Peanut butter, butter, jam. That was how I used to describe one of my all-time favourite sandwiches when I was younger. Or just peanut butter and butter. My favourite at the time was crunchy peanut butter whereas my second oldest brother preferred the creamy version. The silky smoothness of the butter, accompanied by the sweetness of the jam, and offset by the slightly salty and crunchy peanut butter was, no doubt, a heavenly combination. As an adult, I preferred the creamy version. Having the peanuts mixed in it was too much hassle, I decided. So perhaps my older brother was right all along. There were several occasions during our younger days when our mother bought the creamy version, thinking it was the one that I liked. I would adamantly remind her that I preferred crunchy, not creamy. And that she was obviously thinking of my older brother and not me. She found it most amusing whereas I didn't.
My second brother also liked his motorcycles during his teens and early twenties. He even had names for them, something I discovered later on and which surprised me. At that time, I didn't realise boys had names for their vehicles. Yes, I was very naive. As a schoolgirl, I was a pillion rider once or twice on his motorbike. I was wearing my school uniform so I had to tuck the skirt tightly under me so that it wouldn't blow in the wind. With my second brother, there was no touching him. I held on to a strap on the seat behind me. My oldest brother was more protective and when I was his pillion rider, he requested that I put my arms around his waist. Which I did. There was no time to feel self-conscious or shy. He told me to so I did it. With my third brother, I only touched his shoulder when I sat behind him on his motorbike. He was the one I attended Sunday evening mass with a few times. He didn't seem to mind me going with him and it was a good excuse for me to ride on my brother's motorbike, if only as a pillion rider. Attending mass together was also a way to get closer to my third brother, whether he knew it or not. Maybe he knew. But such things were not spoken about.
My brothers care about me. I know they do. More is shared with my younger brother but that's how it has always been since we were children. It's easier, I suppose, for a sister to share with her younger brother. It was easier for me, anyway. And as much as I wanted to be close to my older brothers, I knew that we didn't have the sort of relationship that I'd often daydreamed about or watched on television. Damn those tv dramas of my youth. They only made me long for what I didn't have. So I wrote instead. And now that I'm an older woman and able to observe boys and young men in general, I realise that my brothers, especially the oldest three, were just boys being boys, which didn't help sometimes when I wanted them to be "sensitive". My oldest brother was a sensitive soul but he also seemed aloof a lot of the time. He and I seemed to have slightly more in common though as we both enjoyed books, music and drama and were on the quiet side. Maybe he was also just growing up and trying to deal with his own issues at the time. What did I know? I was a shy daydreamer who lived inside my head most of the time, and almost always retreating to the safety and familiarity of my bedroom. When I was thirteen, my appearance in my nightdress prompted them to nickname me White Ghost. To this day, I'm not sure what that was all about. They even teased me in front of our male cousins who happened to be visiting at the time. Their teasing made me only too keen to get away from them. They were just boys; they were my brothers. If I only knew then what I know now. Ah yes, wouldn't the dreaded teen years be so much easier.
A recent silence from my second oldest brother had me worried. I hoped that he was all right. Every e-mail to him was always answered promptly but this time, it wasn't. Was it because of his job or maybe even his marriage? Or was he also missing our uncle who passed away a few months earlier? Maybe he was just dealing with the loss differently. Or maybe... No one knew. I certainly didn't know and I shared my concerns with my husband. Worrying about my brothers was nothing new.
I cared about my second brother. I worried about him. I sincerely hoped and prayed that he was okay. He was always special to me since we were children. He was only two years older and yet, seemed older than that. He was always independent from a very young age and just seemed wiser and more knowledgeable. He just appeared to be older. And to this day, I remembered that I looked to him for protection. For he was outside on the front porch one night, working or cleaning his motorcycle and I went outside after an unpleasant incident with my father.
Later, as an adult, I confided in my second brother about our father. I was in my early twenties and staying with him and his wife. I was also going for counselling which no one knew about. Even that had to be a secret.
My second brother missed our father too. I'm sure we all did. From certain e-mails over the years since I left home, I realised that he missed our Dad. Not once has he brought up what I shared with him years ago. And when I told my husband that I was particularly worried about the recent lapse in communication, it was because I had always looked up to him as a young girl, and that I had looked to my second brother for protection. My husband said that my brother probably knew it. When? Certainly not at the time it happened. And was I really looking to him for protection? The answer? Yes. And maybe my brother knew it too after I shared with him.
My brothers aren't teenagers anymore. Neither am I. And yet, it's still so easy to see them that way. It is not about holding on to the past. It is about remembering -- fondly, sadly, whatever emotion it evokes. I will never be able to write about the perfect older brother-younger sister relationship unless it's a piece of fiction. Which is fine by me. But at least I can also write about the real relationships we had. It wasn't perfect but it wasn't all bad. It was all we had so why pretend. For at least I always felt safe with them. And that's what really matters, I think.
A fifteen-year-old girl quietly joins her seventeen-year-old brother on the front porch as he's working on his motorcycle. And she wonders if she should tell him. It is safe out there with him, away from her father, who is upstairs. There had been a most unpleasant incident which bothered her, and which she wants to tell her brother about. But she doesn't. But it is nice out there. It is safe. That's all that matters.