No matter how fervently he denies it, the memory of him dragging me by the hair along the halls of our elementary school remains clear as day to me. The reason for this act of injustice has already slipped my mind among many other seeds of our hatred towards each other, but not to fret, I still carry with me a handful of well-remembered stories to share to his beloved friends if he ever as much accuse me of being the witch in his epic.
We are better now at being polite when we should, and I sense a growing curiosity that maybe, this brother-sister thing could work now that we’re adults who have been dealt with lessons in all the ways we could enumerate — hard, other times unnecessary, and pretty much because of our own doing.
A sibling is a sibling is a sibling. If you grew up together, you would know them as much as they know themselves, maybe even better, so that you can straightforwardly call them out on their foolishness, something you may have observed since the day you saw them break your favorite toy. Other times you don’t need to say a word, because a look in the eye could make you both forget what you learned in Sunday school about Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek.
Recently, he called me the “never-wrong woman”. I admit, I have difficulty owning up to my mistakes especially to people I want to influence. A few seconds of reflection led me to think that maybe that’s the message I have been sending through every failure and denial in the past — I know the dishes were not washed properly nor was the food cooked well, and oops that was your chocolate bar in the fridge?? I was sooo hungry, but I want you to listen and separate the chaff from the grain. Tell me I’m wrong, tell I’m prideful, let me learn again and again. Maybe the hair dragging in elementary isn’t really true after all. Or maybe it was, I just subconsciously left out the part where I was supposed to be nice and not fuel your anger.
I do remember a few good stories where I was not exactly a witch and where we were just ordinary kids who wanted candy more than being our own heroes.
Our dearest Auntie Fe, who is used to dealing with traditional Chinese families, lived with us growing up. She saw to it that we memorized our notebooks word per word, because according to her, this made Chinese students intelligent. I did not want to remember my notes in verbatim fashion, so I took a few, just enough to make it look like I was not cheating myself. He, on the other hand, impressed Auntie Fe for the speed and accuracy at which he memorized dates, places and people. He would diligently fill his notebooks in class and brim with pride as Auntie Fe declared the study session a success. He got candy afterwards, and in the long term, his stint in law school.
A lot of things have happened in between the 2-year-old girl pretending to be happy at her brother’s birth* and the 22-year-old millennial finding herself extremely proud for his national award as a top university student, and yet a lot of things remain to be true. We’re still hoping for even more candy. We still can’t keep the house squeaky clean. There are times when we both just want to drag each other by the hair.
My brother and I, we take turns being Martha, forgetting what’s important and missing out on the real stuff. We also take turns being Mary, just listening and watching, finally learning that all we need to do is stay awhile. And when it’s turn for us to tell a story, we can choose to become Magdalene and spread good news, well unless they ask us if we had a great childhood. I would say yes, and tell them of that afternoon we broke the built-in mirror of our parents’ wardrobe because there was a big bag of chips inside.
*Ask our mother.