck out of Oshawa. I can in no way relate to the fact that he still lives there. I left home as soon as I could, moving to Windsor for college when I was 18 years old. Since then, my brother and I have never lived in the same city. I have bounced around a fair bit, moving from Annapolis Royal to Kentville to Halifax to Ottawa to Edmonton to Ottawa to Toronto.
But that whole time, Lee has stayed in Oshawa. He values being close to family in a way that I do not, and had at first a relationship and now a job that he feels a duty to stick it out with.
That is another way my brother and I are different. He has a really strong sense of duty. While I don’t share this trait, I benefit from it. I could ask my brother for help at any point about anything and he would absolutely do his best to give it to me, whether it was train tickets when I was stranded or reassurance that our parents weren’t going to care that I had two boyfriends.
Here is the most unbelievable picture of me and Lee as super awkward tweens.
Especially worth noting is how much we have customized the clothing we are wearing: 1. We for sure both bleached our pants (again, he took a more measured approach than I did) 2. Lee’s shirt has been tie-dyed, and 3. You can’t see it in the photo but the Au Coton crop top I am wearing has been coated in several layers of fabric paint in order to emblazon it with a drawing I did of a dolphin jumping out of the water against a night sky. I wish I still had that shirt.
I know that Lee will still love me, even though I posted this photo, because Lee will always love me no matter what. There aren’t a lot of people that can make me feel that way, but my brother is one of the most forgiving and least judgmental people I have ever known. He is also hilarious, generous, and patient. I don’t think it has ever occurred to him to be otherwise.
Happy birthday, Lee. Since one of the traits we share is being hours late for everything, I feel like you’ll understand that I am posting this at 3am, when it is technically no longer your birthday.