Updated: Jan 11
My baby brother is 16 years younger than me. Since he was three, I've lived out of the house. During the first three years of his life, I was a rarely home. I bounced between psych admissions and residential eating disorder programs.
The foundation of our relationship is immense love for one another, but the distance is unignorable. The psychical distance, the age gap, and frankly my ability to be emotionally close and invested in our relationship was stilted for many years.
Since moving back to Texas, I've been trying to learn how to love him better. His love languages are quality time and physical touch. He prefers slow, predictable days to fast-paced adventures. His irreverent wit (my g-d he's the funniest human I know) and teasing is an expression of his love, if not a little brash at times.
We are complete opposites. Growing up, I made jokes so infrequently, that when I said something particularly funny, my family would congratulate me on my annual joke. I struggle to understand sarcasm and he is fluent in it - so much so that English might be his second language.
Because of, and not in spite of, all of these things, I adore him. Slowly, I'm learning how to love him in ways that make him feel cherished.
I had a fully day in Austin before I needed to head back to Dallas so I decided it would be a sibling day. I needed to pick my car up from the airport where it had stayed since I left for Jacksonville the week before.
I loaded us up into an Uber to pick it up and we laughed the whole way. He showed me selfies on his phone: him posing in our mama's scrub cap, his puppy lying on top of him while he practiced his wrestling moves. We joked about silly things he did as a baby and he told me he remembered when I lived at home and we watched Disney movies together on the couch.
Bear Show (Brave) was a favorite of his and I still can't see Merida without thinking of him cuddled up on my lap pointing to the bear and saying "Coco" - our family dog's name.
Our Uber driver was a saint. If he was annoyed by our giggling, he didn't let on.
Once I had my car, I turned on the radio and plugged in Revival Coffee's address to my GPS. My ancestors traversed oceans by the stars, but I miss the same turn twice with a GPS yelling at me to Turn Left, Turn Left, Make a U-Turn, Turn Right, Make a U-Turn.
I think rerouting is the GPS' most used word.
The pink café appeared on our left, a cemetery to our right. I pulled into a pink parking spot and asked my brother if he wanted to get our coffee to go and wander through the graves. He looked at me like he'd seen a ghost.
I don't know where my nickname came from, but for as long as he could talk he's called me Duck or Duckie. My little sister and Josh call me Katherine. To everyone else, I'm Kat.
"Look how Instagrammable!"
"You're so cringe," he said while reaching for my phone to take my picture in front of the "Wifi passord is 'ilovepuppies'" sign.
I stared at the millennial pink menu for ages before settling on a moonflower cocktail, honey lavender latte, a chocolate donuts.
A very cool gal with a cropped mullet, septum piercing and pink highlights took my order. I love bringing my bother to places like this. The conservative areas of the Deep South where I spent so much of my childhood were populated with cookie cutter humans living in cookie cutter houses in cookie cutter gated communities. It seemed like everyone was a Pastor or a Pastor's wife or somehow tied to the Republican Party or Southern Baptist Church. They were the kind of people who would simply fall over if they were ever confronted by a brown, middle-eastern, socialist, feminist.
Some of my favorite people are Christians. My husband is devout. But the cognitive dissonance in some people who claim to follow The Word is more than I can handle graciously.
Seeing my brother comfortable in spaces populated by queer folks is one of my greatest joys. When I told him ages ago that I'm bisexual, he responded with a bored "yeah okay" and thrust his Nintendo Switch under my nose to show me a new level he just unlocked.
We took our drinks and snack to a pink table, surrounded by pink chairs, upon a pink floor, under pink lights, against a pink wall and passed the latte back and forth. I took some pictures and video while he rolled his eyes at me.
My cocktail was entirely too strong for 2 PM and after two sips I knew it was a no-go. I posed myself against the various backdrops of the café, edible flowers spilling out of the cup while he rolled his eyes and captured beautiful photos.
We strolled around the equally pink courtyard and I asked him about the video game he was creating at school and he asked me about my documentary. Neither of us really knew what the other was talking about, but we listened attentively and asked any thoughtful follow-up questions we could think of.
When I could tell he was getting restless, I tossed my still-full cocktail and asked, "where to next?"
I chuckled. He loves his creature comforts. He's been ordering a cup of tomato soup and half a grilled cheese with a diet Pepsi and an M&M cookie for as long as I can remember.
We packed ourselves up and found a Panera just outside of the city. Just as we were turning in to the parking lot, Jeremy called. His computer had come unplugged so we swung home to get him situated before turning around and going back to Panera.
When we got there I watched on while he ordered exactly what I knew he'd get. I ordered a cup of autumn squash soup .
"Cash or card?"
"It's on the house," my brother replied.
The cashier looked confused.
"She's the house," my brother said, pointing at me.
I handed my card to her and we both stifled our laughter poorly.
"Here or to-go?"
"To-go. We've been out a long time."
We'd been out 2.5 hours. He's nothing if not a homebody.
He sat in the car and munched on his baguette - and most of mine - while I ran in to Barnes and Nobel for a new tarot deck and some greeting cards.
My love language is a greeting card for every occasion. I picked up a birthday card for one of the stations other hosts who had immediately scooped me under his wing. I grabbed a couple Valentine's Day cards for Jeremy and friends but got deeply distracted in the science section before heading to check out.
When I got back to the car, my brother had his headphones in, music seeping out. So much of the time, my 12-year-old sibling seems happily entangled in childhood. When he has his earbuds in, daydreaming out the window, he is full teenager. I turned my own music up over the speakers and we drove home without talking.
Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue is my comfort book. It was the first queer rom-com that I read and I saw myself in both Alex and Henry. Like Henry, I grieve deeply and tuck my sadness in the pages of books. I am introspective and moody, often unsure of what I need or how to help myself beyond retreating inwards.
I am impulsive like Alex. I move quickly and think later. I work away stress and make scenes and can be rash. I have big plans and short timelines.
During an especially ramped up and frenetic chapter, Alex's sister June told him, “Sometimes you have a fire under your ass for no good g-ddamn reason. You're gonna burn out like this."
I've heard variations of this my whole life. Teachers who needed me to calm down, Jeremy who sees me take on too much when I'm feeling well and inspired by fleeting moments of invincibility that are almost always followed by freefalls off of jagged precipices. Josh, who I try to drag behind me on my every whim and adventure, pisses me off like no other when he sets firm boundaries around his rest.
If I'm working 80-hour weeks, why can't everyone else? Because everyone else isn't comfortable with the push too hard to psych admission pipeline.
I shouldn't be either, but I've been doing it for so long that the absurd extremes that I push myself to are on automation.
When Josh told me last night that he needed to alter our plans for our long weekend together, I was crushed. One of the many facets of his day job is doing weekly sports analysis. His beloved Jaguars made it to the playoffs and their next game was scheduled on Penguin Day.
This filming day wasn't necessary. Storyboarding our pilot was certainly more pressing but it seemed ridiculous to come all the way to Florida and not visit the colony we'd been working with for the past year.
I wanted him to be okay with running himself ragged and do all the things. A mix of anger and sadness and frustration and betrayal clawed at me from under my skin. An hour later, I realized that I, too, was exhausted and desperately wanted someone to give me permission to rest.
I drafted a typo-laden email that said, in summary:
I'm tried and burning out. This weekend, we can storyboard on Sunday but I need to rest Saturday while you work. Monday is Bestie Day.
At some point, I started calling our work-free days Bestie Days. I don't think he relishes the silly names I come up with for everything but I enjoy them so I keep them going.
I sent my email and cuddled into Jeremy. His steady breath and soft lap bring me back to myself. When I rest my head on him, all the live-wire thoughts in my head die down to a lazy vibration. He is my safety and my calm.
We laid down to sleep and I was immensely grateful to spend another night at my mama's house before having to get up at 6 AM to trek into Dallas for my 11 AM - 7 PM All Things Considered shift.
Leslie Knope chattered in the background as I drifted off. I don't think I made it a quarter of an episode before I was asleep.