September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
I was not supposed to be the firstborn child. That was supposed to be my brother, Ari. Except he was born dead.
Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different if I wasn’t the oldest, if I wasn’t the one setting the example, if I wasn’t the first kid my parents were sending to piano lessons or overnight camp or college. I wonder what examples I would be following if my brother had successfully made it into this world, because certainly he would have experienced all these things first. I know I ended up at the same camp as my older cousin, liking the same music as my dad, cheering for my parents’ alma maters–so having an older brother, a brother who would only have been 17 months older than me, definitely would have provided a major role model in my life.
He came to me once, in a dream. This must’ve been when I was four, maybe five. I saw myself running around on a playground with a bunch of other little kids on this beautiful sunny day, and playing right next to me was this kid with a blond afro, much like the one my dad wore throughout high school and college. I recognized him right away. We had a good time, swinging on the swings, using the seesaw and the monkey bars. I didn’t really get to talk to him much, though. But even if I had, what would I have said? What’s it like being dead? That question just seems stupid, especially in the context of his apparition being alive and well right next to me.
So for the sake of this post, let’s assume that I don’t have to ask that question, because my brother Ari is twenty years old and a junior in college. I’ve never lit a yahrtzeit candle on June 25th in the Jewish tradition of honoring the anniversary of a loved one’s death. My mom and dad don’t have that awful memory of a stillborn trapped in the back of their minds, causing them to value me and my sister all the more intensely and thus push us hard to make the most out of our lives. How am I different?
For one, I don’t go to Vanderbilt. I have followed my brother to Northwestern, because we have built a really strong relationship from sharing a room in our younger days. I only got my own room when he had his bar mitzvah. But we’re really close friends nonetheless; I hang out with his friends, and not just as the annoying younger brother. At the same time, we’re very competitive, and having to compete with my more athletic and better-looking brother has made me into more of a go-getter than I am in this universe. I won’t stop until I have matched his ability, whether it be in swimming, school, or getting girls.
That doesn’t mean that my parents haven’t fostered my unique talents. I still love playing music, I still love learning, I still love my overnight camp. But I’ve struggled to establish my own identity against the magnanimous personality of Ari. While his bright example shines as a beacon to me, it sometimes bothers me that I’m called “Little Blumy” instead of just “Blumy.” Thus, I’ve had to become a little cocky and self-promoting to ensure that I receive attention. All the same, I’ve managed to develop a life of my own. We’re not in ALL the same clubs.
Interestingly, my relationship with my sister is very different in this alternate universe. We’re very close in this one, probably because it’s just the two of us. But in the universe of Ari, he has taken on the role of protector, he is the one she relies on for everything. The two of us have always competed for attention and are generally in each other’s hair about 90% of the time. I resent the love she gets as the “baby” of the family. It makes me jealous, makes me fight even harder to be recognized.
I realize this view is very Adlerian, and I hope that if my brother had been born, we’d be one big, happy family, that I would have much the same life as I do today. But it’s impossible to speculate on what might have been. Who knows? If Ari was alive, maybe my parents would have waited longer to try for another kid, and I would be the unborn.