Thursday, September 2, 2010

Siblings and Other Strangers

I’ve come to the realization that I know more people who are estranged from at least one sibling than who stay in touch with all their brothers and sisters.

My best friend in London isn’t estranged from his younger sister, but often wishes he were. Sis won’t actually attend auditions, as she feels strongly that they’re invariably overseen by persons unqualifed to recognize her luminous genius, but clings fiercely to the belief that she’s one of the great actresses of her generation, in spite of not having set foot on stage since 1982. She sits upstairs snarling at daytime soaps and sulking in the bedroom of the house she shares, so she won’t have to pay rent or make mortgage payments, with her over-80 mother, and is subsidized by the taxpayers, for whom she has nothing but the most ferocious contempt because of their own part in the vast conspiracy to ignore her brilliance. Occasionally, she deigns to accompany Mum over to my friend’s neck of the woods for a meet-up, at which she invariably drinks too much and reduces Mum to tears with her ever-more-strident denunciations of everything and everybody, of the world’s brutal unfairness.

I have remarked to my friend that compared to his sister, my own, nine years my junior, is love’s young dream (that is, really terrific). But that doesn’t mean I can speak to her with the slightest confidence she’ll be able to understand what I’m saying. On many occasions my sister has been extraordinarily generous to me. It was she who rescued me the night of my sole panic attack. Not long thereafter, she lent me her BMW in which to take out curvaceous cuties with whom she’d set me up. When she came to London, where I was living, a few years ago on business, she not only took me to breakfast (not an inexpensive proposition in London, be assured!), but insisted, since she was leaving for Paris that afternoon, that I take all her loose UK change, which added up to more than I was earning in a typical month in those dark days. But she’s also been judgmental and closed-minded, in my view, and three years ago, after I repatriated to the USA, I came to the painful conclusion that we don’t speak the same language, or even live on the same planet.

After our mother’s death, when we were trying to ascertain how much of the family trust each of us was entitled ti, she complained to her fiancé about my insisting that she sort out a particular matter with the accountant she’d hired to oversee the distribution after I discovered the accountant’s disinclination to return my phone calls. Her fiancé excoriated me in an email, calling me useless and suggesting that I fuck myself.

I’ve said stupid, awful things in anger myself, so it needn’t have been the end of the world. But then, when I explained all he’d misunderstood and asked for an apology, Fiancé refused to tender it. Still not the end of the world, but then my sister demonstrated herself perfectly content with his intransigence.

Each of us has always taken after one of our parents. My sister’s very much the ebullient, hey-look-at-me type my dad was, whereas I, like my mother used to be by my dad’s, have often been mortified with embarrassment by her fulsome bonhomie; she thinks I’m controlling, and I think she’s an inconsiderate exhibitionist. I think of an evening at a restaurant in northern California with my mother and daughter, my girlfriend and her own mother and sister. By the time we were seated, my sister was the new Best Friend Forever not only of the young woman showing us to our table, but our waiter, a couple of busboys, and everyone seated within four tables of us. “Jesus,” I whispered, “can you please turn it down a notch or two?” and she, in turn, wished she had a plateful of food to throw at me.

Even while she had me designing a Website for her proposed dog care business, she managed not to find a place for me on the guest list for her December 2008 marriage, or even to tell me, in advance of the event, that it was taking place. I was incredulous. I remain incredulous.

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