“You’re looking dapper these days,” I say to my younger brother.
“You, too. Lost some weight, I see. Gosh, I’ve missed you,” he replies.
Our conversation is imaginary, of course, since we have not shared loving words in years—15 years by his count. And he does count. He is a feisty, stubborn guy with an encyclopedic mind for negativity.
Once on a cross-country visit from Maine, I spent more time with my father than with my brother. My brother fumed over that for ten years, half the life of a hairy-nosed wombat.
The current conflict comes from a dispute over details of our mother’s burial. It happens a lot and some wounds never heal. Still, I thought – given our own mortality and all—it might be good to bury the past.
I told him that my wife died in May. I had not heard from him since. Maybe he was the only family member who had not gotten the news. I said I was living alone in a big house and wondered how he was doing. Part of me imagined sharing a morning cup of coffee with him.
He responded by e-mail that he was sorry for my “loss.” He also said he was not interested in knowing me because of our long-standing differences. Case closed.
I cannot say I am surprised. He has a hard time letting go of the negative. In fact, for years, he has read from the same script. I’m a “garden variety over-stuffed egotist,” goes his mixed metaphor. It is so easy to take it personally and even wonder if he is correct.
That’s when I seized control of the runaway train. I flipped the script on him, changing the role of what he expected me to be.
It’s been done before. Antonia Brenner of Beverly Hills mother twice-divorced became a nun to live in a Tijuana prison to care for murders and thieves. She said it was where she belonged. She died last week at 86. Talk about flipping the script.
So I told Richard I would write his epitaph. We’ll all need one and that was my way of saying that at 65, he is sitting near the exit. I would say he was a principled man, loving father of two boys and a good provider. Period.
His reaction was immediate. He gave me something I haven’t had for years, his home telephone number and wants mine. Talking beats e-mail every time. I discussed my mistakes. We talked about my late wife Nina and the sadness we have both felt. We talked about families who would wish us away. We agreed to stand by each other no matter what.
And in almost the same breath, we talked about our pets, my cat with whom I sleep and his dog for whom he cooks meals. I’ll call him again soon.
A word of warning. Such conversation can disorient you, especially if you are accustomed to yelling.
No, I do not expect a Christmas card, let alone a shared pot of coffee. Relationships do not change over-night. Still, each day provides us a chance to copy-edit our lives.
In play I once wrote in which I performed, my co-star fumed because I could not remember my lines. I would ad-lib—make things up as I went along.
“You can’t say that. It wasn’t in the script,” he would bark.
“Sure I can,” I replied. “I wrote the darned thing. I can say anything I want.”
And so it is with your play too.