It seemed as if an hour passed before I finally spoke. “What the fuck is your problem, asshole?”
Well, not really. But what a great way to continue the story if it had happened that way, huh?
Unfortunately, reality tends to be slightly less dramatic than a “Dynasty” or “Falcon Crest” episode. However, sometimes reality can be more surreal than anything that springs forth from a Hollywood hack’s PowerBook. In the real world, I stared out the window for a few more minutes, took a deep breath and remembered my mother and sisters’ earlier pleas to “be the mature one” and to “not ruin Christmas.” Then I crept downstairs and immediately found myself seated opposite my brother playing…Jenga.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jenga, the concept is pretty basic. You have a tower made of pre-cut wood pieces stacked in alternating rows of three. Each person must then remove one piece of the tower until the integrity of the structure is compromised and the entire tower comes crashing down. The person who is responsible for destroying the tower is the loser. Simple.
I didn’t say hello to my brother. I couldn’t even look him in the eye. There was the realization of the absurdity of playing a Hasbro “Get Together Game” with someone who made it very clear to everyone else at the table how much he despised me. But this was one of those rare moments in my life when I had no clue what to do, what to say, how to handle such an awkward meeting. When in doubt, play Jenga, I guess.
My sisters and parents talked to him as if nothing had happened. Nothing was mentioned about the incident, everyone, including myself, content to pretend that everything was just as it was when we were all in our teens and early twenties. Was this the correct way to handle this situation? Probably not, but I had no alternative to offer, save stomping off in a huff in an overly dramatic fashion, thereby painting myself as the drama queen.
As the first game of Jenga continued, my brother made a few jokes and comments about my sisters, a TV show he watched, whatever. Each time he made a zinger, in my peripheral vision, I could see him look at me for a reaction, a laugh, a smile, anything. Sorry bro, ain’t happening. I was the Sphinx, stone-faced and stoic, concentrating on the game at hand. One funny quip does not forgiveness grant.
After a few rounds, my brother caused the Jenga tower to collapse. We played a second game, which he lost. Then a third. He lost. After he lost our fourth game, we decided to call it quits.
At that moment, a ninth-grade English Composition class analogy hit me. Our family was a Jenga tower. Together, we were a strong unit, holding each other up and rising above all the petty squabbles and minutiae, until some asshole kept picking away at us, making us unstable and unsafe to be around, until we collapsed. Not the cleverest way of looking at it, but it sure did fit.
My brother and I didn’t speak to each other the rest of his visit. The extended family sat and watched the kids open their gifts, enjoying Christmas through their eyes, remembering how much we used to enjoy the holiday when we were that age. We lived vicariously through these children, taking some of the joy in their eyes as our own. Every so often, a gift would come our way. My father bought me a black leather jacket from Big Lots (yes) that looked like it was designed in 1989. He was so proud of his gift, I smiled and thanked him profusely. He said he bought me that jacket after seeing the one I was wearing to his house a few days earlier.
He was referring to the $275 BC Ethic antiqued leather jacket I had purchased for the trip into winter weather not a week before. He thought it looked worn out and that I must have had it forever.
I love my dad.
As the festivities wound down, family members started leaving. Eventually, my sister-in-law, the saint who must suffer the fate of living with my brother 24 hours a day, seven days a week, came over to me.
“So, we don’t know where you’re living in California now. We don’t have a phone number or an address for you.”
I was a little taken aback. On autopilot, I blurted out, “Get a pen and paper and I’ll write it down for you.” WHY WHY WHY THE FUCK DID I…crap.
She returned with the pen and paper. We didn’t speak as I wrote down my address and phone number.
“Give me your e-mail, too.” I did.
I haven’t heard from them since.