In preparation for my move to Yale last year, I pinned an adorable picture of a vintage, blue rotary phone under cut-out letters reading “CALL YOUR FOLKS.” Living the Pinterest life, I turned out to be actually quite good at “calling my folks” — on Fridays before Shabbat, I would check in with my parents and my grandmothers and then pat myself on the back for living the pin-dream.
Maybe this routine masked a fatal flaw: I never called my little brother. For some, escaping siblings is a college perk, but I happen to really like William. I argue — others would say I joke — that he is a better version of me by all objective measures. He is smarter and taller and funnier. My friends prefer him to me. We share tastes in music and Manchego. In my entire life, I’ve only bit him once.
For whatever reason, however, the idea of calling him on a regular basis did not occur to me last year. I could blame our busy and misaligned schedules, or the convenience of texting and Facebook messaging/stalking that in tandem made quality contact seem out of reach and less than essential. When summer arrived, I expected we would re-establish our routine of dinner table debates and drives to late-night movies. But our overlap at home wound up shorter than expected, and quality time proved hard to come by. We’d see each other in the kitchen, in the hallway, over dinners that happened less frequently than I’d remembered.
This close-but-not-close-enoughness, this just-missing, brought our absent lines of dialogue into focus. When I left Dallas for an internship, we finally picked up the phone. We stared out the windows across from kitchen tables across the country. We told stories and shared jokes and wondered why people didn’t get us like we got us. And I’m happy to report that we’ve continued to do so now that we’re back in school mode. Until now, we knew the bullet-point outline of each other’s lives — classes and friends and writing (me) and directing (him). Now, I know what William’s thinking, feeling and wondering about, and he knows the same for me.
On nights when we both have too much work, we talk anyway. I read over his important emails, discuss how he’s going to ask a girl to homecoming and evaluate the level of cliché inherent to scenes of people running through fields (conclusion: so clichéd it could be its own genre, thus, not clichéd). I must do this, I’ve realized, because coming home does not mean returning to routine in the way I thought it meant, and summers are not inherently shared, and we may never truly live in the same city again. The future of our relationship does not depend on Thanksgiving or on June, but on making good on the promise of the favorites menu.
So I encourage you to, yes, respect your elders and give them a ring every once in a while, but also to use your minutes on your siblings. They inhabit this moment with you in a way that parents just don’t, and the support they provide and require is in many ways more essential. Parents have some sort of inescapable hold, yet a sibling can slip away or end up on the other side of a chasm that grows as you turn the other way. Hold fast to the connections provided by a shared childhood; allow them to link you to shared segments of the future.
You can’t pick your siblings, but you can pick up the phone.
“It’s me. Do you have a minute?”
Caroline Sydney is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.