oh, brother

It's on a mousepad! It HAS to be true!!

So, first, something good: on Saturday, I received a text out of the blue from brother #2. He sent a picture of something funny he saw in a store, knowing that I would enjoy it in the same snarky vein that he did. It led to a long text discussion back and forth, and tentative plans for a visit. It felt especially good following the despair I was feeling on Friday regarding him and brother #1.

Now, the not so good: brother #1 was indeed at the party at the mutual friend's house, and I have a definitive answer to the "is he not speaking to me, or does he think that I'm not speaking to him?" question.

He totally blew me off. Totally. Like I didn't exist.

I knew things wouldn't be good when the first person I saw when we pulled up was SIL, and after she returned my wave, she walked off with a friend of hers, literally turning her back on my family, rather than wait less than a minute to say hi to us. If I had been in her shoes, I absolutely would have waited. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I'm having trouble thinking of a good reason for her choice. Once in our friends' yard, I heard my brother greet my oldest son, but absolutely no acknowledgement of me or my husband. Whatever. I tried to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he thinks I'm not speaking to him and he's not sure what to say. Maybe he is too busy talking to the guy beside him and doesn't see me.

At some point, I awkwardly tried to join my SIL and her friend in their conversation. She was cordial. No, civil. Cordial sounds like smiling would be involved. She was not warm. I last saw her in August, when she and I and our kids got together at a park; she was cordial but not friendly then, I'd say. I badly wanted to ask her about my brother at the park that day, but didn't. We have established in the past that we don't talk about the family drama.

Back to Saturday's party. A friend of mine arrived (huzzah!) and joined our conversation, and then we went inside to get some food, at which time SIL and her friend broke off quickly from me and my friend, and we didn't hang out any more for the rest of the evening.

Meanwhile, my brother was still not registering my presence. I had been thinking over the past day or so about how to say hello to somebody who you strongly suspect is not speaking to you. Especially when he's your brother. I mean, it would be rude to just come out with "are you purposefully ignoring me?" in a party situation. Real buzzkill for other guests. But you can't introduce yourself to your own brother, and at this point we had both been there long enough that it was too late for the "hey, good to see you!" thing you can do upon arrival. So when he passed by me, making zero eye contact (it was like I was a piece of furniture), I gave him a sisterly fist bump to the shoulder and said "hey!" in a cheerful voice.

Nothing. No reaction. at. all. My friend asked who that guy was. My brother. She was a little shocked by what she later called "the snub."

My husband later cornered my brother - literally, waited until he was in a spot in the kitchen that was surrounded on three sides and took up a position on the 4th side, so my brother was trapped into conversation with my husband. My brother avoided eye contact. Tried to pull other people into conversation - those people are apparently not close enough to Bro#1 to save him from somebody he doesn't want to talk to, and they avoided joining the obviously awkward exchange. So Bro#1 was kindof forced to make small talk with my husband, who eventually, when the kitchen emptied out, asked him point-blank if he's not speaking to me. My brother confirmed that he is not, because, as he put it, he is "just fucking DONE."

You're DONE? Fuck you. And the high horse you rode in on. But at least now I have confirmation of what I suspected was going on, and can rest assured that there is no miscommunication here. It's possible that he thinks I'm not speaking to him, but I think my lame attempt to engage him should prove that incorrect.

He avoided us like the plague after that. We left not terribly long afterward. When I hugged the hostess later, while saying my goodbyes, SIL was next to her and I said goodbye and felt weird - I mean, normal people would hug their SIL goodbye, right? So I asked, "can I hug you?" and she said "of course" (ha, there is no "of course" with her) and I hugged her and told her that I miss them.

The end.

This led to some processing, of course, during which I had some moments of clarity and also some moments of added angst. It is important to note that I felt about 70-80% fine during the party, even after being openly snubbed. I enjoyed the gathering. I met new people, had happy conversations...and for an introvert who was being actively shunned right that moment by her brother, that is HUGE. Those numbers are totally scientifically derived, by the way.

The Clarity
  • I am SO grateful for people in my life like my friend, with whom I had a tête–à–tête after my husband's intelligence mission. She acted as a compassionate witness, assuring me that what I experienced was indeed a blatant snub, and also reassuring me that no, not everybody has huge happy family fun times at Christmas. She reminded me of some of her family dysfunction and essentially made me feel less alone in the world. Everybody should have friends like this, who know how to make you feel like a normal human being instead of like a broken lonely freak. 
  • I am also grateful for Brother #2, who knows me well enough to share something with me that we will both find funny, who doesn't agree with my choosing NC with my mom but who still wants a relationship with me, and who, apparently, is not totally embroiled in the "Claire is a Bitch" psychodrama.
  • I can now go forward with the knowledge that Brother #1 does indeed hold a grudge. It's not my imagination, it's not crossed wires. 
  • I need to do some emotional work on how I have previously viewed my relationship with Brother #1. I was closest to him growing up, in part because we are very close in age and had the most experiences in common. He and his wife can both be judgey sometimes (she alienated a mutual friend in not-too-distant history by telling the friend that her house is essentially a temple to consumerism), which put strain on our relationship when our lifestyles were not extremely in sync. When we were all childless and vegetarian, we were friends. When we had kids and they didn't, they got judgey and distant. When they started having kids, it was initially awesome because we make a lot of the same parenting choices, but then it got bad again, in part because I had the audacity to buy a minivan, which, in SIL's words, "represents everything wrong with America".  If I'm honest with myself, the best time in our friendship was when I was 17 and he was 15. That's more than 20 years ago. 
  • I need to put more effort into my relationship with Brother #2. He is a laid-back guy who hates the family conflict stuff, so he is not likely to be the one to maintain our relationship. I have been slack because I was tired of people blaming me and felt like, you know what, if they want to talk to me, let them come to me. Time for me to put more energy into it.
  • I'm also having more clarity about what exactly makes a good sibling relationship, and which of my siblings I really enjoy, and why. Ultimately, in order to be friends as well as siblings, we have to have interests in common, compatible personalities, and be willing to talk to each other without namecalling and blaming. It's no coincidence that the two siblings who share my sense of humor and who have a less black-and-white view of the world than Bro#1 are the two to whom I feel closest.

The Angst is a whole 'nother post, I think. But the nutshell version is:

  • Do I contact him to try to mend fences? If I do that, am I disrespecting his desire to go NC the way my mom disrespects mine? Would it be ok if the communication was non-shaming and non-blaming and showed a willingness on my part to take responsibility for my actions? But how do I do that when I really don't regret my actions? 
  • And...the kicker...isn't that pretty much the same situation as I have with my mom? Being treated by him the way that I treat my mom makes me wonder about how those two situations compare and whether or not my decision to NC is an appropriate one. My husband says yes. My gut says "oh please don't go back to her". But is it hypocritical for me to cut somebody out of my life and then think somebody else is wrong for cutting me out of theirs? More on this later. 

A few good things came of this. I texted Brother#2 back to thank him for our earlier conversation. I told him the things that I enjoy about him. We chatted very very briefly about the family situation. Later, I thanked my friend for being in my life and told her that I love her. I don't say that to friends often enough. And I also thanked my husband for what he did at the party. It was unasked-for and while it was a little aggressive on his part and I wouldn't exactly call it a nice thing to do, it was helpful. (And my brother can suck it if he didn't like it.)

Our city is having a very warm Christmas, and I've been practicing the mental task of focusing on the good in things rather than focusing on what I wish were happening instead. I wish that we had cold weather, because it's nice for fireside cocoa and feels Christmassy and cozy. But I am focusing instead on how nice it is to go out without a jacket in December. How awesome it was yesterday to open up the doors between my kitchen and back porch and breathe in the fresh, spring-like air while I baked. How my friends from warmer climates are feeling happy and enjoying outdoor meals. I'm going to do the same with my social networks: celebrate what is right rather than mourn what is wrong. There's nothing wrong with mourning, but right at this time, seeking out the bright spots and appreciating them is important. So I'm going to do a lot of that. I'll still write about my brother angst, but I'm keeping light alive inside of me and focusing on the people I love.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, celebrate what is right! It gets easier and it gets better. Have a great Christmas!