Growing up, if he ever suggested I do anything, my brother Ivan would not take no for an answer. This was just his style. I learned to live with it but I always hated it.
One of the problems with extremely intelligent people, like my brother, is that they’ve slight trouble understanding why some people of lesser intelligence, like myself, might decline or reject what they’d offer or suggest. They, perhaps rightly, believe their suggestion to be entirely to that person’s benefit. He would argue that I don’t know what I do not want. He, however, did. Making him push and push and push for me to agree. Whether an act of love or an act of assholery, he would continue until he got his way. I’d consent.
Two hours ago, my brother offered me a hot dog. Which I accepted. And then he offered me a pickle, which I did not. I’ve never had a pickle before. I hate vinegar. I’ve only eaten chicken sandwiches from fast food restaurants because I’m too lazy to tell the cashier not to include pickles on the burger.
And so when my brother came into his living room with a quarter of a pickle on the side of a butter knife, I was transported back to those moments when I was eight; when he’d decide what television show we’d watch or what movie we’d check out for the weekend at Pathmark or what ride he’d try to convince me to go on at Cedar Point. He was older and wiser and I learned to hate not knowing why my opinion or reasons for saying no weren’t good enough for him, and thus, by default, not good enough for me.
Never did I believe that he was the reason for my unrelenting shyness. But I did believe the I did not have a reason to be anything but shy because hw as around. We lived in a spiritual world and he was the soloist and the scholar and the budding Christian apologist. I tried to care about our eternal soul and successfully failed.
He was Ivan – a name foreign enough to become whatever he determined it to be. I was Robert, a name predetermined to be exactly what all Roberts are, slightly dull, sufficiently normal.
There’s a certain narrative of my life that has often included my brother’s absence as the start of my, to reference my least favorite feminist novel, awakening. Once he, the charismatic, lover of all people and guru of all things, unbound by dreams or reality, went away for boarding school and then college, I could become the Robert Wohner I knew in my heart I was and could therefore finally become.
Before last week, it had been years since I’d seen or spoken to Ivan. For reasons that aren’t as dramatic as it’d seem. For many years, he was in California and I was in North Carolina. I’ve very little interest in seeing our parents. And so it was that we didn’t not speak.
But needing a place to stay for a week, I called my sister for his number. He offered his place.
On the surface, he is different but only if define different based on the reasons that we were raised to see different. I drink now. I curse now. I give no fucks now. If, therefore, I’m a different person, maybe. I disagree though. Those petty terms and conditions by which we were raised to view life with have all but faded in relevance from my mind.
I’ve always believed that my life was lived in distinct parts. That there was the part where I was the Missionary Kid and now I am the revolutionary artist and the ardent naturalist and the future alcoholic. When I assumed this new life, there was no family, no religion, no home and no community to join me along the way. It a version I’d never have predicted, but was entirely true and right and real.
Still, I wish there was a way to blend the curve; to make this life and the last not opposites or contrasting, but the logical and right conclusion to the confusion I felt as a kid. I don’t need my life at last call to be progress or enlightenment. I don’t need it to be anything more than the choices of a moderately satisfied 23-year-old. I just wish there was a purpose to the faith that bred me that brought me to the bar at 3am on a Thursday night. I hate becoming the cliche: the former child of the cloth who has traded his communion cups for shots of whiskey. Who switched his bathroom reading from Charles Spurgeon for Christopher Hitchens.
And yet, while there’s a feeling that these lives are distinct and that the life I left behind me is a cold room, when I sit on Ivan’s couch, I don’t feel intimidated or limited. Ivan isn’t dealing with me, his timid younger brother. He’s dealing with a directionless fuck with a slightly unhealthy desire to continue to do so, glasses raised and fist pumped. he’s dealing with the Robert who is slightly comfortable at being entirely that. And so while they are different, I’m happy to be living this one.
Which is what made his insistence about eating a pickle so fascinating. It was evidence of another life I’ve tried very hard to forget resurfacing. And it was my chance to compare.
With minimal hesitation, I ate the pickle. Ultimately, I’m living a new life where there are no reasons to ever say no. Because there’s no real reason to live, there is no real reason to take a risk, because there’s nothing one can really ever lose. Which sounds depressing and it slightly is. But at the end of the day, it’s a pickle. I hate that shit. But it’s a pickle. I squinted and swallowed and that was everything.
Ivan wanted me to like it and I argued, “Hey, it’s all down.” He was satisfied with that.
“You haven’t changed a bit.” I told him. “I agree. You haven’t either.” He wasn’t really right but I’d like to think that he wasn’t wrong. And, I’m thankful for my brother for a reason I couldn’t be thankful for anyone else. Because he’d actually know that I haven’t changed all that much. And I like that.