This is the third and final installment of a series. To read previous posts, please use the links below.
Part 3, and Final:
There was one year. ONE.
One year where my brother and I rooted ourselves in the same soil of the same state. I had spent 7 years chasing two college degrees, a first job, and a wedding, and he had spent 7 years forming his own relationship with our mother. Turns out, he couldn’t quite get away fast enough.
But there was that ONE year.
I returned home to Illinois in 2007 defeated, frustrated, and sullen, but determined to make my new marriage work. I had given up a job I adored, at the college I had loved in my undergrad years, in a state I desperately wanted to stay in….because my new husband couldn’t find work he loved equally as much.
I remember it plainly. One day, about 2 months after our wedding and 10 months after moving to Minnesota:
Him: I just can’t work at the mall anymore. [He had taken a job at the local GNC in lieu of anything available in his field of study.]
Me: I know it’s tough, and I know you hate it.
Him: I’m going to go home and work for my Dad until I find something down there. There are more jobs in my field in Illinois.
Me: But what about my job?
Him: You can find something there.
Me: But that will take a little while, and I like my job.
Him: Yeah, but I just can’t do this anymore. I’m going to go home next month.
Me: [Silent. I guess I don’t have a choice.]
My tree, the one that had started to take root, the one who had grown tall with education and opportunity, was reduced to a sapling. Overshadowed, overpowered, and under-resourced by the towering behemoth that was my ex-husband’s ego growing too close for comfort.
I relented, not seeing a way out at a naïve 25 years old. He ripped up my roots and dragged me, 6 months later, to Illinois. He had found a job and a house, and I shallowly planted myself into a job that I hated and that ended poorly, but it was a job.
That ONE year, the year we moved back, I noticed how tall my brother’s tree had grown. He was a senior in high school, his branches jutting arrogantly out from center, showy and ready to push all elements of his past aside.
Having just spent more than half a decade victim to our mother nibbling at the chasm between us, he now had my ex-husband, the second porcupine, who saw nothing but fresh bark to gnaw. To carve and to cut. To manipulate and to mold.
My ex-husband preyed on the fact that my brother and I never really had what most families might deem a “father figure”. My brother was only 11 when he first met my ex, and was an eager-to-please kid who wanted nothing more than a strong male figure to validate him. Now at 18, the story wasn’t much different.
My brother jumped right into the fray. Helping my ex with work, letting himself be called “the mule”, a moniker owing to his enormous strength. Adventures that used to belong to two siblings, now belonged solely to the two of them. I hardly ever got to talk to my brother one-on-one. It seemed either my ex or my mother were intent on keeping the two of us separated.
The “V” in our branches widened until we were both almost prostrate to the ground, a virtual river of bullshit running through the canyon between us.
I’m positive my brother could elaborate on his own experience, but suffice it to say, when an opportunity arose for him to uproot himself and find a healthier climate, he didn’t hesitate. He had a new nephew in my 2-month-old son, but he needed new breezes through his branches. He left for Georgia, almost exactly a year after I arrived back in Illinois.
I was all at once sad and envious. I felt stripped of the time I *thought* I was going to have growing back together with him. I chided him the way my mom did me when I left for a different life.
For years, we stood fairly silent and separate. Both growing new leaves on our branches and letting old ones die off. I became a parent. So did he. He found his calling in a new industry. So did I. We grieved over our grandparents’ deaths, and then our father’s. He wrestled with vices and depression. And so did I. We struggled and twisted in the wind, each alone, knowing but not saying.
In January 2017, our tiny insular family imploded. A choice our two oppressors had made that nearly toppled what strength I had left. I only needed a month. A month to come to a resolution that would alter my entire life.
I remember the call I made to my brother. “I have something to tell you. I’m getting a divorce.”
It wasn’t the first time we had talked about “the affair”. My brother had known but like me, wanted to deny that something so egregious was happening in his own family, with his own mother and brother-in-law. When we finally talked, really *talked* about it, it was April of that year.
1,300 miles away on the phone, it may well have been 13,000. I still remember his initial response. Bristling. Cold. “I just don’t have any skin in the game. I don’t know who to believe any more.”
I remember the sting, like an axe to my trunk. I desperately wanted someone, anyone, to believe me. I had evidence, I knew it was wrong. I had my therapist, our marriage counselor, and my son’s social worker at school all telling me what was happening was inexcusable. Grounds for divorce if ever there was. But I needed my blood, my brother, to have my back. And he didn’t.
But I understood. What right-minded person would want to get sucked back into the drama he left behind? I could see now what a right decision he had made, when all I wanted to do was scoop up my son and fly.
It was July of that year when we finally talked again. The divorce over, a house bought, a move made. Exhilarated, happy and standing taller. Having no family but the 8-year-old that called me mom was a lonely but freeing concept. So when my brother called, it was welcome but unexpected.
“Em, you were right. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you before. I just didn’t want to.”
He had made a visit with our mother and realized almost in an instant how brazen they both paraded around their affair. At once, it was like all of the wedges that had driven us apart vanished. Our bark sewn back together and a deep scar visible, but healed.
It has been nearly two years since either of us had any verbal or physical contact with our mother, and it has been the best years my brother and I have ever experienced. We’ve explored our shared, but separate experiences in those “off years”. We’ve finally properly grieved over our father’s death. We’ve outgrown selfishness and comparison. We’ve traded stories neither of us knew before. We end up listening to the same music with 4 states in between us. We dangle our feet off of mountains together. We have adventures left, we two.
No doubt you’ve seen the odd scraggly tree at the edge of a field. The one who has been encroached on all sides, the one that has been nicked by the plow blades or combine? The one who has been entrenched in barbed wire fence so long, it’s trunk grew right around the barbs?
That’s us. Nearly strangled by hurt, but love just keeps growing over the pain.