My 10-year-old brother is an embodiment of all the things I could never be. He is loud, playful, wears his heart on his sleeve and is expressive in all the ways I have yet to master. I would chalk it up to the innocence of childhood, but my younger self was never that. I think the difference spans from the parenting or maybe I am just looking for ways to justify being jealous of a child.
My childhood was painful; rife with abuse and all the things that make people need therapy. My brother’s is different. He came at a time when my parents were settled and ready to be parents. He’s wanted. I am a failed abortion. My mother insists that this is untrue, but my mother says a lot of things.
She had me in a family compound in Southern Nigeria surrounded by people who felt nothing towards her. Her father spit on her the day he found out she was pregnant and her mother had to be physically restrained from hitting her. She was 19 years old and barely out of high school.
Abortions aren’t accessible in this part of the world, but my mother is nothing if not persistent. When herbs from an old midwife didn’t do the job, she took pills from a shady pharmacist who saw an opportunity to make a quick buck off of a desperate teenager. She bled to the brink of death and spent days in a back alley clinic with only her best friend for comfort.
She had barely recovered when she decided to try again—but this time, her mother discovered the pills in her purse and all hell broke loose. Being born to devout Catholics meant that only one option existed: keep the child and marry its father. They got married in a courthouse six months after I was born.
I was the glue that held them together. Until I wasn’t.
* * *
“She should have left you at that church,” is a rough translation of what Aunt Micah says to me minutes after I get into her car. It’s 2014, I’m eleven and I have just run from a screaming match with my mother. Those are common now, a desperate attempt to regain some form of power in a house that leaves me bereft. My mother’s sister does not like that and she’s always been the type to bare her thoughts.
She goes on to call me a disrespectful twit, an ugly horse and an imbecile. On a regular day, I would mutter some insults of my own but my brain is still stuck on her first sentence. What exactly does she mean by that? I find out two years later when my mother randomly says; “It’s a miracle that you have complete body parts and a healthy brain.”
I’m supposed to be too young to understand what that means but I do and suddenly, my entire life makes sense. For the first few years after this, I wake up everyday with an unmistakable ache in my bones and a longing for something I am still yet to identify. On some nights, I stare out my tiny window at the plantain trees behind my house and sob into the still air. I like to pretend that the crickets cry with me, too.
During the days, I bury my head in fanfiction and my cousin’s romance novels, I mouth off, I fail my classes, I eat less and less and I pray that someone cares enough to ask if I’m OK. Nobody does but it’s fine because my brother is three years old and needs constant looking after. We are already different in that regard. He gets active parents who dote on him. I got a grandmother who was always too tired.
* * *
I have avoided my brother for most of his life, because I cannot muster anything other than resentment for him. I love him and the rest of my family in the cold, distant way you are obligated to feel about your kin, but I’m not very sure I like them. What does it say about me if I feel that way about the people who have kept me alive? I worry that I am incapable of love.
I conceal this well, buried beneath the layers of all the things that I hate about myself, but on the days when this worry threatens to destroy me—I despise my parents for all the ways they’ve fucked me over. I have become this impenetrable wall of unaddressed trauma, insecurities, lies, an irrational need to push people away and a fear of abandonment to match.
My parents teach my brother that all his emotions are justified, and that no matter what, someone will be there to listen. My mother cut me off as I tried to tell her about the years of sexual abuse I suffered under her roof. My father is a fleeting stranger who I happen to share a last name with. Not to my brother, though; they share belly laughs and finish each other’s sentences. My mother regularly lets me know how much she appreciates me but she tells my brother she loves him. He says it back, regularly and unashamedly.
He says it to me, too, sometimes. He giggles when I roll my eyes and tell him to go away. But then I cry into my pillow because he’s the first person to ever say it to me. Yet I wonder how he could love me, the sister who can barely tolerate spending two hours with him.
My brother does not cry into his pillows or tip toe around the house for fear of a beatdown—and for that, I am glad. But everytime he shares a hug with my father or a laugh with my mother, some sick part of me wishes we shared that. That way, I wouldn’t have to confront the fact that my parents were capable of being good, and I was just wasn’t enough to bring that out of them. I like to believe that I’m healing, learning to forgive my parents and wholeheartedly love my brother, but sometimes, I can’t help but mourn the parents I should have gotten.
Arese Sylvester is a writer and editor born in the fires of chaos. When she’s not eating a sandwich, she’s retweeting every meme she can find.
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