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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Orphans and Heirloom Tomatoes

I hand the phone to Spouse. I won't even answer when I see him on the Caller ID. I just say, 'Here. Talk to your brother,' and he gets up and starts talking (he paces when he's on the phone) and after the agreed upon hour or so, I rescue him by saying loudly that his presence is needed in the kitchen NOW RIGHT NOW and he says. 'I gotta go. The wife. Yeah well. Okay talk to you soon. Bye,' Then he ends the call (we don't say 'hangs up' anymore, do we? There's nothing to hang up, is there?) and throws himself on the loveseat. He looks exhausted and takes a deep breath. He tells me how his brother spent the entire time complaining about a life he refuses to live and a woman who is conveniently unavailable and then starts in on Spouses's legion of flaws. This irritates me to no end. Although  what remains between Spouse and I is irreparably broken, I still am slavishly loyal because in spite of everything we are friends and his brother, his only living blood relative never fails to remind him how he doesn't measure up.

Which is ironic. He survived being violently assaulted as a small child, then he was orphaned and what remaining family existed didn't want him so he, not being adopted, went from foster home to violent foster home (the last was best but by then so much damage had been done), aged out of the system and yet found the inner strength and drive to complete an education, look ahead enough into the future to see a skill that would both appeal to his enjoyment of gadgetry and be most useful in this computer age, have a wide range of friends and interests and managed to date and marry twice. He made mistakes and still does but he lives his life. In spite of everything. He deserves respect for that much but his brother wasn't having any of that.

By comparison, the man who is older than him by five years has never had an adult relationship, romantic or otherwise, (except for fixations on women who don't return his fascinations) yet tried to dictate to Spouse how to 'deal with' me when we were dating. Spouse was wise enough to dismiss the equivalent of a priest offering marital advice (yes, I do find it ludicrous, no, I don't care if it worked for you). He is attractive and can be quite charming, so does attract lovely women whom he readily dismisses with impunity. He says he doesn't want to be bothered with any of that stuff and yes that's his choice but I loudly respond that means he is not allowed at the conference table when Spouse and I are in negotiations even if it's over waffles or toasted English muffins.

He also went to chiropractic school and became quite enamored with the whole holistic homeopathic new-age thing, some of which I do appreciate and agree with. I'm opening minded enough to read the pamphlets and mini-articles he did for the campus newspaper at the college in Seneca Falls, NY and too admired how he applied some of this to his own routine, well except for the time we were visiting and he suggested we all go for a little walk and ended up footing it all over for about five miles and I realized he hadn't even intended to slow down. I stopped a few times to pretend to examine a lovely flowerbed or an ancient cemetery or gaze at one of the finger lakes the area is known for but I reached a certain point where even fantasizing about doing a tasting tour later of all the local wineries was not going to stop my thighs and ankles from screaming in protest so I stopped in the middle of a desolate road and said, 'I'm done.'

'Oh nooooo. We still have a long way to go. It's good for you.' Says he. Spouse has a 'worried' face and I look up at him and say, 'Go get the truck now, please.' Brother is hovering and starts gesticulating wildly and pacing (family trait I just realized) and is spouting something about hearts pumping but at this point and the way I feel, he's more of a really big dragonfly, while quite nice to look at, and a little scary if it sneaks up on you, is just a giant mostly harmless loud buzzing irritating as fuck insect that I'm about to pick up a cobblestone and brain. Spouse sees the look of murder in my eyes and wordlessly makes back for the campus to collect his pick-up. That night I sleep soundly. The following morning he tells me that his brother doesn't approve of him having a fat girlfriend/wife. I tell him I'm not telling him to choose but his brother is never ever ever going to give him oral sex so he better think long and hard about any decisions he might be making in the future. He considers my point and decides to cut the visit short by a few days.

That was when we were dating. Then comes time to meet 'his friends' and we all gather together at an Outback in Danbury, CT and out of the blue, brother shows up. They're thrilled to see each other but it's evident something has changed. The dynamic has shifted ever so slightly. And as a non-sequiter, while we're all standing outside waiting for our table, cold bursts of air in plumes of conversation, Brother stops and says incredulously, 'You don't flinch anymore when I raise my hand.' Inside my blood boiled but I felt a little triumphant too. These were all Spouse's friends and we'd all like to make a good impression on each other and once again Big Brother has to pull rank and comment on Baby Brother but he's finally realizing that they're not kids and that an expiration date for this shit is looming because we are engaged to be married and along the way, his younger brother's backbone is getting stronger by the day with a little help from 'Vitamin E'.

Then we're married a year and living in our new lovely home. We're proud of it. It's unique, I've turned out to be a great decorator and Spouse is picking up 'chasing squirrels out of the basement effectively and with minimal self-injury' quite well. I am cooking lots of delicious healthy dishes and he has gained 30 lbs. and we are the picture of domestic bliss except for one thing. His brother will not visit our home.

Every phone call, every conversation, I hear the plea in his voice, although the request is dignified and light-handed, 'Hey when are you coming down? Hey, you should see what I'm doing in the basement;' 'Hey why haven't you come over yet?' and he hangs up dejected and hands me the phone and I hang it up and rub his arm. I tell him I'm sorry. He shakes it off. I said, 'I think it's me. He doesn't approve of me because I'm fat and because he can't tell you what to do anymore.' He turns on the TV but I can see on his face that he's thinking about it.

Soon after I walk in the house to hear him arguing on the phone. 'How do you think it makes me feel and how do you think it makes my wife feel that my only flesh and blood refuses to have any kind of relationship with us? You disapprove and she's my wife, goddamnit. I love her and she's never done anything to deserve this.' I slip out before he sees me. Then the conversation turns to Brother dictating to him vitamins he MUST take and some enzyme in some soy sauce thing and some kind of water diet he has to do, man, but it's also been decided that he will visit that weekend, so we go out and get some groceries and I'm delighted that Spouse is delighted. I don't really care if Brother doesn't like me. Lot's of people adore me. My family worships me but Spouse needs to be shown a little love too so I want this to work.

The day of his arrival (he was to spend the weekend) I got stuck in horrible traffic on I-80, so they were there together hanging out in the living room when I walked in. He gave me an awkward hug and kiss on my cheek and they both asked what was for dinner and I laughed and said, 'Uh guys, it's hot. let me take a shower first and then I'll make something good' and ran upstairs for a quick one.
I made steak strips in cream sauce over buttered parsley'd egg noodles and some veggies and we ate like little piggies and satisfied we all went back into the living room to talk, the TV on low because I love background noise from being raised in a home where yelling and barking are preferred forms of communication so silence unnerves me.

For some reason, perhaps because he was so disconcerted by this picture postcard of peace and happiness that he unexpectedly began to berate Spouse and bring up what he was doing wrong in his life and what he needed to do right one of which he was very worried about was Spouse's poor eating habits. His eating habits stunk, per him. This man just inhaled three bowls full of beef stroganoff and he was shitting all over it and you NEVER EVER talk shit about MY COOKING in MY HOUSE to MY HUSBAND and I lost it a little.


I considered that I had wanted them to have a healthy relationship and camaraderie but I had no more control over that that I had over the weather. Their relationship would NEVER be like mine with my siblings no matter what I wished and dreamed for him. I couldn't wrap it up in a pretty package and make it so. I was so disappointed to come to this conclusion sitting between them and reading the openness, the wistful wishing on Spouse's face. He just wanted to be accepted for who he was imperfect as that might be and even if you have a million friends, to realize that the closest one to you doesn't think you're amazing is devastating. That his brother was jealous was immaterial. Everyone is damaged, just by different degrees. 

I lifted up my chin and said, 'YOU there. You don't ever talk to him like that again. This is his house, he is my husband and he's done a damned good job making a life for himself.  You have a degree in chiropractic and yet you prefer to stock shelves at a department store because touching women is 'icky'. TRUTH. There's a new sheriff in town. ME and you don't get to pull rank ANYMORE. You don't get to tell him what to do. *I* tell him what to do. Got it?' He answered by picking up his backpack and going upstairs to bed. I was done for the night too.

The next day they went on an outing and they came back with a carrot cake from Trader Joe's for me. If you've never had this carrot cake, I urge you to run right out and buy it. It ain't called 24 Carrot for nothing. The raisins are so plump they're like little juicy zeppelins and the icing so thick it could and does stand up on its own and salute itself.  I was making dinner and his brother leaned over the pot and started to talk in earnest about...well..about nothing...but he was talking a mile a minute and I was in kitchen mode so I was in my usual trance-like state and performing feats of magic with eye of newt and toe of frog and some fresh basil and I handed him a wooden spoon and instructed him to stir while I turned around and emptied the dishwasher and he never stopped talking. Not once.

At one point he said to me, 'My aunt wouldn't take us in when our folks died and when my grandmother died and left the house to us, my aunt took the money because she reasoned the state would get it and kept it for herself. Once R had to beg her for money for a used pick-up and she treated him like a beggar even though she took our money.' I said  distractedly offhand and matter of factly, 'There's a special place in hell reserved for people who steal from orphans.' my back to him while still putting away plates and cutlery, and he was suddenly struck dumb. Spouse walked in and broke the spell and they walked off discussing something else and I continued with preparing a feast for my men, because they were under my roof and that's what I do, even if they do ignorantly insult it and me and again there was a shift but this time it was between me and Brother.

The next weekend he arrived with a bag of heirloom tomatoes he thought I'd like and brought me a flourless chocolate cake from Trader Joes.  We made a key for him and sometimes when we come home from somewhere we find his car in the driveway and the lights on and there he is swinging open the door with a leftover chicken leg in his mouth and asking what's for dinner. He still gives Spouse shit about everything but there is a grudging respect now too. It may not be perfect but they do love each other and drive each other crazy too which is what siblings are supposed to do anyway, except sometimes, whether at 5 or 50, you have to keep them in line.

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