Was it something I said?

Gimme a W!  Gimme a T!  Gimme an F!  What’s it spell?  Well, I don’t need to spell it out for you.  If you don’t know the acronym by now, then you just might be TOO old to be reading this old broad’s blog.

Something strange happened recently:  I almost LMFAO (in the past tense) when I discovered that my blog had been viewed 55 times in one day.  55 times.  Huh.  That’s more times than I’ve seen it, I think.  Was it something I said?  Probably.  Was it something I don’t remember that I said?  Perhaps.

I didn’t laugh when I saw those stats because I can’t believe people would read this.  Quite the contrary.  I sometimes believe that I have a story worth telling, something that might spark thought or conversation or even friendship (see “Why are the Forties the New Forties?”).  I laughed because I can’t seem to tell a story unless it’s accompanied by crisis.

Years ago, when I was blundering neck deep in personal and financial crises–a legal battle that went on and on, an unhealthy accumulation of debt, unmedicated depression, a job that I was flushing down the toilet, “new” parenthood, you name it–I sought some refuge in my oldest and best friends, alcohol and writing.  Actually, I didn’t seek some refuge there, I sought it all.  Almost every night, I posted some besotted rant in my blog about my husband’s ex wife or the thankless and misunderstood job of the stepmother, or the teacher, or whatever.  I was angry, exhausted, and unhealthy.  And people seemed to like those rants.  I had a solid audience.

Then, the wounds began to heal–we settled our custody disputes with my husband’s ex, we sorted out some of our money problems, we moved to a very safe and boring place, I found a job I really liked, I went on meds, then I went sober, then I lost a bunch of weight, and then I had nothing to kvetch about anymore.

For the past five to six years, I’ve distracted myself with a string of short-lived hobbies: gardening, repurposing old furniture that I found on the sidewalk, playing the guitar (today, I am fond of playing Cracker’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out”), everything but what really defined me for so much of my adult life–drinking and being pissed off.  Can those be hobbies?

I’d like to say I don’t know what sparked my latest first-world crisis that seems to have produced more thoughts that others are willing to read, but that would be dishonest.  I’m introspective enough to know what has shot me back out of the cannon.  I can even pinpoint the date–November 8, 2016.

I’ve gained a bunch of weight and started waking up with hangovers again, but it’s not all bad.  Those 55 views (even if some were same viewers going back) are my proof of that. And I am loving some of the material that these viewers produce–stuff about alcoholism, depression, alternative lifestyles.  Some write feel-good poetry.  Some write books.  Some have advanced graphics skills that make my blog look sloppy and primitive (soooo 2003). Give me more, please!

As for the crisis, I’ll deal with it.  I have to.  45 year-old drunks are unsexy.  Where’s that life hacks book, again?  I think I need a glass of cold water and some barbells…

Life Hacks, aka, “Fuck it”

My sincere but misguided stepson read a book recently called “life hacks” or something like that. I’m sure his uptight mother turned him on to it. The authors or editors or whoever have all kinds of great advice for people who won’t ever read a book of “life hacks” to solve their problems. Like this one: if you have an addiction, and you feel a craving, just work out!

Oh, gosh, golly gee! Now there’s a good one! Let’s break this life hack down to its particulars, shall we? I’m in a rockin’ restaurant with my husband. It’s got great music, funky food, dim lights, and a waitstaff with an autism spectrum knowledge of the extensive draft bar. I’d like to order some IPA featured on its menu of 100 beers, but—oh no—I can’t because I have an addiction! Well, thanks to “life hacks” I can solve this problem by working out! Allow me, please, to step down from my barstool and do some squats and lunges.

Yeah. Life hacks. What a pile of stinking shit that someone made money selling to a publisher. Even less realistic is the hack my stepson shared about drinking a cup of ice water in the morning to wake me up instead of my coffee. OK, let’s give that a go—from this day forward, I’ll just wake up at a reasonable hour of the morning, take an ice-cold shower and go for a jog. Because managing addiction is that easy, isn’t it? Nothing irritates me more than self-righteousness.

Here’s some life-hack-type information for whoever wrote this stupid book: If you’ve never had an addiction, if you’ve never struggled yourself with anything—eating, drinking, smoking—then you don’t know us. Your “life hacks” are a product of your sociopathic control-freak nature, and you can fuck off. Tonight’s life hack is “fuck off.” I think it’s far more encompassing than anything in your book.

Repeating history

I realize that I don’t contribute much to this blog, my only blog, my only writing outlet, in fact. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because I don’t know what kind of a point I’m trying to make. I write a lot of entries that don’t get posted because they’re for-real-and-for-true too revealing to the few parties that occasionally read the blog.   I write a lot of entries that just trail off… my boredom revealed in the white spaces at the end.

I’ve decided that I will post this particular entry in whatever state that it becomes. It will address a topic that I believe applies to the theme of 40s are the new 40s—depression, addiction, divorce, adult ADD, children, aging parents, politics, wrinkles, you name it. Everything applies to us, doesn’t it? We’re adults, and as a consequence of our age and our growing cache of wisdom and experience, we can come up with something to say about anything. We’ve been there, done that. And the younger generations that follow us will feel the same way after they’ve stopped believing that they can figure everything out.

Speaking of the younger generations, I have no hostility, some envy, and a whole lot of curiosity about what’s going on there. I have spoken to few people my age who don’t have a fantasy “do-over.” My husband would have been a medical doctor. I would have been a lawyer. My cousin would have been a boat mechanic on a pier someplace where the sun always shines. This is normal to us, and we see the younger people around us as simply younger versions of ourselves—people on the verge of making that one bad decision that will alter their lives. But what if these younger people aren’t like that? What if they don’t have the time that we had in the eighties and nineties to enjoy relative national peace, prosperity, and opportunity?

We know that people decades younger than us have one distinct advantage, and that’s time on their sides, time to figure it out, time to make mistakes, and time to revel in their youth. We did that. But I don’t see them doing that. I don’t see little “mes” in the twenty-something women I interact with and work with. I see women in their teens and twenties moving quickly, being savvy, and getting on with it in ways that make me wonder if these generations are exquisitely different. Did my mother see that in me?

Just like my mother and I are alien to one another and yet familiar, young people today are both alien and familiar to me. I wish them well because “times they are a changin’.” They will confront the new. I’ll observe it. They’ll fight to secure their survival. I’ll fight to secure my old age.   And sure, I’ll fight injustice where I can, and sure, I’ll continue to grow and develop as a human being. Maybe I’ll even write that pilot that I’ve been talking about since 2004. But they have decades and decades of a future to navigate. They’re gonna see some shit that we never will, just like we saw some shit that they can’t imagine (life without an Internet connection? How did we do it?). I wish them well, and I hope—I really hope—that they let us in and ask questions and respect our perspective.

Isn’t there some famous aphorism about history? About how if you don’t know what happened before you knew it all, then you’ll just become a tool to someone else who does?

Random Thoughts on Stupid Holidays

SONY DSCI did what I usually do on gift-giving holidays in our household, and I bought what I wanted—a heart-shaped box of good old-fashioned drugstore chocolates! Russell Stover, if you will, the chocolates of my childhood. My grandma used to serve those on occasions I can’t remember—maybe she just always had them around—just not in the heart-shaped box.

Drugstores are fun places to go on the night before Valentine’s Day. I stood in line behind a man who looked like maybe 65 buying a similar heart-shaped box, and I stood in front of a man who looked like maybe 75 buying a couple of cards and a KitKat. The onus is always on the man in a hetero situation, which doesn’t make much sense because the majority of hetero men have no idea how to celebrate a stupid holiday like Valentine’s Day. Imagine them planning a wedding.

Anyway, I was in line in a Walgreens between two old men buying last-minute drugstore crap for their significant others, the way it should be. Neither of these guys looked particularly affluent because the affluent around here probably give their wives and daughters jewelry and custom sweets from niche shops that charge four times what my box of chocolates cost (I’m sure there’s a woman within a mile of here who found a new car in her driveway this morning). I’d rather stand in a line with these guys in a Walgreens than interact with that other type who drive Mercedes and have no sense of humor.

Anyway, my dad is probably right about now, at 8-something in the morning, looking for a last-minute card in a supermarket. At least that’s what he would do if he were home. He and my mom are on a winter pilgrimage from rented beach condo to my aunt’s and uncle’s house to maybe a visit or two with a cousin and then back home. Takes about a month. I’m sure my dad will find his usual card and write something romantic inside of it like “Love, His Name,” but I’m also sure that—because he’s with my aunt—he’ll do much more. My aunt likes cool stuff and big productions. I’ll Facetime my mom later and get the scoop on the big plans.

So there’s a system for how one eats a box of Russell Stover assorted chocolates. I’m sure everyone has her method. Mine starts with the caramels, always. The smooth caramels go first, followed by the nutty caramels, before other caramel-like consistencies. Here is my hierarchy of an assorted box of drugstore chocolates:

  1. Cream caramels
  2. Fruit & nut caramels
  3. Peanut butter crunch (to give my jaw and my fillings a break after gnawing on the hard caramels)
  4. Molasses chew (caramel consistency)
  5. Nut clusters (dark chocolate first, then milk)
  6. Roman nougats (more caramel consistency, but weird fruit flavors)
  7. Coconut creams (I hate cream textures, but I like coconut flavor)
  8. Maple nut creams (ditto)
  9. Chocolate truffles (weird consistency, but still chocolate)
  10. Vanilla creams (anything beats fruit flavors)
  11. Whatever is left (fruit flavors)

I’m still eyeing that apricot cream with apprehension. My friend and I went out the other night and listened to sad stories live and later discussed our propensity for eating whole boxes of chocolates and/or cookies in one sitting. She, too, used to be a workout queen. She, too, also used to be a drinker. We have that kind of crazy in common that only people who live with addiction for their entire lives can really understand. Another friend of mine claims that these behaviors—hiding wine bottles behind the couch or eating whole boxes of Chips Ahoy or working out for hours—are all symptoms, not the problem itself. I believe her. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

How Do You Get to Know Your Parents?

I’m reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake right now, and it’s affecting me on a very personal level. I know I should wait to find out how this plot gets resolved before I discuss the novel as a whole, but this isn’t a book review. This is more like a dialectical journal, running thoughts I’ve had since little Gogol Ganguli grew up and the point of view stopped being from his parents’ perspective. Here’s how it goes so far:

This nineteen year-old girl in Calcutta marries a fellow Bengali a week or two after their parents introduce them. Her betrothed is studying in the U.S., and so that’s where he takes her after the wedding. The novel begins with this girl, Ashima, trying to make a recipe that reminds her of home using only ingredients that she can scrounge up around their Boston neighborhood in the late ‘60s—I remember Rice Krispies and some other unlikely candidates in the mix. She is disappointed with the flavor. Something is missing. Then her water breaks.

We spend a few intimate chapters inside the relationship of this husband and wife, chronicling the birth of Gogol, their daily lives, their move from an apartment to a house, and the growth of a network of friends, all Bengalis, around the Boston area. Ashima and Ashoke can only afford biannual trips back to India, so occasionally their American lives are interrupted with a tragic phone call—the news of a grandparent’s death, then a parent’s death. The phone becomes symbolic of their alienation.

Then Gogol, their oldest child, grows up. He moves away. He does stuff that college kids do. He finds work, falls in love with girls who aren’t Indian, and he lives an American life. Consequently, he lives two lives, one in which he is Indian, one American. Sometimes, especially around his girlfriends, he’s embarrassed by his parents, ashamed of their beliefs and their habits. Lahiri spends several chapters in Gogol’s head as he compares how his girlfriend’s Manhattan family lives and entertains with how his Boston parents live and entertain. So far, he sides with a lifestyle in complete opposition to the one in which he was raised.

He’s conflicted in a way that I will never be. My parents and I were born in the same area of the U.S. We were brought up with vaguely similar belief systems, food, and cultural norms. But we do have our generational and regional divides—especially now—and they’re big enough for me, big enough that I can relate to Gogol’s (and Ashima’s) conflict. There’s stuff about his parents that he doesn’t understand, and rightly so because they don’t tell him everything. But some things just can’t get told. For instance, there’s no way that Gogol will ever tap into his mother’s emotions on that day in 1968 when she tried to replicate a familiar Indian recipe, the day her water broke. Even if Gogol cared, even if Ashima were capable of verbalizing her feelings on that day, what mother in any culture will share such intimate details with her grown son? In many ways, Gogul will never know Ashima, his mother.

What I’m waiting for as I read this novel is not for Gogol to know his parents but for Gogol to want to know his parents. I think it’s coming. I at least think he’ll want to know his father. But right now, at my stage in the reading, Gogol thinks he already knows them, and there’s the grown child’s biggest mistake.

This recent election and the ideological divides that it revealed between some parents and their children has slowed down one of my most important tasks as a grown woman to date—to find out who my parents are, or at least to find out a few key details about them as people that they wish I knew. Doesn’t have to be everything, just has to be what they want. I don’t want to assume anymore, like Gogol assumes. Assuming we know who our parents are is an arrogant luxury reserved for the arrogant twenty and thirty-somethings.

I am 45, and I want to know my parents, but I don’t know how.   How do I tap into those snapshots of my parents’ early lives—decisions they made that they might have thought at the time were temporary, ideas they had about what marriage should be and what the future looked like and what they expected of their children? I don’t know. I can only guess, and like Gogol, my assumptions are probably wrong.

To Burn Out or to Fade Away–I’ll Take Fade.

For most of my life, I assumed that everyone else in the world considered suicide in varying frequencies or degrees. I didn’t know why professionals made such a big, stinking deal over the mention of it, I just learned very early NOT to mention it around certain people and to outright lie to others: Have I had any thoughts of suicide? Nope. Not a one. What do I look like? A crazy person? A weak person? Meanwhile, I would wake up in the morning wondering what it would feel like to jump off a tall building or put a bullet in my head. Quick and efficient stuff I’d think about. None of this slow bleeding in the bathtub nonsense, hoping someone might run in and save me. I always knew that if I actually did it, I’d do it right. I’d do it to get it done. For most of my life I drifted in and out of these fantasies. I could come up with a hundred reasons to hate myself in the course of a day.

It wasn’t until I met my friend Fluoxetine, at the age of 42, that I learned otherwise. Fluoxetine, and the man who prescribes it to me, taught me all kinds of things about how other people can see the world. For instance, some people NEVER think of suicide. Not just once a day or once a month, but NEVER once. These are probably the people who freak out when they hear you mention suicide as casually as if you’re talking about flossing your teeth. They probably feel sorry for people like me who see no other way to see the world. Hell, I guess I would feel sorry for me, too. But I didn’t know anything different. My doctor said freedom from that world, the only one I’d ever known, would feel like a weight being lifted. When my surroundings became more than a fluctuating shade of drab, I would wonder how I could have lived for so long the way I did.

I was skeptical, of course. I’m always skeptical of the therapy trade. But this dude was more than a therapist; he was a doctor who could make a precise diagnosis. He was a man who didn’t pity me or fear for me or for my condition because he knew it was treatable. No drama. No endless talk therapy.

I was one of the lucky ones who reacted positively to the antidepressant right from the start. I remember so clearly driving to the grocery store, exuberantly singing along to whatever came on the radio, and giggling at nothing. I remember walking through the aisles of the store, trembling a little because I just wanted to FUCKING DANCE! That first day was like a pure coke high without the bleeding nose. My doctor said it shouldn’t have happened so quickly, that my body needed time to adjust to it. But I tell you, it happened. I actually wanted to dance in a public place, and I don’t dance, anywhere. It was a sign.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s this: in all those forty-two years, during those times when bleakness would interrupt my thoughts at random and make the whole world seem absurd, I never did it, never acted on the dark fantasy. I seem to have a strong survival instinct. I found ways to adapt to whatever it was, just like I need to find ways to adapt to whatever this is that’s happening now in the world. I need to adjust my perspective, to compensate, maybe to up my dose. I’m considering going full-throttle into hippiedom and embracing peace, learning how to play the guitar, maybe go vegan, never step on a bug. I’m tired of conflict. I’m so damned good it, so good at starting fires and stoking them, but I always get burned.

The Facebook Dilemma

5df6bdfae83c2009884fea46f785bd4f“…la lala lala lala… Should I stay, or should I go now?   La lala lala lala…

If I go there will be trouble (la lala lala la), and if I stay it will be double. La lala lala lala…”

I’m talking about FACEBOOK, that social media site that’s causing intellectual cancer in the 40-and-over community. “It’s for old people,” say the five children I vacationed with over inauguration weekend. And it’s officially ruined the dignity of us old folks by revealing our thought processes. My dilemma today is figuring out which generation I belong to—do I belong to the really old one who abuses social media or to the moderately old one who wonders if she abuses social media?

I heard a stat recently that 50% of Facebook users get all their news from Facebook. Should I be surprised, shocked that the generation that bemoans online culture is as corrupted as our youth?

Not really, cuz here’s what I’ve learned in recent months about the older generation (including myself)—it’s the same as any other. Each generation is populated with its critical thinkers and its mouth-breathers, its diplomats and its reactionaries, its educated and its uneducated. The old farts who bloviate about the indignities of Madonna and memorize political memes simply fancy themselves to be on a higher level than the kids around them, because they’ve “lived,” because they’ve “seen” things, because they “read.” Well, I’ll tell you what—you can spend six or seven decades alive on this earth without acquiring any new wisdom if that’s how you choose to live it. I’m quite certain that many of my own family members have “lived” in this manner—unyielding, loyal to fossilized ideas and suspicious of the ideas of people standing in front of them. They make fun of me for changing up my viewpoint from time-to-time, see that as a weakness. I haven’t considered my ability to think and change to be a flaw since I first read Emerson:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” 

My father makes the same comments about spending and liberals and welfare that he made in the Reagan days.  My mother refuses to acknowledge new ideas as such, and falls back on simply shutting out thought altogether. And my brother, well, we’ve discussed my brother. They all have their own Facebook communities.  What’s interesting about these three and their Facebook companions is that they claim to be the leading critics of the media that feeds them. My father will only change his mind if the idea is sanctioned by his media source (Fox). The man who lived through the Cold War is now ready to jump into bed with Putin. Maybe my mother learned about Anne Frank in school, but that doesn’t stop her from advocating that we label the Muslims living and working among us. Their media is as poisonous as they claim others to be.

So my thought right now is that I just want to leave one corrupt media source–Facebook–, to avoid the temptation to get my hands dirtier and my dignity crushed. I could leave this weeping, ranting, raging, cyber fray and learn instead to talk to my family. I have never asked the right questions, never asked my mother, for instance, why—before the Republican Party took up the pro-life platform—she once angrily ranted about “those pro-lifers,” but now she has become one. I never asked her what annoyed her then about the movement that doesn’t annoy her now.

I have plenty of friends in my exact age bracket who ignore social media, who are suspicious of it and always will remain so. I respect them. I might not know what they are doing every minute of their days, but before Facebook and MySpace, nobody knew that anyway.

So do I leave it? In doing so, I’ll lose my only contact with people I like, I’ll lose eight years of uploaded photos. I’ll lose those “hey, here’s what you were doing three years ago today” posts. But I might learn how to be a better thinker, better communicator. Should I stay or should I go?

“Will Never Do”s

I didn’t post much in 2016, something I vaguely attributed to being drunk much of the time, but I wasn’t drunk for the entire year. I spent some time early in the year training for the AVON 39, a 39-mile charity walk that—due to poor planning, I believe—turned into a 43-mile walk. It was gratifying, and I’d do the walk again if I didn’t have to raise the $1800 required of me to participate. I’d experienced extreme physical tests in my life, but never that extreme.

By the end of Day 1, after crossing that 26.2 mile mark, which was arguably a 29 or more mile mark, I was too exhausted to eat or shower or even move. I hunkered in my pink tent, waiting for a tentmate that never showed, and considered calling an Uber to take me home. The only thing that stopped me from walking to an Uber was the thought of the pain of walking to the Uber. So I just lay there on my unopened sleeping bag until I felt energetic enough to walk over to the “relaxation” tent with the inflatable couches and the warm lighting. After some hot tea, I could eat. After that, I could sleep. I got up in the rain the next morning, dismantled my tent, threw on a plastic poncho and trudged the last arguably 13, though more like 14 and some change, miles back to home base, and I was done with that milestone.

After walking arguably 43 miles in two days, I briefly considered training for a marathon until my father told me in so many words that I was nuts for considering it. He was tactful by never admitting that age was an obstacle. Like me, he had started distance running in his thirties; but unlike me, he had run the marathon before he developed issues with his knees, something that appears to emerge on both sides of my family.

“You can do it,” he explained, “but it’ll take a permanent toll on your knees, and then what’s the point?”

After the marathon, there would be no point, I suppose. I’d have issues with both knees, and I’d be years closer to replacement surgery than my father had been. No point to do it, I suppose, except that I hate closing doors on possibilities. I’ll never be able to stick a 26.2 sticker on my rear window. Boohm.

You know what else I’ll never be able to do? Lots. Here is the list of as many as I could remember in the thirty-eight seconds I gave myself to remember and write them down (NOT necessarily in chronological order):

  • I’ll never be a foot model.
  • I’ll never be Miss America.
  • I’ll never be the President.
  • I’ll never work in Turkey.
  • I’ll never be a high-class prostitute.
  • I’ll never be a mother.
  • I’ll never be a lawyer.
  • I’ll never run a marathon.

I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember as clearly as my conversation with my father about not running a marathon. There are just times in your life when you admit to yourself that something isn’t going to happen. I assume we all do this, and by “we all” I mean people over forty. For you I can’t explain why I considered that I’d never be a high-class prostitute, but I will put it on the list.

And, you know what? My list of dead possibilities is SHORT! I haven’t been wasting my time entirely here on this earth, and life’s adventure ISN’T over. There are so many possibilities left to us at our age, and we’re in a position to pursue any one of them.  The position isn’t financial or familial, it’s primal—We see the end. We grasp the moment. We shit, or we get off the pot. We live, or we die.

2017, Meh.

2017, Meh.

That about describes it—“meh.” It’s more than just a word. It’s how I felt ringing in a new year that I didn’t look forward to. Everyone around me was saying, “2016 just needs to be over! 2016 sucked!” I don’t feel that way. So yeah, in 2016, the historical pendulum swung into outer space and a contentious president was elected. Sure, in 2016, a few childhood icons died. Regardless, 2016 was my peak. It was one big party that I didn’t document. I welcomed it at the craziest one I ever attended—the party that made my husband and I say to each other in the wee hours of January 1, 2016, “This will be our year.”

So fast forward to now. What did we say to each other this year?

“I am going to control my road rage,” he mumbled in the wee hour of January 1, 2017. He must’ve dug deep into the pits of avoidance to come up with that one. I didn’t even bother: I couldn’t think of anything except all the ones I broke last year. My husband brought up one of our shared resolutions, and then I wondered, “Maybe I have peaked. Maybe this year that I am tossing out right now was my last good year.”

And that was that. Happy New Year! My mother-in-law gave us blue sparkly top hats and noisemakers that I tried to hide from the kids. Shortly after the ball came down (which, incidentally, only about 1/3 of us actually saw—the ball drop has cheapened since Dick Clark), we all went to bed.

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Can’t Say it Doesn’t Matter

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The recent election created some small ripples in my ordinarily placid family dealings. I targeted certain family members, like my mom, and I tried to sway their votes. This caused one of my brothers to threaten to “unfriendly” me (although he never did) and my retired uncle to begin actually using Facebook . My branch of the family tree isn’t much on confrontation (or communication), though we’re pretty good at freezing out.

I have no intention of freezing out any of my family members, even the ones who’ve subjected me to their own cold shoulders over the years, even the ones who never visit (that would be all of them), even the ones who talk shit behind my back, the ones capable of turning on me for little or no reason. Won’t do it. They’re mine. I see little sparks of me in every single one of them.

Perhaps that’s why I spent an hour today trying to decide what to wear to lunch with my brother. I tried on two dresses, two pairs of leggings, three jackets, and four hats.

My brother drives a large white pickup truck with a pair of yellow testicles hanging from the trailer hitch and an airbrushed picture of Mt. Rushmore—behind a Thomas Jefferson quote and the Tea Party’s URL—on the tailgate. He likes to wear extra large cotton shirts because they’re roomy. He embroiders custom slogans on the pockets of tees with an industrial-sized embroidering machine that he gave to his wife as a “gift.” He’s inspired by Fox News.

I will never get into his truck. I question his fashion sense. I listen to NPR, and sometimes I pity my brother’s wife for the weird “gifts” that she’s received from him over the years, like the aforementioned embroidering machine, or the sports car that doesn’t run.

My brother can also build or fix anything. He can build a new computer if he doesn’t like the way his functions. He can drag a dead jalopy out of a junkyard and not only make it run again, but make it run better (which, incidentally, makes me wonder why his wife’s sports car is still in the garage). He can construct his own energy-efficient heating system in his house or fix a jet engine.

I can do none of these things.

I imagine my brother and I appear opposites to anyone who doesn’t know us. My mother thinks we’re too much alike. My emotions concerning him have vacillated from anger to envy to disgust to admiration to a staunch conviction that I will never, ever be like him. I’ve accused him of being smart, stupid, wise, deluded, selfish, selfless, even mildly autistic. Sometimes, when he talks, I feel an overwhelming urge to leave the room.

In true my-brother form, he casually mentioned he’d be in my metro area for a week. It came out when I asked him why he wanted to know about certain bars around there. My brother lives at least nine hours away. He visited me once, for my wedding, in the sixteen years I’ve lived here.   We made plans to do a late lunch.

And so I spent an hour today trying to decide what to wear to lunch with my brother who would undoubtedly show up in a baseball cap and an extra-large Carhartt. I tried on two dresses, two pairs of leggings, three jackets, and four hats. I worried about where to take him, what to show him besides my urban fashion sense. I might detest him sometimes, I might love him sometimes, but I can’t say he doesn’t matter.