Running From the Waves

December 2, 2007
I sat in silence, two pristine, never-before-cut braids hanging on either side of my shoulders. A pink, flowery dress covered my petite frame, and I was sporting a purse though I was not out, but instead in the familiar comfort of my home. It was early in the morning from any normal human’s standpoint, but not to a three-year-old eager to get up and begin the day. I could hear my parents talking in the kitchen, the room adjacent to the den where I was sitting. My only company was a small toy, a red and green monster head given away Halloween week when you bought a McDonalds Happy Meal. The monster eerily shouted “AHHH” when thrown to the floor. Just then, my four-year-old brother emerged from the stairs and headed toward me and my beloved new toy. Reaching me, he threw his hands around the monster, trying to grab the toy from me. This was not a surprise, for from the day I was born my brother taunted, teased and hurt me any way he could. But I didn’t really mind. The frequent time-outs he earned did not eliminate his mean behavior. But that day was different from all the other times. That day, instead of simply using the tight grasp I developed in response to his frequent grabbing, I decided to fight back. I loosened my grip from the toy, reached out and smashed my brother’s arm. Not hard enough for him to cry, but hard enough for him to tell my mother. My mom scolded me, yelling, “Why would you do that to Jason, why would you do such a thing?” She firmly took my hand and led me to the stairs, where I was sentenced to a time-out, just like my brother had been 100 times before. I was not upset about this, I was not mad that I could not at that moment be playing or dancing or trying on more purses. Instead, I felt happy as could be, because having a time-out meant I was exactly like my big brother.

This is the first clear picture painted in my mind. I cannot remember the times Jason hit me, the times he got in trouble as I stood as the perfect angel who did nothing wrong. What stands out to me about this day is I could have just kept my toy, because my grip was in fact stronger than my brother’s. I did not hit him out of hate, anger, or wanting back what was mine. I hit him out of such a love and admiration for my brother that I wanted to be like him. I wanted to walk like him, laugh like him, even hit like him. The most vivid image in my mind of that day is the smirk that lay across my face as I sat on that step, my legs hanging over the step and not even reaching the floor. This moment stands out because it was the first time a certain emotion happened to me: the feeling of pride. As our lives went on, the feeling of pride that would come when I accomplished something the way my brother did, never faded. I had a lot of friends from my dance classes and nursery school, but no one else could make me laugh the way he did. No one else would get up at six in the morning with me and create a fort in our living room. I had other friends, but Jason was my best friend.

The day was cold for August, cold enough for my brother and me to be in our matching Gap jeans coats, instead of bathing suits. We were vacationing in Montauk, the perfect family place for a four-and five-year-old. We had just returned from a treasure hunt, the clues planted by our cousins close in age to us who had visited the very same spot a week before. Magically, the shell bracelet and gooey toy they left buried four feet below the surface of the sand, were also still there a week later, somehow defying a week of blowing sand and mischievous children. Jason and I worked together to figure out the clues, and claim our prizes. When we finally found them, buried beneath the sand, I decided that I didn’t like where they were buried. So I picked up the bracelet and toy, moved them about six feet away from where they were, and planted them again. Then I made Jason pretend we did not know where the treasure was, so we could uncover it again in a new, more desirable spot. After our new discovery, we rested for a mere thirty seconds before jumping up to play in the water. The water was perfect feet temperature: way too cold to go all the way in, but giving off that perfect tingle to your bare feet. Jason and I had left our shoes on, for we were playing a game suggested by him. The rules of the game were that as the waves receded towards the water, you followed them as closely as possible. Then, as they rushed back out towards land, you run away as fast as you could. If you did not run fast enough and the water touched your shoe, you “lost.” There was no cheating in this game, because a soaked shoe was a dead giveaway that you had gotten wet. We played this game for hours, even then I didn’t think it was the most fun thing ever, but I would do anything with my brother. I knew that I couldn’t, nor would I ever want to, run from the waves alone.

Looking back at the photo, I notice that just behind my brother’s blue striped sock, a hint of red stripe shows on the other leg. My brother was wearing two different colored socks. I was wearing two white socks. I would have never even thought of leaving the house with two different colored socks then. Maybe this little piece of a big picture, our philosophy as to how to wear socks, was a warning that our differences would catch up to us, and change our relationship as brother and sister. Jason’s room is always clean, which is not really hard because the room is almost barren, and only has a few baseball posters across his white walls. My room is a disaster zone, with clothes thrown all around, every little memento from my life saved in an unorganized fashion, and lots of pictures hanging from the bright pink walls. My parents have given Jason the nickname “home boy,” for he loves to be at home, while I can’t wait to leave the house and go on my next big adventure. My brother and I have always been polar opposites, but back then it didn’t matter. Back then nothing really mattered. On that sunny Montauk day we worked together to get from one clue to the next. The clues were laid out on obvious places at the beach; we just had to find the meaning behind each rhyming clue. Then we could find each of our treasures, waiting for us at the same spot. I realize that as my brother’s and my lives went on, our treasures were no longer waiting in the same spot, and the clues to finding them were not so obvious. Somewhere along the way, hunting for our treasure, searching to find out who each of us were, we lost each other. In the years to come we would still get along great. We could still joke and laugh and talk and play. But the magic that existed between us on that day is no longer there. We are no longer each other’s best friend. We no longer run from the waves hand in hand. Why all this has changed, I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s because all the waves that hit our lives caused the child within each of us to vanish. Or maybe it was our sock philosophy, to match or not to match, that later led to other philosophies so different that we could not understand each other’s opinions. The reason doesn’t really matter, because I don’t think there is anything I could have said to my four- year-old self that would have changed the person I was going to become. Our destinies were different; our paths not the same. I am not angry about this fact. Sure, I loved going on treasure hunts, and running from the waves with my brother. But with this separation has come the independence that allows me to find my own treasure, and to not need my brother by my side to run from the waves, or tell me the rules of the game.

Life went on, and I was content with this newfound independence, but for a time not a day went by when I didn’t wonder if things would ever go back to the way they were. Would I ever again consider Jason my best friend, and let him in on every little secret in my life? Or had life gotten so complicated, that there were too many secrets to share? Had the wall between us grown so great that we would never be able to knock it down? I realized that as I went through life, friends may come and go, but friend or foe, my brother would always be there. The extent that he would be there for me may vary. In a few years Jason would go off to college, and our paths would diverge even more then they had then. Would we go on to be the kind of siblings that call each other every day, or just see each other on birthdays and thanksgivings? Would the walls in his house be so white, and mine so pink, that we couldn’t stand being in each other’s houses? Would my ambitions take me millions of miles away, while he keeps the name “home boy” and stays in Larchmont? I guessed that only time would answer all these questions, because I believed that our fate was already mapped out for us. Maybe it was impossible for us to ever be as close, or maybe tomorrow something would happen and things would go back to the way they were as our childhood selves.

The other day, as I was searching through the clutter in my room; I found the red and green monster toy from McDonalds. I could not believe I had found it after all those years, and even more crazily it still screamed “AHHH” when you threw it to the ground. I ran into my brother’s room. “Jason, look what I found!” I yelled, as I demonstrated the toy on his light blue carpet. “What is that?” He asked. “Don’t you remember?” I asked, as I described to him what had happened the time we fought over the toy. But he did not remember the toy, he did not remember the story, he did not remember anything. It occurred to me this was my first vivid memory and my brother could not even picture a moment of it. What other memories did he not remember? Was his whole perception of our childhood together different, based on his selective memories? Was there something he remembered that I did not, some big piece of my life missing? For a while I was really upset, until I realized something; it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if he didn’t remember the toy stealing, the treasure hunt, or even the game that he himself had invented. For that was my perception of our childhood, my own personal glimpse at our old life. And it almost comforted me to know he did not remember everything I did, that I got to keep some pieces of memories to myself, as my own personal secret. It also validated that our relationship in those memories was in fact in the past, and that the past should not be dwelled upon, rather looked back upon fondly. On this day, I realized that I used to think of life like the waves, in a repetitive and unchangeable pattern. When Jason and I playing the wave game, no matter what we did, the waves were always going to come swarming back at our feet. I thought of my relationship with Jason the way most people think of treasure hunts; the treasure is already planted for you, you just follow along the map to get to the end. But on that day I realized that what was going to happen between Jason and me was not determined by anyone or anything else except for Jason and me. Whether we became best friends again, or grew completely apart was only in the hands of ourselves. Now I think of life as the treasure hunt I went on, on that beautiful August day in Montauk; if you don’t like where the treasure is, you have the power to pick it up, and change its location.

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