Last March my brother and I had lunch at an “Irish Pub” in Maplewood, New Jersey that on weekends fills quickly with local families. Maplewood real estate prices largely guarantee that at least one parent in every family works in Manhattan. We were amused, if slightly depressed, watching executives who manage entire departments, if not companies, eat wearily with their children. They sat with unblinking eyes, necks stiff from the effort to control their desire to flinch, aware that their Blackberries could not help them and their nannies were spending their weekends far, far away in Irvington.
My brother does not share my fondness for children as a species. He’s kind to them individually, but would never voluntarily spend time with someone under fifteen. Surrounded by wriggling ten year olds and gurgling babies, he frowned over his blue cheeseburger and muttered, “Why would anyone have kids? What’s wrong with these people?”
Defending familial instincts led me into teasing him that he was probably far more domestic than he wanted to admit. “I can see you now,” I said, “in a house in some development called ‘Chestnut River,’ two car garage, wife and kids. That’s probably who you are.”
He sputtered at the impossibility of such a future, adding that if it did happen, it would turn him into an alcoholic. Soon we’d painted the complete picture: potbellied, watching TV all day, his harried wife scurrying off to the kitchen to fetch him more pork rinds, repressed-yet-rebellious daughter writing angry poetry upstairs. Then I’d breeze in, we decided, the crazy aunt with a hot young Nigerian boyfriend, to spend two weeks turning their lives upside-down, liberating mother and daughter and leaving my brother cursing my existence as he chucks another Coors can into the pile near his chair.
Joking around that day, I don’t think either of us felt we could find our separate paths soon enough. As much as we love each other, we constantly struggled over his dislike of all things New York. Living with someone who didn’t want to leave the house, when leaving the house presented a buffet of wonders, was a drag. And obviously it was an even bigger drag for him.
Now, my brother is on his own, and working, and has changed his Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship.” We all know how serious that is. And I’m in England. I did go out with a Nigerian the other day, actually. It occurred to me today that life is slippery and we may suddenly find our Maplewood prophecy has come true: I may go from England to Thailand to Russia to Uruguay, arriving at odd moments in his settled life, while he raises a family in Buffalo with a nice girl. It could happen, and it could happen before you know it.
I’m so glad, either way, we got the opportunity to be unhappy together for half a year first.