November 12, 2010
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Throughout my whole childhood, I felt as though I was overshadowing my brother Chris. It was never a conscious thing; I never tried to be better than him. Looking back, however, I notice how much I overpowered him. He was three and a half years my senior, but I was the outgoing one, the sibling to take risks. Typically, the older sibling is the one to lead the younger sibling; our roles were reversed. He tagged along behind me. When he was too nervous to do something, I stepped up. When he was afraid to sit on Santa Claus’s lap and ask for a gift, I toddled past him and grabbed a gift out of Santa’s bag without asking. When I wanted Chuckles, I marched into my grandparent’s bedroom and opened the fourth drawer of the dresser myself. My brother would watch, mortified, as I devoured the sticky, sugary treat. My effrontery always had a reward in these cases, while his timidity gained him nothing.
It was to be this way nearly our entire childhoods. I would always be the risk taker. He was an energetic, fun-loving child, but quiet. In fact, his preschool teachers voiced their concerns to my mother. “He’s a very quiet boy,” they said in one parent-teacher conference. When I reached preschool, they worried about me for a different reason.
“She’s a little chatty,” they told my mother. “She gets her work done well enough, but she talks quite a lot.”
My mother loved to repeat these tales of our childhood, because they were so indicative of my brother’s personality as well as my own. We were foils of each other; he was timid and I was fearless.
Chris was an intelligent, talented child, brilliant as well as an excellent athlete, but I always seemed to steal his glory. He won an award for a Mother’s Day poem he had written, but I did as well. He won an award upon leaving elementary school, but four years later, I won the same award. Even learning guitar in school was not enough to set him apart from me. He picked up the technique very well from school, but when the school year ended, I picked up his guitar. I taught myself how to play in a matter of days, taking away the one talent that set him apart from me.
I felt sympathy for my brother. Guitar had been his favorite hobby, the one talent he held over me, and I had taken that away from him. There was one song in particular he liked to play, which he refused to teach me. He wanted this one song to play for himself, but one day when he was out, I figured out how to play the song on my own. I was afraid I had hurt his feelings, but if I did, he didn’t show it. He acknowledged my talent and complimented how much I taught myself in such a short time. I still felt bad for him, although I should not have. His own glory would come sooner than I expected, and our roles would be reversed.
Upon entering high school, I found myself awkward and lost in the shuffle of such a large school. It was overwhelming to me; I began to stay in on weekends to get homework done and have time to relax. I felt stressed and no longer enjoyed the company of my friends. When I was invited to football games or got phone calls from my friends, I would invent excuses. My most common refrain was, “My mom said I have to clean my room tonight, sorry.”
Chris, meanwhile, was in his freshman year of college and flourishing. He got along well with his roommate and had made a dozen new friends in the first week of school. He had gotten involved in sports and various clubs offered on campus. When I talked to him on the phone, he sounded like a completely different person; he had come out of his shell entirely, while I had shrunken so far into mine I could barely recognize myself.
I missed the younger version of myself, the one who could make friends with no effort at all. I missed the younger version of myself who was confident and sure of herself. I missed my brother, as well. When he left for college, I had cried, but I didn’t realize how much his absence would affect me. My accomplishments didn’t stand out against his anymore; in fact, I was being surpassed by him entirely. I didn’t care anymore, though. I was no longer concerned with being “better” than him. I just wanted the two of us to be on level playing ground.
When Chris came home to visit for a week in October, I enjoyed the change in him. He was still extremely tall, but had added some muscle to his slender frame. His dark, wavy hair had gotten longer, but there were deeper changes in him. He seemed more relaxed than I had ever seen him in high school. He joked more often and told hilarious tales about his college adventures. Most importantly, though, he talked to me like I was an adult. Somewhere along the line he had stopped treating me like a child. My biggest thrill came one evening when he found me in the living room with my guitar and joined me with his own.
“Come on, Shell,” he said. “Let’s play a song together.”
I had gotten my wish after all. I no longer outshined him, but he no longer outshined me. We strummed guitars together as siblings, but more importantly as friends and equals.

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