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Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Epic and Wanderlust Baby Brother

“Libby, I have the most epic trip ever planned,” my little brother’s voice is excited in a way that I recognize from the person I used to be … once upon a time … when I believed in epic. It’s excited in that way of believing in the impossible that only kids and retards can believe because they haven’t been pushed over the edge by life yet. I can’t even remember the last time I believed in the possible, including figuring out how to copy and paste a document into MS Word without it reformatting itself to look like text from an extra terrestrial race trying to communicate with me, and my baby brother believes in epic? How dare he be so irresponsible and illogical to even think about going on a trip in times like these without a job lined up after the end of summer? Where are our parents? Are they trying a new parenting style of NOT showing my younger two siblings financial responsibility? Why isn’t my Dad there to gently nudge my brother into the military like he did when he threatened to kick me out of the house and told me I was worthless after I graduated college? Is this the new hip way to parent? (It would explain why America has such a huge credit card problem). How completely unfair that Kyle is allowed to dream when I was forced to be practical!

I should probably slow down and give a little exposition. Kyle’s my kid brother who just graduated with a Masters degree in Math. What do you do with a Masters in Applied Mathematics? Probably the same thing you do with a Masters in Fine Arts for creative writing – work for the man. Kyle is #4 of 5 kids. He is a fellow middle child although he was the baby for five years until Becca decided to pop up out of nowhere and steal his limelight. Three years after Becca graced us with her presence our oldest sister had her first born. Our families closeness, both in age and proximity, has merged the boundaries of nephew and brother so I suppose Kyle can call himself the greatly esteemed title of “Middle Child” as well, if he must. However, I would like to add that my mother had me with the expectation of having at least one more child, so I truly am in the middle, not a faux middle that had five years of being the center of everyone’s attention because he was supposed to be the last. You might think that my older brother, #2, could be considered a middle, but he was the first male heir so don’t even think about comparing the two. Brent is also the oldest boy child and just don’t get me started on the ego this entails upon them. Disclaimer: I’m sure all of these opinions on birth order will change if I ever have kids and I’m not saying our mother or any other mother favored one child over the other. If you have children or are thinking about having children consider this walking a mile in a middle child’s shoe, because our place in the family is something we are born into, a slave to our place in the world that we are taught from day one. I’m not trying to attack anyone’s parenting just ranting about the ways of the world. Nobody else in the family will ever know what it meant to just be the middle – not the first born, first male, last male or last born. Plain and simple, middle of the road me. Not helping matters, my mother always told me that I was acting like a middle child, which really was my only entitlement in the family so I had no other choice but to run with it – and I am a marathon runner after all, so I definitely ran with it. I’ll give Kyle a little slack because his fall from center stage was probably a steep one after being the baby for so long and I don’t think my mom ever really stopped babying him (he is kind of special needs in that he is missing the file cabinet labeled “common sense.” I think it just got thrown out to make room for quantum physics or how to play bizarre African musical instruments). I love my siblings and would be completely lost in this world if it weren’t for them. Each one has pushed me to be better, taught me to be tolerant, tested my patience and made me who I am today, but the pain and torture I endured growing up is something they will never understand (mostly because they were the ones administering it). I love Kyle in a very special way. As a middle child I try to reign in my quiet competitive and jealous nature, but as a big sister I want to warn him of all my mistakes. I don’t want to watch him join the Marines thinking he’ll prove something to the world only to realize that all he’s done is show the world how stubborn a human being can be (Kyle would never survive the Marines – Air Force maybe, but they’d eat him alive in day one of OCS). I want to protect him, but at the same time I know the best teacher in life is experience. He seems so naïve in the ways of the world, so sheltered from reality by choice as much as anything and I worry when he says things like “I have the most epic trip ever planned,” because I know he hasn’t thought it through other than drawing out a map of where to go. He graduated last spring and is in that weird phase that I’m not so sure we ever really evolve from – at least I know I haven’t. I love and worry about him in that way only an older sibling who has been knocked down and kicked around by the world more than once can worry. How he’s held onto his naivety this long I’ll never understand, but I think it probably has something to do with that missing file I mentioned.    

“Ok, where are you going?” I ask, curious and pissed off at the world because I hit a pothole yesterday and am therefore carless and out $800 to get it back. I’m standing outside our office building in the late afternoon sun, waiting for my boyfriend to take me to the repair shop where I can take my little piggy bank labeled “AWESOMEST VACATION EVER FUND,” hammer it open and cry as I shove the pennies and bills over to the mechanics. I know they are just trying to make a living, but do they understand that they have just taken approximately 79.4% of my will to make it through the rest of the week away? It’s only Tuesday. I really want to call the mechanics mean names, but the fact that they have managed to fix my car in one day prevents me from doing anything but being grateful for having my bug back. 

“It’s going to start in Argentina …” Kyle begins to tell me his agenda.

I must interject once more to state that my awesomest vacation ever fund was to go towards a trip to either Argentina or Chile. I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned this to Kyle per se, but it has been my next big vacation destination for the last two years. Two years I’ve been waiting to have both time and money to go and now he’s going to steal my thunder once again like one of my siblings always manages to do. I’ve been obsessed with going to Argentina ever since reading “The Motorcycle Diaries” while riding in a riverboat along the Amazon River two years ago. Seriously, why doesn’t the kid just rip out my beating heart and throw it down the garbage disposal?      

“In the southernmost tip of Patagonia and I’m going to travel north to Alaska and then cross the Bering Strait by boat and go to Russia.” I don’t have the heart to tell him he’s on crack quite yet so I let him continue. “Then I’m going to work my way down through Russia, Japan down towards Australia and New Zealand then back over to Nepal and see K2 and all that. . .” 

The casualness of his mentioning Nepal, my fantasy vacation that I don’t plan on executing until I’m about to die because the thought of going there someday is what keeps me moving forward in life. His blasé attitude towards this part of the journey just pisses me off. What is there not enough world for him to explore? Does he have to keep picking the places that I want to go? He can’t go to Thailand or do the whirlwind European tour like all the other cliché college grads do when trying to find themselves? Why Argentina, why Nepal, why not decide you’re going to be a writer while you’re at it. I mean if you’re going to steal someone’s identity go all the way. I manage to focus on my breathing and keep myself calm even though Kyle has just taken the remaining 20.6% of will I had left to make it the remaining three days until the weekend. Now how am I going to get myself up tomorrow morning? I consider drowning myself in the San Diego River that runs behind our office, but decide to just wait on Brent who always manages to cheer me up somehow. Maybe I can find .000001% of will left somewhere deep within and drag my sorry ass out of bed in the morning still. 

“It’s already been done,” I tell him with some sick pleasure that I am ashamed to admit, but would be lying if I left out of this narrative. I enjoyed each word as they leaked from my mouth like frothy poison one by one crushing his dream. I know Kyle, I’ve known him since before he was born when I would whisper all the things we would do together into mom’s belly as she watched reruns of Cheers on hot summer nights. I know Kyle has a need to be the first to do something, probably from being the fourth to do everything else in life. “Some Iraq vet either from here or England came home and had PTSD so he started in South America, traveled by foot up to Alaska, crossed the Berring Strait on foot.” After the words come out of my mouth the sick pleasure immediately turns into guilt and shame. I’m a horrible and miserable person who apparently can’t stand for others to be happy – even my own family. Thank god Brent pulls up in his Jeep or the temptation to drown myself in the river might become too overwhelming to ignore.   

“Wait, you can’t do that. You can’t cross it on foot,” Kyle interrupts, excited to find the flaw and therefore being potentially the first to make this journey again because my story is clearly a fake. 

“Well, if you let me finish I would tell you that he swam where he couldn’t cross over the ice.” 

“What are you serious?” his voice still doubts the legitimacy of my story, but he’s starting to realize he won’t be the first nor will he be the most extreme. He was going to cross via boat.

“He made it to Russia, but then he was deported.” I hope this detail will make him realize that he hasn’t thought through the logistics of travel visas yet. Kyle has traveled significantly as a student, but if he’s serious he needs to consider the million little details someone else has always taken care of for him, like visas. As an American I think we’ve gotten so used to open borders that we forget that other countries either want to keep us out or charge us good money to let us in and with good reason.

“Where was he deported to?” he asks (I told you he was missing a file). I can hear the skepticism in his voice still.

“The moon, obviously.” There’s a pause and I can tell I’ve confused him further with my sarcasm. “His home country, dork. Last I heard he’s still trying to get a visa to go to Russia and then he’s going to continue from where he left off travelling around the entire globe on foot.”

“What? Seriously.” 

Again, I feel guilty that I didn’t let him indulge in his fantasy a little longer, but someone has to tell the kid the tooth fairy aint real and apparently our parents have given up on this case.

“Kyle, I’m not saying you can’t go, but you need to study those who have done it before so you can learn how they did it, what mistakes they made and all that. Besides how the hell are you going to pay for this?”

I can almost feel him perk up on the other end of the phone as I try to get my purse, computer and bag of empty food and water containers (I eat a lot throughout the day) into the Jeep. I lean over and give Brent a kiss as Kyle starts up again like someone pulled a cord coming out the back of his neck…and he’s off.

“Well, I’m going to have a camera crew and when it gets on YouTube people are going to start following it and eventually people will just start inviting me into their homes and helping me along the way.” 

I’m trying to remember a time when I ever thought I could just fly to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t have a return flight home (which a lot of countries require in order to give you a travel visa or let you in), and actually believed that people would just welcome me into their home and pay my way to the next country on my itinerary. Right, I’ve never thought like that. I have been invited into people’s homes while traveling and I will forever be grateful for the kindness of strangers, but I have never went into a situation that I wasn’t able to get myself out of expecting kindness.

“Kyle that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” I tell him free from any dream crushing guilt or jealousy because I know this trip is about as likely to happen as me jumping in the disgusting San Diego River (even to kill myself I wouldn’t get in that nasty water for risk of coming out radioactive with seven heads). “How are you going to pay for a camera crew or a flight to get down there?” The list of practical questions I could ask goes on forever, but I stop because I can barely hear over the engine of the Jeep and the radio and someone has walked in and stole his attention. 

“No, it could work. If it went viral it could totally work, but hey Libby are you going to be around later?” 

I know this line. Kyle is notorious for “calling later” and never calling. Kyle is actually the hardest person on the planet to get a hold of including villages around the world without electricity or cell phones. You can call, text, write, but good luck getting a response because he’s lost his phone, the charger, broke his computer or had his hands ripped off by a llama at a petting zoo and hasn’t learned to write by using his feet yet. Have I mentioned how much I love my little brother yet? I think the depth of one’s love can be measured by amount of frustration that person causes. Simply put, if you didn’t love them it these things wouldn’t frustrate you or maybe you’d just lose interest in the person causing the stress, either way Kyle is impossible to reach and I’ve learned to just accept that part of our relationship.  

“Ok, that’s fine, I have to pick up my car, but I’ll just be making dinner and hanging out after that.” 

We say quick goodbyes and Brent drops me off to get my car. I watch the woman clean out my savings account with one quick swipe of plastic and life seems so drastically unfair. It was a fucking pot hole for the love of god! I manage to hold on to my dignity as I walk out the door happy that I had the money in the bank for a change and didn’t have to charge it to my credit card. I get in my car and, unlike the first time I tried to drive it off the lot at the dealership not knowing how to drive manual, I triumphantly pull out of the shop’s lot. I would like to write that I rolled my windows down and let the air blow through my hair as I tasted the freedom of mobility again, but the shop is less than a block from my apartment and the electronic passenger side window is running out of umph and any day now it’s going to go down and not go back up.

This pay check I should be able to buy some super glue and put the pieces of my little bank back together and set aside some money for my own trip again. I’ve got paperwork to send into the city to possibly get some of the money back from the damage incurred by their negligence on our roads. It’ll take time, but maybe it’ll be a little unexpected bonus down the road. Maybe I’ll never see that money again, what can you do? It seems like in the last six months every time I have a little money saved up something demands the funds – from car repairs (I had to replace the fuel filter this spring and some other major work), moving expenses, stupid California vehicle registration that was over $400. Some days I just can’t win for loosing. Usually those are the days I get a phone call from Kyle declaring an epic trip or idea for a business start up or how he’s going to colonize Mars or do whatever it is Kyle gets worked up to go do with all the greatest intentions. While part of me is bitter and jealous that I’ve lost the ability to believe these impossible things another part of me wants him to succeed and I swear I’d give him every cent if I had it. Unfortunately, we are the middles of five. Nothing has ever been handed to us on a silver platter. We are not hotel heiresses or the offspring of Hollywood stars. We have to work and sometimes work takes everything and leaves nothing for adventure or creativity.   

In college I had a professor who taught a poem that was about lobsters. Or maybe the poem wasn’t about the lobsters but he just taught it using a lobster metaphor. I don’t remember but it was something along the lines of when you pull a lobster out of boiling water the others will pull it back down in the pot. This was a metaphor for minorities and I want to say it was written by an Asian American poet, but it’s been so many years I could be remembering the professor who was an Asian American writer. I suppose the poem could span human nature in general, not just minorities. That’s the goal in writing – to create a universal experience so why limit it to minorities? I think it’s a natural instinct to pull someone down when they are following through with something we lacked the audacity to follow through with. People become mean and bitter in life and want to take that anger out on someone trying to break the chains that hold us all down – not just blacks, women, Hispanics, etc. Then again, something I didn’t see in college but wonder now is maybe the lobster is trying to protect its mate from an unknown future. I want Kyle to succeed in life and we are taught from day one that success means a degree, 9-5 job, house, white picket fence, etc. etc. Am I pulling Kyle back into the pot so he can follow the path of least resistance? Am I bringing him down in order to justify my own failure? Or am I simply trying to protect him from failing and of course possibly succeeding where I have failed? I don’t know because it’s Kyle. He’s played student for long enough and it’s time to grow up now, but at the same time if he can figure out how to escape the cook, maybe he will knock over the pot and free us all. I want him to succeed, I do. I also want to save him from my own fate. Chaining my creative energies to a boring desk job all day long to pay the bills and lifestyle I’ve enslaved myself to. 

Run Kyle. Run for your life. Go to Argentina. Get out. Go now. Don’t turn back. Save yourself. We’ll miss you, but bid you well. Don’t get used to making money. Don’t acquire a taste for things. These things will close the lid tight, let the steam build up and suffocate you before you even have a chance to boil. Who cares how you’ll pay your loans back … change your name … fake your death, just get out now while you can little brother. It’s too late for me, but go before the economy collapses and chaos forces us into a police state. Go now before life settles you and it’s too hard to plan these escapes around schedules and rents and weddings and births and deaths. Just go without me and maybe one day when I’m winning for a change, I’ll come join you. 

Of course Kyle never called me back that night. I haven’t heard from him since then except for a Facebook comment on my post about how I feel claustrophobic in San Diego because I can’t go west or south and really who wants to travel north towards LA? 

"I think the problem you are struggling with is not dissatisfaction with San Diego, I think you are struggling with Wanderlust. I can tell because you immediately thought of the Alchemist, and because I have the same affliction."

Oh Kyle, please don't lose your wonder or wanderlust and don't ever stop believing in the possibility of epic adventures no matter what happens. Don't let them tame you. And little brother, if you break free and can't risk coming back to the kitchen to knock the pot over and save the rest of us. . . Well, we'll make it through knowing you did it. Love you.


  1. Great Post.
    Btw, for MS Word, try 'Paste Special' instead of 'Paste'. Then you can choose to insert 'Unformatted text' which should just give you the raw text - no formatting. ('Paste Special' is under 'Edit' on the menu line - no shortcut that I'm aware of, like Ctrl+V for Paste.)

  2. I'm at my desk reading this and laughing although totally agreeing with you. What's funny is that Kyle sounds a lot like you back when we were in college, epic trips all over europe, and sadly, I was the logical one in that situation, mainly because I grew up too quickly, I was the lobster in the pot, but I did it out of love.