Calling my younger brother is common at least three times a week. We usually start our conversations talking about 80s music, with him pointing to the Pink Floyd and AC/DC posters on my dorm wall and wondering if I’d heard any of their deep cuts. During our last conversation, I called while he was having lunch, ready to ask him about his musical tastes.
“What’s new?” he replied wearily.
Screams from a high school cafeteria distracted his voice. I asked him to go somewhere quiet. He agreed and I waited a minute as the background noise didn’t quiet down nor did I hear the telltale sign of footsteps.
“You haven’t moved,” I accused.
“Well, I like where I am.” I looked at my phone but didn’t fight him on it.
“It’s just a conversation. I’m your sister, not an interviewer.
“Whatever you say,” he replied.
For starters, Hayden is 15, spends an hour a day doing his hair, and effortlessly charms everyone he meets. We both claim we have the “right genes” even though we look nothing alike.
My mother loved to brag about her and my uncle being “the best of friends”, even as an adult – it seemed impossible. Me and my brother as best friends? Never in a million years. I just lived by the rule of nobody picks on my brother but me. Honestly, I think I’m somewhere between an adequate and mediocre sister to him.
As a kid, I would reluctantly help with his homework, punch a bully or two who hurt him, and always offer to play Star Wars with him, even though I treated him like a piñata with my saber. laser toy. We weren’t exactly best friends, but a chaotic duo capable of scaring babysitters. It turns out that as kids, nothing was more fun than the outrageously dangerous ideas we were brainstorming. In my defense, we would usually walk out with an equal number of bruises.
When I met the tweens, Hayden and I broke up. Or more accurately, I went my own way and stopped him from following. There was no malicious intent to blind my younger brother. I just thought it was time to go through my “emo” phase in which I exclusively listened to Fall Out Boy and yelled at anyone who tried to get me out of my room. Unfortunately, that included him.
Eventually, Hayden got old enough to learn that asking me nicely to play with him wouldn’t work, and he had to get my attention with different tactics. He “mistakenly” placed alarm clocks under my bed that rang at 3 a.m., covered my room with toilet paper, and insisted on playing music only for homework time. He once taught our dog the command “attack Logan”: a command that sent our dog running towards me barking, placing its front paws fiercely on my leg before grinning at my brother for his guaranteed treat. Hayden’s creative mind thought of every “Home Alone” trap to make me miserable. I naturally began to find his existence infuriating.
My parents excused his actions by seeking attention. My father, who was the youngest brother growing up, sometimes laughed at Hayden’s more innocent antics. For everyone else, eating the rest of my candy stash was harmless. Although I understood that Hayden only wanted to spend time with me, I stubbornly decided that I would only do so when he decided not to be a pain. It left us in a bind for five years.
Of course, I felt guilty at times. I was too proud to give in to his wishes, which made me hypocritical in asking for the maturity of a 10-year-old boy. And in retrospect, there was also a degree of jealousy. He was born the future prom king and captain of every club and sports team imaginable. I had been a lanky nerd with braces, glasses, and bangs that never fit. Eventually, high school life took over my limited free time, and Hayden found his own friends to focus on.
When the quarantine started, we suddenly found ourselves together in the same small apartment in New York. He claimed the TV, but I won the speakers, which meant Hayden was forced to listen to everything I did. I’m proud enough of my taste in music to call it eclectic, but I’ve always favored rock music. I go from ballads of Elton John to hard rock of Led Zeppelin, and even British New Wave. Finally came the questions.
“Who sings this song? He was shouting as “Paint it Black” generated noise complaints from neighbors.
“The Rolling Stones,” I replied dryly before stealing his snacks from the kitchen. A few weeks passed with no fanfare to Mick Jagger’s vocals filling the living room.
One day in September, I dared to venture into her room. I was almost too distracted by the teenage smell to notice the chorus of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones broadcast on its speakers.
“Good song,” I commented.
“Thank you,” he replied, visibly puzzled. There had been a note of disbelief in his voice. Did I really compliment him without sarcasm or was that a hidden insult? We made brief eye contact before a silent agreement to never talk about it again.
Over the next year, more 80s rock would come out of his bedroom. I recognized it as the music I constantly played.
During our recent phone call, I mentioned his rehearsal of my music. “So you admire me and my fantastic taste or what?” I asked teasingly.
“No,” he scoffed before pausing to think. “I listened to rap because my friends did. But COVID meant I wasn’t spending time with them, and I realized I liked your music better. But when you think about it, it’s is dad’s music, not yours. I hummed in agreement. My musical tastes had comes from my father who recommended me the music of his childhood. I would dismiss any suggestions to his face, but will continue to add him to my library later.
As I was leaving for my freshman year at the University of Michigan, Hayden and I jokingly excluded our father as we talked about our new shared musical taste. I bought my brother a vinyl record of David Bowie’s greatest hits, and we started arguing about the Beatles. He claimed he knew more about their songs (a ridiculous and unprovable claim).
“I’ve seen ‘Across the Universe’ more times than you have,” he announced in our recent phone call, referring to the 2007 film featuring exclusively Beatles songs.
“No you didn’t, it’s literally my favorite musical!”
“So I’ve seen ‘Yesterday’ more times than you,” he shot back, referring to another film based on The Beatles.
” It does not matter. It wasn’t even that good.
“Great plot, but could have been executed better.”
Hayden also clearly over-analyzed the film. We both stayed silent on the phone until a question came to mind.
“So that’s why we get along now?” The music?” I asked with a subtle tenderness in my voice. Yet I knew the answer before he said it.
“Nah,” he replies. A high school student clapped through the call and I had to wait another minute before Hayden answered. “We have matured, you know?”
I knew. The pandemic had changed our family dynamics. My brother and I are blessed with supportive parents, but we’ve been forced to grow faster over the past two years. Our parents worked longer and harder, so our responsibilities increased. We had been tasked with caring for our sick grandparents and parental guidance dwindled. As the pandemic progressed, we began to alternate between our apartment and our grandparents’ Connecticut home. For six months, we only saw each other during transition car journeys. I only knew about his changing musical tastes through our shared Apple Music account.
“I didn’t need you for entertainment or anything anymore.” We started doing everything alone. Hayden added after the fact. I ignored the pain in my chest that accompanied his words. Maybe if I hadn’t been so dismissive, he would have needed me. He was no longer trying to bother me for attention, and while that was once undesirable, now the constant irritation was gone, leaving only a cold feeling in its wake. We could have shared the burdens of the past year. But I was an adult and he was fifteen, which seemed pretty close. I accepted his new independence and moved on.
“So why do you think we’re talking now?” I interrogated.
“You are nicer now. You treat me like a normal human being, an equal, not a child,” he explained. “Every time you were with your friends you acted superior and wanted me to leave. This weekend, you were cool.
Of course, I had been “cool” last weekend. It was parents’ weekend and the first time I had seen him since the summer. After three days in Ann Arbor, he was already planning his additional essays for admission. It helped that he quickly befriended my roommate, going so far as to refer to her as “the sister I always wanted.” I’ve even seen him give her 80s music recommendations, like the Eagles and U2. The three of us shared Pizza House feta bread while listening to ZZ Top.
And not to my surprise, Hayden got along well with my friends. It made sense – we are similar. We have the same sense of humor, think comparing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones is like comparing apples to oranges, we love leather jackets and grew up watching the same Cartoon Network shows. Our high school extracurricular activities are the same, as are many of our high school friends. Our frequent conversations no longer stemmed from two siblings being pushed together by circumstance, but simply from a desire to share.
We talk about everything now: the music, the teachers we shared, the theater, our parents. A few days ago, after complaining to my roommate about the humiliation of asking a fifteen year old for advice, I reached out to my brother with a relationship question. My roommate laughed and said he might be younger, but he knew me well enough to guide me.
I wanted to tell my new boyfriend about my feelings for him. Hayden asked me to have dinner by candlelight, wear a nice dress, buy my boyfriend a box of cookies, eat the box of cookies by himself before offering them for mental preparation, and write a love letter instead. He then informed me that Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” were the two most romantic songs out there. After agreeing on the last song of the 80s, we started talking about our plans for the end of the school year.
“Do you think we’ll get along over the summer?” I asked Hayden on our recent call.
“We won’t fight as much. We might fight more in June since I’ll have a month to get sick of you. And we’ll both want to go out more. We will want to hang around more. Like a friend?”
There was a note of hope in his words, a note that only a sibling could hear.
“So would you describe us as friends?”
“Meh, if that helps with your article.”
Statement columnist Logan Klinger can be reached at email@example.com.