An overdue thank you letter to my brother on National Siblings Day
April 10th is National Siblings Day. Here, one contributor writes a letter to her younger brother, telling him the words she has always meant to say.
Dear (Big) Little Brother,
Today is National Siblings Day, so there’s no better time to tell you all the things you’ve taught me through the years. Better late than never, right? I could start by confessing the obvious — we didn’t exactly love our time together as children. In simpler terms, we freakin’ hated it (in a way only siblings understand). But at the base of every “I’m telling Mom!,” there was always love (or something like it). After Mom and Dad’s divorce, you couldn’t know how deeply I struggled with my place in the world. Tricky identity questions about my heritage surrounded me in ways I wasn’t able to verbalize or understand — especially when you were born the color of milk, while I was the color of honey. It was something I wished to ignore, but with the curiosity falling from everyone’s lips, I never could. Instead, I retreated to an isolated bubble, folding into myself forever and ever, for protection.
This is probably why we weren’t as close as we could’ve been.
For a long time, little brother, I wanted to escape the divide between our obvious genealogies; I longed to be more like you. I had no concrete place in the world, and you so obviously did.
If I could’ve been the star athlete or the confident one like you, maybe I wouldn’t have struggled for so long. Or, maybe I would have. Regardless, you made living look effortless, while I wandered hopelessly — trying to fill my empty spaces with anything that might fit.
But in the end, nothing ever quite did.
You didn’t know I was watching, maybe — but I was, always. No matter what’s happened (good or bad), how old we’ve gotten (we’re kind of elderly now), or how far apart we are spatially (could you get any farther away than Australia?!), you’re the only brother I have. I wouldn’t ask for another. (Mostly because I’d rather be an only child. Kidding. Sort of.)
You taught me what courage is.
When I married myself off immediately after my high school graduation, I left you behind without much thought. You had Mom, and she had you. I didn’t feel necessary.
Looking back, I was wrong.
While my marriage didn’t last, I’m thankful for those years when I lived outside of the house. It gave you and I the chance to know one another as adults, not the children who’d argue for the sake of passing time. Then, as you made a plan for your future, something between us shifted. We went from extreme dislike (indifference at best) to the kind of bond I wished we’d had growing up.
When you joined the Marines, baby-faced and strong-willed, you set off on a journey we weren’t prepared for, serving our country with such fearlessness. I could never write enough words to describe my admiration for what you endured. I know the sight of war infected your soul; it eats away at all the pieces you intended to fill with anything that might fit, but in the end, nothing quite does. I know those memories, pains, and fears cling to you like smoke, forever changing the way you view the world around you.
Even still, you strive to be everything your wife and children need.
I’m so thankful you returned to American soil, alive, as so many don’t. If something had happened to you, exactly half of me would’ve died with you. Despite our alternate heritages, and many, many differences, you’re one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known (right up there with our low-key feminist grandmother for enduring tuberculosis, miscarriage, failed suicide attempts, and the death of her one true love). If I haven’t told you any of this before, here I am.
Please don’t make me say it again (!).
You’ve shown me what responsibility looks like.
Even though I’m older by three years, it doesn’t always make me wiser. Having come from a financially unstable home, with our single mother putting herself through college and working full-time, you must remember how difficult it was. How humiliating it felt to go through school on free lunches, to pay for groceries with food stamps, and to have to cross our fingers there’d be enough money to keep utilities on and food in the cupboards.
I know you remember, because you left home at barely 18 with a plan to secure a better future for yourself, and for your future family. And while you put a plan into motion, I continued to fail. A lot.
Through my divorce, re-marriage, miscarriages, two children, and ever-changing careers, you and I set off on different journeys. While I struggled to figure out how to get by, you were halfway across the globe, thriving. It’s taken me years to finally land in a place free of financial panic, while you’ve taken those hard memories and transformed them into a comfortable life for your family. Considering where we’ve come from, you could’ve accepted that the struggle was inevitable. Instead, you worked harder, took more contract jobs — sacrificing time away from your babies — and did what a good husband and father would do.
Your fearlessness and determination are the two traits I admire most about you — and honestly, our Gram did, too. She’d be so proud.
You continue to teach me what tolerance means.
We’ve had a lot of fights in our time. Some were awful, and some of them were a waste of time. Having spent so much time together while Mom worked, there probably wasn’t a day we didn’t argue about something. Yet, at the end of the day, it was all fine. Over and over and over again, you and I are the epitome of what a forgiving relationship looks like — we’ve lived it. From the time I slammed the door behind me, causing you to get stitches in your forehead (you shouldn’t have been chasing me though — sorry), to the epic, frequent hair-pulling because neither of us had a healthy outlet to rid ourselves of all the anxiety caused by the turbulence in our young lives — we’ve made it through.
We’re still alive! Yay!
On this day, I want to thank you, brother, for being the one person in my life I never really got along with — but couldn’t imagine my life without. We’re polar opposites with differing opinions on pretty much everything. And yet, I credit that fact for my evolution as a wife, mother, and woman. Without your strong opinions to argue against, I’d be one dimensional, lacking any depth. Some things about you, I honestly wish I could somehow replicate within myself.
I wish I could be more outspoken and confident in my words. I wish I could be brave like you. And mostly, I wish I could go back to all those times growing up when I felt scared or hopeless — and get out of my own head long enough to see that maybe you were, too.
There’s a lot I’d change about our relationship, erasing the bad, replacing with more good. But alas, time only moves forward; not backward. With that, dear brother, I want to wish you a Happy National Siblings Day from way across the miles.
Because of you, I stand a little taller (you could be behind me ready to strike at any moment), talk a little louder (so people can hear me over your loud-ass mouth), and laugh a little harder (my favorite days are the ones we make fun of mom together).
Basically, thank you for helping me become the person I am today. And again, don’t tell anyone I said that.