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Parallel Brother photo

I never had a brother.

And I never quite understood why my older sister always wanted one. She was very specific about it, too. She wanted an older brother, I suppose so he could watch over her and protect her, as if his imaginary male energy could have shielded her from all the unnecessary hurt that comes with growing up. Not to mention, she hated being the oldest. Hated the responsibility of knowing and experiencing and living first.

But hear me out. It’s not like being the youngest was an easy ride, either. Sure, I cajoled my unassuming father into buying me Holiday Edition Barbie dolls at midnight, but I also carried the burden of making up for her mistakes and disappointments, of correcting angry blemishes that stained our family like the puffy pimples I developed a decade after going through puberty (no, you can’t explain how that makes sense, because it doesn’t). I had to watch her live first and then do it the right way. So, I guess in that regard, it might have been nice to have a brother. A buffer. A middle child, sandwiched in between us, smothered by yin and yang. Except, that wouldn’t work. You can’t shove a goldfish in between yin and yang.

I mean, don’t they always say three’s a crowd? Why, then, did my sister want another sibling? Was I not enough?

I spent my whole life asking myself this question. It became like a mantra. Think of #yougogirl, but the sad version… #amInotenough? It made sense with everyone else. You know, friends, parents, boys, job recruiters. But my sister? I thought I had always been just right for her. And on the surface it seemed like I was. Except, I couldn’t ignore the fact that, deep down, she wanted more. She wanted him. This fake brother of ours. And it took me two decades to realize that I could be enough and she could want a brother. That a brother could provide something neither of us could give the other. That, maybe, I always wanted one, too.

I had cousins growing up. I had uncles and gay friends and the occasional boy in class who waved at me when I walked by because it was the nice thing to do. And I had my dad. I had males around me, sure, but I think I understand now why a brother would have been different.

My mom has 5 brothers. One of them died when I was little. He was all of our favorite (even my dad, who doesn’t get along with any of the other 4 brothers) and I guess watching my mom lose a brother so young made me feel like I couldn’t long for one. Like it was wrong to wish I had a brother when she’d had one her whole life and then one day didn’t. And even after he passed away, she had 4 brothers. I know you can’t just say “oh, well, at least you still have that one left,” but she kind of did. I mean, 4 brothers are enough to have a phone call with one every week and restart at the beginning of the month. That’s enough to have to schedule in advance because there are so many brother-sister conversations to be had. My dad had brothers, too, most of whom died before I was born. Growing up, I heard so many stories about these heroic, gentle-hearted men I never met. How they felt like fathers to my dad.

Of course, I thought about these uncles. Even WhatsApp-d some of them when I remembered. But I think my sister soaked up all these stories while I wasn’t watching. Let them sit inside and multiply like viruses until one day they exploded, blooming across her skin her like an unshakeable pox.

Maybe that longing for a brother is what led her to him. You know what they say about twin flames and soulmates and what I used to consider mumbo jumbo? I think she had this gut feeling that hers was still out there. I can just picture them both numbly roaming around like unsettled ghosts. That’s why I could never break through her zombie haze, could never prove I was enough. Convince her that a sister is all you really need. Because she was waiting for him. She was mentally scouring the whole world until she finally found that missing puzzle piece. It’s so cliché, but I sort of understand. Because I think when she found him, something fit into place inside me, too.

I never liked my brother.

When she first met him, I hated him. He was everything I didn’t like and, funny enough, I was projecting my own mantra onto him. He wasn’t good enough for my sister. What did she see in him? Why was she risking so much to be with someone she just met? What did he have that I didn’t? Didn’t I help her when she needed it and support her and joke around and understand how annoying our parents were? Those same fears came bubbling up, a big fat #amInotenough glowing above my head.

I spent most of their relationship trying to break it up. Subtly asking when she was leaving him. Bringing up all the red flags she kept ignoring. And the more I did that, the more she shut me out. Until my niece was born and I realized I couldn’t let us drift to opposite poles, bridges burned to ashes. I had to tolerate him for my niece’s sake, even though I still didn’t understand the whole “love” thing. Could love really be so strong that it clouded any sense of judgment? But my sister never relied on judgment. Like I said, being the youngest didn’t mean I got to do what I wanted. I didn’t get the luxury of experiencing and testing life out first. I was the one who picked up the pieces.

And it seemed my role went both ways. I cleaned up my sister’s messes and I cleaned up my parents’. So when her husband died suddenly, I had to navigate the complicated mess of my sister’s grief and the consuming mess of mine and my parents’ guilt. She blamed us, chomped our heads off in the early days of life after him, demanded to know why we hadn’t accepted him or tried to get to know him when it counted. And I didn’t have an answer because it took this twisted sadness, this excruciating hopelessness, the days that felt like years, to finally learn what it was he had that I didn’t.

I’d spent so much of my life being the “good” child, I never figured out how to truly help or support my sister, to joke kindly or understand how invalidating our parents were. Maybe in some ways, she had needed more. And it didn’t mean I wasn’t enough. I just wasn’t him. And it wasn’t until he was gone that I realized she’d found him. The brother she’d always been searching for. That twin severed at birth, the boy who’d left behind some insatiable hole only he could fill. How funny. All this time, I’d been in a competition I could never win.

Now it’s been two years, and I understand. What it’s like to want a brother. Why a brother is necessary. The grief of losing a brother. I still feel like I can’t compare my grief to my mother’s or father’s. The person I lost was an idea, someone I hardly knew. Well, I suppose you can’t compare grief, anyway. It doesn’t exist on a straight line, doesn’t fit into a calendar or a planner. I have days where I forget, and others where I’m driving down the road late at night and I’ll see a sign or hear a lyric that brings me to tears.

I never got to know my brother.

I met him twice. The first time, we barely spoke. The second time, he wasn’t in his right mind. I never saw the days he was sober. The days he was the brother we’d both been longing for without knowing it. The days he watched movies and laughed at the same parts we do, sang along to Vanessa Hudgens, skipped down the street with a goofy grin, promised he would always love my niece, reminded my sister she was enough.

I imagine, though. Listen to all the stories she tells me of him, the fun facts and tidbits she sprinkles throughout the day so she doesn’t feel his loss so acutely, the pictures she has plastered on the walls to remind her daughters why they are so unlike their mother, talk to him on days I feel alone. Sometimes, when I’m flying on a plane, I wonder what he would have been like in the row across from me, taking up so much space my sister would have to ask the flight attendant if she could move. I think about what he would say, or, rather, what he’d do if he knew the kind of assholes I meet on these godforsaken dating apps (if we’re being honest, he’d probably bust out some taekwondo moves and kick them into next week.) I play his music and picture him on a worldwide stage, rapping and flashing all that jewelry he couldn’t afford.

I miss him. This brother I never knew. This brother that touched our lives for only a short while. My sister always wanted a brother. I think I did, too. I suppose I have one, now. But is it okay that I’m sad he’s no longer here? That when he was, I didn’t know him the way I do now? That I must speak to his grave to feel close to him? That my sister found what she’d been looking for and now she’s back to having just me? But, it’s not like he never existed. He’s in my nieces’ faces, their movements, their devilish grins. He’s in the sky, the walls, the memories I created out of thin air. He’s tattooed across my sister’s body. He’s a star in the inky night.

I could never forget my brother.