Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just don't touch the barrel.

If you knew my family, you would understand why it warmed my heart to listen to my oldest brother describing in detail, with relish, the love his llama harbours for its feed barrel, as expressed through its ceaseless, energetic humping.

This tale was shared over dinner last Thursday night, with his wife, Lucky and I, plus a friend from PEI, and my Dad and Mom. We were in a medium to high-end restaurant in my parents' neighbourhood, and my brother is not quiet. Supplemented by his wife's helpful sound effects, we got a great lesson in the language of llama love, and my brother and I got the chance to make sure we've still got it: that back and forth rhythm, that complimentary wit, that way of winding a theme through a whole meal, and picking up where the other left off. More than that, we've still got that ability to make our mother laugh at our badness, even as she's kicking him under the table, telling me to stop encouraging, and invoking the name of my other butter-wouldn't-melt brother. Even with all that, her real thoughts are transparent. She was just thrilled to see us doing what we do when things are at their best. When we're on, we're really on.

Even as we bantered back and forth about the neighbour's grandchildren getting a graphic lesson in the birds and the bees ("When a llama and a barrel love each other very much...") and I laughed so hard I thought I would choke on my stuffed prawns, something in the back of my head kept interrupting the revelry to remind me to grab on, enjoy this, file it all away, keep it for a rainy day.

My brother is a study in extremes. His life, for at least the last 15 years, has been full of very high highs, and very devastating lows. The relationships of all the people who love him the most (a high percentage of whom were at that dinner table) have been tested and twisted in more ways than should be allowed. There have been many times over these years when I have not wanted to see his face, hear his tales, deal with his crap, or pick up the pieces when my parents needed me. He evokes my strongest emotions, and I've always said that it was due to our differences: red neck and feminist, oldest and youngest, lawbreaker and social worker, musket owner and non-musket owner. In truth, times like last Thursday make it hard for me to deny that all those flare ups and fights have a lot more to do with what we have in common, than what we don't share.

It may seem cynical or petty of me to have those wary thoughts in the back of my head, even as I was enjoying his company, but this is what making peace with the situation looks like for me. I love my brother, I love that he's in a good place right now, and I am comforted by the fact that this doesn't seem to be the kind of manic high that normally precedes a crushing blow. As much as time and experience warn me to proceed with caution, I can't help but hope that he's finally through those woods, and out of that cycle, even though I know some things are hard to change. For one, I will always be there to pick up the pieces. After all, we've got a lot in common. If I tell a good story, it's all because of him.

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