Today is my brother’s birthday. Both of us are spring babies, with my birthday following in just two weeks, and both of us have mixed feelings about our birthdays.
There are a lot of similarities between us. We have the same hair — thick, dishwater blonde — the same taste in music, in movies, in friends. We both like sitting in the park across the street from our house in suburban Illinois. We have matching tattoos of each other’s initials. We like the color orange, “Our Deal” by Best Coast, strawberries with whipped cream, the MGMT album with the yellow background, and writing stories.
Both of us are artists, and both of us are gripped by a relentless ambition to do something with our lives.
When we were younger, we did everything together. We moved around a lot, and we transformed each house or apartment into our dreamscape. We fantasized about becoming giants, or about getting older and getting famous for movies that we made together.
But my brother and I are also two of the most different people you’ll ever meet. I was excited about the idea of college, while he couldn’t wait to be done with school after 12th grade. I like sitting in the backyard, while he enjoys staying in his room. I love my birthday, while he doesn’t like his at all.
Ultimately, I think both of us are afraid of getting older. Our birthdays are a time for bittersweet reflection. Like, here is another day that marks the transition into the next period of your life, where you’ll experience the same upheavals and downfalls just experienced this past year, accompanied by the same heart-wrenching emotions. Here, happy birthday.
I like this idea, this celebration of the passage of time, but sometimes it hurts. I was thinking about it over winter break, while watching TV with my brother.
“You hate that, don’t you?” our father said.
“Hate what?” I said.
“The endless building up of memories,” he said.
I’m afraid I’ll forget things about our childhood, and with each birthday, I fear I’ll lose a memory from the last. Last year I dreamed I was holding an armful of giant grapes. I kept seeing grapes around me that I wanted to pick up, but each time I bent down to do so, a grape I was already holding would fall. Birthdays are like that. Does picking up new experiences, new relationships, new emotions, mean you have to let go of the others?
Recently, my brother recommended I watch “Good Time,” a movie from the Safdie brothers, who directed “Uncut Gems.” It’s about two brothers who rob a bank. The older one (played by Robert Pattinson) escapes, while the younger one (played by Benny Safdie) gets caught and arrested. He’s developmentally disabled, and Pattinson’s character spends much of the film trying to get him out of jail.
The first 20 minutes of the movie put me in tears. Robert Pattinson, though I never thought I’d say this, made me cry. My brother has experienced a range of health problems, both mental and physical. There have been times where I’ve been on the other side, the older sibling, in a hospital waiting room, unable to reach him. That feeling that you would switch places with your sibling — that, as the older one, you’re responsible for them — that part of “Good Time” made me cry. It’s the ache of growing up with someone who’s suddenly become so far from you.
My brother and I are both extremely emotional people. In many ways, we’re trapped in our own feelings. We analyze, empathize, overthink, and emote more than we can handle. I used to be afraid of that — that I felt too much to ever explain, that I wanted to create much more than I ever could. Next month, I’ll be 21, and I’ll have another day that represents the passage of time. But I think I’m learning to appreciate that. And I hope my brother will, too.