By Danie D. Taylor
At this moment, in early 2014, I have three brothers and two sisters. I note the year because I have learned how quickly that number can change. Ten years ago I had two brothers. Compared to other friends currently in their 30's, my Sibling Growth Rate (SGR?) borders on incomprehensible. But it wasn't always this way.
There were only two of us growing up, Danie & Derek. We were together from the time Derek was born until I went to college. Derek and I developed a relationship that worked for our personalities. We didn't like a lot of fluff. Our formal regard for one another bothered our parents. They used to demand to see us hug when I came home from college. In those instances we would pour it on, squeezing each other and pretending to be overcome with emotion. The parents were not amused.
Derek and I haven't lived together in 16 years and still, I know what bothers him and when he needs tough love as opposed to blind support. Even now, we rarely talk about our feelings or say "I love you." Like any siblings, we have the bond that comes from surviving parents and sharing history. We also share guilt.
One winter break, while snooping through my dad's things, Derek found a sonogram. It was a recent image of a Baby Taylor. It was right before my dad’s birthday, and I don’t think he was surprised to find condoms in his gift bag that year. Four months later, Ty was born. He was eight months old before I held him (as I was leaving the country to study abroad). He took his first steps before we spent a single night under the same roof.
Unlike myself or Derek, Ty has always been extremely expressive. He loved his absent siblings immediately and acted accordingly. One of my first Ty memories is - after arriving late one night at my dad’s - waking up to Ty's face inches from mine. I opened my eyes. He exclaimed, "Hi Danie!" and launched himself at me.
Ty and I never lived together. I graduated from college and moved to Fargo, then Las Vegas and finally San Francisco. He lived with his mom in North Carolina. I would call, but the list of discussion topics between a 20-something girl and a boy under 10 was limited. Thank God for Ben 10. Seriously.
The only person who could remotely understand my feelings regarding Ty was Derek. Because, you know, the sibling survivor bond and all that.
First of all, we were angry. We didn’t want another sibling. We didn’t want another “D. Taylor” sharing our name without having earned it. We did not want to split holidays or have to coordinate with another family. We honestly didn’t understand why we even had to acknowledge the baby. My dad has at least four half siblings I literally cannot name, and one we knew for a few months who was named after my grandfather. Basically, I was a terrible, bratty teenager reacting to disruptive news. It was a lot worse for Derek.
“You don’t understand Danie,” he told me. “It’s not another daughter. It’s another son.”
To Derek, Baby Taylor represented another son who could make up for any of Derek’s (perceived) shortcomings. He was a kid worrying about being replaced. As his champion, I took up his cause. The whole thing was a dramatic fiasco that no one needed. How dare our father bring this to our door?
Righteous indignation is fine, until a little squirming person is presented to you. When someone hands you a baby and declares him (in any way) yours, well, all bets are off. I wrapped Ty into my protective life bubble. He was mine to love and support, a new recruit to team Danie-Derek.
Wanting the best for a family member is the easiest way to let the guilt get you.
Our father put us in a position for which we were not prepared. He knew remote fatherhood. We did not know remote sibling-hood, other than to know it was a responsibility. We weren't there with or for Ty for the dissolution of the relationship between his mother and our father. Though Ty didn't know he needed us, he did. And Derek and I knew it. Ty needed the user's manual to our father that Derek and I devised. Our dad is a sensitive sort, when he's not being a brute. Ty had to learn on his own. What good is having older siblings if they don't pave the way for you? What kinds of siblings abandon the youngest among them?
Ty's mother could not provide the same kind of life Derek and I had when we were little. He had everything he wanted, but he didn't go to private school - which (misguided or not) Derek and I had been taught was the first step to success. His mother was alone with three kids. Our father was a long drive away. Ty never had family game nights with us and he missed, "time to get on daddy," which was the battle cry when Derek and I would team up for a tickle take down of the big guy. (Once he was down, we would sit on him, obviously.) Ty has almost always had two separate parents. That wasn't fair. Derek and I felt that put him at a disadvantage. We could have tried to compensate by visiting him without our dad. We could have called more. We could have done homework with him over the phone. We could have done anything to be there for him. But we didn't. As the oldest, I didn't. I needed to tweak my sibling approach for this affectionate and eager new audience. But I didn't know how. And I never made the time to learn.
After the anger and along with the guilt, Derek and I were resigned. Part of our unity comes from logical calculations. While our parents are balls of emotion, Derek and I are cold - or "practical" if you feel like being polite. The fact was that we didn't sign up for a lifetime commitment to our father's weekend fling. We could not be expected to change our life plans out of guilt. I could have moved back east to be closer, but I wanted to be west. I could have set up a weekly phone call, but how long before it became a chore? I could have chipped in for the education I wanted him to have, but that wouldn't be fair to me. There was little Derek and I could to "improve" Ty's “situation.” No, there was nothing wrong with his life. It just wasn't the same as ours. Derek and I told each other we would do what we could, without trying to parent. We never clarified what that meant, but it felt like a resolution we could keep.
Four years ago, Ty's mom moved their family to southern California. I imagined the opportunities of being in the same time zone and in the same state. Calls. Visits. Things were going to be glorious! Until they weren't.
I called more often, for a while. Ty came up here once, more than three years ago. I saw him for a trip to Mexico, and the last time we were all together for Christmas 2012. He’s still delightfully intuitive. After hearing about my breakup with XBFJ, he asked, “Did he take his Xbox?” Then, “Did it hurt?”
I don’t know how this kid landed in my family.
We are talking about a sister fail of epic proportions. How is it I can go to South America for 19 days, but I can't bring my brother up from SoCal for a weekend of SF fun? He's not a baby. We can talk about all kinds of things now - including the fact that Ben 10 Omniverse is terrible. My dad told me his voice is changing. I still haven't called to hear it. Do I need another reminder of the childhood I'm missing? Would it be the impetus I need to change my ways and be the sister I should be? Or would it add to the shame that has so far kept me in the shadows of Ty's upbringing?
There's only one way to find out.