My mother went to her grave wishing her children would get along better. There were times when she gave up on our being friends and would have settled for a truce.
We weren’t close in age. In some ways we had different childhoods, almost different parents. The one thing we shared was growing up in the court of a king by divine right, our father. We never knew whether a day would bring feast and finery or a trip to the Tower. Looking back, one thing I regret is that I left home and saved myself and left my brother and sister tiptoeing around the castle.
Later, after the monarch died, his emotionally battered queen limped along as best she could. For my part, I stayed away. I should have done more to help her, and when, in the last years of her life, I did do more, my brother and sister no doubt saw my swooping in and taking over her financial affairs as a metaphorical killing of the fatted calf for the prodigal son. Or maybe it was worse that that: maybe to them it seemed like the return of the despot king.
The first man born of a woman murdered his brother, they say. I see sibling anger everywhere, but I’m not sure I really understand it. Our brothers and sisters are the people we first love. What goes wrong? Perhaps the demon that possesses us is the obvious one: jealousy. Perhaps it is simply the natural order of things, especially among men, to want to knock off the competition for mates. Whatever the cause, there is a stubborn durability to problems among siblings. In some ways it is that resistance to healing that, like a festering open wound, does the greatest damage.
Mom has been dead for four years. Lately a kind of gentle, defenseless peace has settled over me and my brother and sister. I am grateful for that, and for their forgiveness. I am sorry that Mom is not alive to see it, but perhaps the last parent has to die to free the children from the competition for her love.
My sister tells me about her career plans and how my niece and nephew are doing. My brother tells me about the new golf driver he’s thinking of buying. We talk about how they’ve changed the golf course we grew up playing. He’s the only one I talk to who knows how hole number three used to be laid out. I can tell him how I remember hitting the big tree on the far side of the driving range and know he can see its spreading limbs as clearly as I do. Somehow that reassures me that it really happened, that it’s not just another of so many things I wish had happened.
They say that when we get older we begin to journey back through our past. My brother and sister are the last people alive who know my past almost all the way back to its beginning. If I don’t have them to talk to, I’ll be making my journey alone.