Tuesday, May 8, 2012

the way we were

First time sister, meeting baby Jeb!
A month or so ago I was reading On Beauty by Zadie Smith.  I read it because I found it in a book exchange and I liked the cover.  It's a strange story and I don't really recommend it.  There was a section that struck me and I wanted to remember it.  In the story, three siblings run into each other unexpectedly and go to a coffee shop to visit: 

"They caught up with each other's news casually, leaving long, cosy gaps of silence in which to go to work on their muffins and coffees.  Jerome - after two months of having to be witty and brilliant in a strange town among strangers - appreciated the gift of it.  People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two lovers, but this too was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating.  Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel - before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets [emphasis mine].  After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been.  Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls.  He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth.  He did not consider if or how or why he loved them.  They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away."

The imagery of there being one other person in your life as a child, your sibling, was startling to me.  I realized that I personally never had this experience that I now assume is common to many.  When Ryan was young, his sister Kristen of course would have been among the most significant presences in his life.  Because I was an only child for six years, my experience has always been as a big sister....slightly removed because of the age difference.  I notice it when my brothers and sister are reminiscing about their childhood and I don't relate to some of the stories....presumably because I was gone to college or working.  This gap has diminished as all my siblings and myself have grown older and age doesn't matter very much.  My experience and role in my family is unique and I don't regret it.   But in any case I think this concept in the story is lovely.