I was lucky enough to get a ticket to The Moth a few weeks ago and the theme happened to be Siblings. For those who don’t know The Moth is a live story telling event where participants put their name in a hat and are picked to tell a true 5 minute story live on stage with no notes. While I knew I would not be putting my name in the hat I quickly became consumed with the thoughts of what story I would tell, if I were to tell a story.
Siblings – my 5 mins
Apparently there is a whole theory on personality traits based on birth order. I was doing a little research the other day and it turns out I am pretty classic first born big sister.
Positively, we first borns are labeled caregivers and motivated leaders. We tend to be assertive and responsible, so they say. But on the flip side we can be jealous and bossy, and once we are no longer the only child we tend to become a bit anxious and emotionally tense…. well if the shoe fits…
My Brother, Pat, being the second and last born somehow inherited ALL other positive attributes – charismatic, adventurous, outgoing, determined, fun.
My brother and I were born 16 months apart so despite our different allotments in life we often played off of each-others strengths and weaknesses. Growing up my parents told me that Pat was late to do everything as a baby. For a while they just chocked it up to the guise that boys develop slower than girls but as time went on our pediatrician suspected that Pat may be falling behind because I was basically doing everything for him (my caregiver, leadership, bossy skills were apparently in full effect at age 2). He would cry I would tell my mother he needed a diaper. He would coo or grunt and ran to get a toy or a bottle or whatever else he needed. He had no need to walk or talk because I anticipated his needs before he had to figure it out on his own.
As we grew up the majority of our childhood fell more into that emotionally tense, jealous, sibling rivalry category. I walked through life feeling the pressure to be the responsible one, struggling to relate to my peers or focus on my own needs. I often felt trapped and couldn’t wait to get out into the ‘real world’. Pat on the other hand was carefree, good at school, an athlete and a friend to everyone – the golden child! Once he got to high school, my sophomore year, I quickly became known as “Pat’s sister.” From then on, no matter that I was here first, I was forever known simply as Pat’s sister.
Like most sibling relationships we grew closer with age. After high school I traveled, moved to the city and eventually across the country. Pat took the straight and narrow. He went to a state school close to home. He lived in the dorms and threw parties at moms house on the weekends. We were very different people living different lives, but when big things came up he always called me first.
I remember the 3am calls from his friends when he was to drunk to drive home. The time he called me from a collage party and told me “I think I just met my wife.” The time he called me from the ER. It was Halloween. Cell phones were new. He had punched through a glass window. “Ker, it’s really bad.” he said. “I am bleeding all over the place and I can see bone and I’m dressed like an old lady.”
I lived in Oregon at the time and there was absolutely nothing I could do but listen. He recovered, I moved back home and our phone conversations quickly turned from parties and bitching about our parents to talks of marriage and kids and our futures together. We had everything ahead of us and we couldn’t wait.
Two years ago around this time Pat called to tell me he was getting divorced. I had also just gotten divorced after the death of my 2 year old son to cancer (a story for another time). I knew how miserable divorce was and I begged Pat and his wife to reconsider. Back to my bossy big sister ways.
A few months after his divorce Pat called me to tell me he was having pain in his neck. A year earlier, in the last months of my sons life, Pat had a suspicious lesion removed from his tongue. The pathology shockingly came back as cancer yet we were assured they had removed it all and he would not need any further treatment. He called that night telling me he was having pain again and I knew. And I knew that he knew. He told me he was seeing an oncologist.
I spent the last two years answering his phone calls – sometimes terrified, sometimes beyond hopeful.
Pat endured two, much more serious, surgeries each time loosing more function. The last big surgery left him in the ICU for weeks with temporarily trach, a feeding tube and large skin grafts from his arm and leg. We were warned he may never be able to eat or talk again.
I stayed with him many nights in that ICU and when the doctors would round and Pat would grunt or cry out or gesture, I would tell them exactly what he was trying to say – just like I did when we were babies. In those days I could understand him like no one else. Many of his doctors asked if we were twins because we seemed to understand each-other so completely without a word, as if we shared the exact same DNA.
In the midst of the horror and fear and pain, Pat remained determined, charismatic and more strong willed than anyone I have every met. He impressed the ICU nurses by doing laps around the halls. He spoke when no one thought he would. He learned to eat again. He started chemotherapy and radiation. He brought his team to victory in the Crossfit regional games. He ran with the bulls in Spain, swam with sea turtles in Hawaii, hiked mountains, and threw some of the best parties bringing together people form all parts of his life. And just like he always had, he chose to see the beauty in the world and he wanted nothing more than to share it with us.
My brother died 6 months ago, November 14, 2015.
More than ever I am known as Pat’s sister.
I still wait for his calls.