I just left my parents’ house after a week and a half there for Christmas, and I was glad to be gone. I love being with my parents, love sitting at the table and playing cards after dinner with a glass of wine or whiskey. I love sleeping up in my old childhood bedroom, feeling like I’m 10 years old again and everything is taken care of. It’s a moment away from bills and work and 12-dollar cocktails that I have to scream at a bartender to get. In the moment, it feels good.
But after just a few days — let alone a week and a half — it starts to hurt. You know the pain of loving someone who doesn’t love you back, I’m guessing? It’s a hurt in your stomach, a feeling of nausea that never quite gives way to actual sickness. It’s a permanent imbalance, a not-rightness that makes every minor task incredibly difficult to execute. I would lose my place reading books, nearly cut my finger while chopping the onions, and forget what I wanted the second I walked into a room. I could only think of him.
He is my brother, four years my senior. He doesn’t look like me, which probably helps. He has his own interests and his own friends and is incredibly successful at what he does. While I won’t say the precise industry, his job is important and well-respected and well-compensated. While I struggle at my third consecutive internship, he is already able to arrive at Christmas with literal trunks full of gifts for everyone. He buys us nice bottles of champagne, gives out iPads as if they were candy, and insists on making dinner at least once because he loves doing something with his hands for the people he loves.
I have always loved him, I think. When I was a little girl, I used to look up at him and feel how lucky I was to have someone like that in my family. He taught me how to ride a bike, how to play baseball, how to hide my wine bottles from mom and dad (many years later, of course). He was my mentor, and my protector, and so handsome. So fit and strong and blindingly intelligent. He made me feel like I was a princess, born into royalty and always accompanied by a white knight.
His girlfriend is tall and beautiful, and they will probably be engaged by this time next year. She has a good job, and a good family, and makes the crust from scratch when she bakes her fruit pies. Sometimes I watch her brush her hair when she doesn’t see I’m looking, and all I can think of is how much I want my hair to shine like hers. How much I want her clear skin, and flawless smile, and tiny waist that my brother loves to wrap his hand around. How much I want to be as good as she must be to have him.
I would never tell him, of course. I’ll be in their wedding party and write some funny little speech and wish them bon voyage when they leave on their honeymoon to Bali or Rio or Japan. I could never tell him, never ruin his image of me or the simplicity of his life with the knowledge that his younger sister dreams of him every night. To put that on him would be selfish of me, and the last thing I want is for him to hate me. For him to not want to see me, to awkwardly avoid the topic at family dinners.
Being in love with your brother feels like a thousand things at once. It’s constantly being around the person you want most — sharing a whole life’s history with them — and yet never being able to hold their hand. It’s so close, and so far away. It makes everything difficult, and everything so beautiful you wish that it would never end. It makes after-dinner drinks around the family table the best part of your day, and the worst. Because the more you drink, the more you love him, and the more you realize how sick you are. The more you realize that this will never get better, only farther away, one holiday after the other.