Yesterday, my BABY half-brother graduated from high school. Technically, I’m old enough to be his mother (my father and step-mother didn’t adopt him until I was 21), but normally, I feel like I’m just a few years older than he is, possibly because I never learned to be a grown-up. I can still remember the joy I had when I was in graduate school and listening to little five year old him espouse the joys of “Beavis and Butthead” not because he “got” it but because he wanted to emulate anything his cool older brother did. All three of us were the same age in that moment, liking something irreverent and silly, no matter how inappropriate the show was for a five year old. Or a ten year old, for that matter. Or somebody working on her master’s degree. I was raised as an only child and was basically adult when both boys were born, so these moments of sibling camaraderie are few and far between.
But then on a milestone like graduation, I’m forced to admit how old I am and reflect on his childhood and how quickly it went and how mostly I didn’t witness it because we lived in two different cities and I was busy. It seems like two years ago that I met him for the first time, played with his chubby toes, and looked into his little almond old man eyes and felt a sorry for him, that he’d just been hanging out in a Korean orphanage, minding his own baby business when he was plucked from his crib, flown around the world and deposited into the loving arms of a family that is not bad, but at the very best, is pathologically dysfunctional.
And now he is a grown-up, who doesn’t have to have the time for me if he doesn’t want to. How quickly the tables do shift.
I rode the 40 minutes to the graduation with my step-mother and her new husband, Not My Dad. I never miss Dad so much as I do when I am around NMD, and he is telling his silly jokes, spouting off his rigid religious views, or implying that my whole family is screwed up because we’re introverts and not extroverts like his family. He’s not a bad man, makes the step-mother happy, and seems to care about my brothers. But when he speaks, what I want to hear is my dad’s voice, having a discussion, cracking off some line & then laughing. What a good laugh my dad had. Also, Dad would never have told a joke about knowing my step-mother ‘biblically’ and expected laughs for it. His wit was cleverer and slightly more tasteful in mixed company. (Also, Dad would have been aware of the frightening images he was scarring the listener with!) But, there you go. Not only do you not get to pick your family (biological or adoptive), but you also don’t get to pick your second round step-families. So you laugh when it is expected and you are appreciative when NMD buys you a sundae at Friendly’s.
In other news, I have sent off five chapters to Aspen to be considered by fellow workshoppers and two agents I’m paying $35 a pop to “consult” with. The manuscript was due—in Aspen—on Wednesday, to be considered for the agent lottery, so of course I was still writing it all on Tuesday and mailing it out for $36 via Fed Ex at 4:30 in the afternoon. One day I hope to discover why my writing is better when I put myself into fit of terror and self-loathing at the eleventh hour. I don’t know that the chapters are “good” but certainly they are better than the swill I’d written a few weeks earlier when I wasn’t under the gun. I think in the perfect world (for me), I would have an agent/editor/publisher who would, at least once a week, call and say, “Look. Your stuff is due tomorrow or your career is over and, what’s more, we’re going to take out commercial time on major networks to tell the world what a horrible, lazy person you are if you don’t meet this deadline.” Then I’d write. I’d write regularly and well.