Those two summers, we swam every day in the bayou “down Broken Willow”, as we said back home. There were different people there on different days, but always the three of us: my brother, his friend Danny, and me.
Being younger than the two of them by five years, I was assigned the lowest role in whatever games we were playing. The most common of these was to be a lookout for ski boats if we were playing too far from the tree or the shore. I also “got to” (it was a privilege, you see) chase and retrieve overthrown footballs, bring each of them towels, and go to shore to receive messages on behalf of the two of them (usually “come home”), and so on. I spent the better part of those two summers almost completely sunburned; the Florida sun pretty much laughs at things like t-shirts and sunblock.
Even though they used me as a lackey, a nine-year-old boy is pretty lucky when his fourteen-year-old brother will let him hang out, and I realized that at the time. All of that ended sometime during the next year, as my brother withdrew into his own world, a place he’s never really returned from in the forty-six years since.
My wife asked me last night why my brother and I never talk; I don’t really have an answer, other than that we’ve been having the same conversation for decades, and it never really varies. He tells me little to nothing about his own life, even when asked specifically, and has no interest in mine. We can relive the old days, though, laughing at the old stories; he still thinks its funny the errands he used to send me on, and the fatuous reasoning he’d use to justify it. And it is kind of funny.
Sometimes, you love someone, like a brother, but can’t really connect with them, except on some old ground. Maybe if he and I went swimming, back in our old neighborhood, we could still interact as though our lives had some ongoing commonality. But there doesn’t seem to be one.
Not every estrangement in life comes from anything bad really happening: sometimes, it’s just distance and difference, and you find yourself facing a stranger — one you love, but, who you no longer really know — if you ever really did know them.
With my brother, I’m not sure I ever did.