Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Meeting My Brother For The First Time

Things I have in common with my biological half-brother Rick that I don’t share with my adopted family:

Candy. We stopped by the store and I grabbed an Almond Joy, because I like to keep an emergency snack around my hotel room in case of sudden hunger. Apparently this is also Rick’s preferred candy bar.

Tattoos. My adopted family did not approve of them. Everyone in my biological family has them; I personally have six. At one point Rick and I were cruising around Hollywood looking for a tattoo parlor to give us matching brother-sister ink, but we couldn’t find anybody good so abandoned that idea for now.

Fearlessness. I flew down on one of those small commuter jets, and Katrina asked if it was scary, and I didn’t know what to say. I have a twisted scariness threshold and so does Rick. We both enjoy terrifying experiences like horror films and we both confessed we’d love to see a ghost or monster or alien or sasquatch or chupacabra or other similar frightening thing. He’s more outdoorsy and used to do crazy things involving motorcycles and championship fights. I’m the inside type and get my kicks from litigation deadlines and murdering my fellow video game players (and writing action-adventure stories, that too). We are a clan of warriors and although we occasionally ripple with anxiety, we also tend to have rock steady nerves.

Caffeine. Maybe it has to do with the rock steady nerves, but Rick and I can both drink coffee and then fall asleep right away. According to 23andMe there’s a gene for that.

Fighting. Most of my genetic family seems to have gotten in trouble for fighting in school. Including Rick’s youngest son, who recently got in trouble for a fight that happened to be videoed. Rick explained for the principal, and for me, frame-by-frame, how his son was reacting to the other kid’s negative motion in pulling back his fist in preparation to strike. If that kind of tech had existed when we were kids, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten in trouble as much. In both my case and Rick’s, we received some bullying from other school kids, which turned both of us into adults opposed to bullying. And we both got in trouble for hitting back – we’re not the type to start fights, but we’ll finish them. And even further, we both learned to be very, very conscious of our aggression. Rick morphed into a martial arts expert. I became a hippie pacifist with expertise in civil litigation. Now that we are adults who have mastered our violent impulses we are both mercenaries -- we will gladly enter into a physical fight (him) or an argument (me) with you, but only if you pay us, because we’re that good. And even despite my peaceful leanings, my first novel was military sci fi and I relax by murdering other video game players and watching movies about people being mean to each other. It’s easy to look at Rick and myself and envision big old Celtic-Viking types swinging warhammers at enemies and braining invaders with cooking utensils between courses. 

Early adapters. We both love our tech. Rick has a great relationship with Siri and excels at SEO. We bristle with charging cords and adapters and power supplies.

Cockiness. You can call it arrogance, you can call it confidence, you can call it audacity. We’re both the type to step up and articulate. 

Music. He was a singer. I was a guitarist and bass player. We had a great time cruising around Hollywood singing along to Marilyn Manson.

Japan. He teaches karate. I’ve lived next to a sushi bar for decades, named my long-running column after a Tezuka character and I briefly studied the language when I was a kid in Hawai'i – plus I’m currently waiting to hear back about a job with an extremely Japanese connection. We’re not really weaboos – not big on anime or fashions or all the rest -- but we do have a distinct admiration for Japanese people and culture. 

Workaholism. We both love our work and spend lots of time obsessing about it.

Alcohol. We’re not big drinkers. I had a few Angry Orchards this vacation, but never more than one a day. He used to have occasional beers but didn’t care for being drunk, and has since quit for his health.

Things I do not have in common with Rick:

Politics. Rick and I have agreed not to discuss them. He’s more conservative than I am. I will note that (a) he’s not racist; (b) he’s not sexist; (c) his political impulses, like mine, are primarily directed toward stopping bullies that take advantage of people.

Religion. He’s into it, I’m not, so I tried not to be too sacreligious.

Books. His wife Katrina likes books, but Rick’s more into fishing and camping.

Cars. He’s a Southern Californian and has a big ass SUV and a jeep. I’m a San Franciscan and have a Lyft account and a Muni pass.

Family. He’s got seven kids, ranging from thirty-five to fifteen. He’s on his third marriage. He loves spending time with family. I’m a loner with a brother I rarely contact. I’m pretty sure that has a lot to do with how we were raised.

Pets. He's got a great big dog. I have a great big cat. 

Fat. I’ve got lots of it because I am a couch warrior. Rick’s a professional athlete and he doesn’t.

Hawai’i. We were both conceived there but he was born in California and has lived here his whole life, while I got to be immersed in aloha until I was ten.

Autoimmune issues. He’s full of energy and vitality. I’m full of the desire to nap.

Our weekend:

My sister-in-law Katrina filmed our initial meeting. There’s a strong physical resemblance. His voice seemed familiar somehow, even though we’d only communicated by text.

We headed to a pizza parlor where we enjoyed our first meal together – BBQ chicken and pineapple pizza! Yum. I think the pineapple part may have been a test, but I have always firmly believed that pineapple belongs on pizza. There was also some kind of rich dessert, which I avoided.

Then I spent Saturday and Sunday with Rick. Mostly driving around – we went to Venice Beach, Hollywood and Big Bear, all places I haven’t been in a while. We talked for hours and hours, about everything – our marriages, our childhood, our careers, our formative experiences. It’s too personal to recap, and we jumped from one subject to the next in this big explosion of words.

It was the first time I’ve ever spent a day – let alone two! – with family without having underlying tension, or an argument, or some kind of stress. Very weird.

Dear Old Dad

Our dad, meanwhile …

When I was growing up I always hated the womanizing cool-guy character. Elvis, Captain Kirk, Hugh Hefner, all that ilk. I didn’t mind James Bond so much, he seemed conscientious, to say the least, but the rest of them reminded me of the sex-obsessed baby boomers who used to bother me when I was younger, until I figured out the secret of dating a particularly large or high-status one who would keep all the rest away.

That was dad: handsome womanizer. Silvertongued. Drunk. Father of various children, most of them illegitimate. Died at age fifty, of a major heart attack, while sitting on a bar stool. The best picture I have of him has a thick seam in the middle, from being ripped in half by some angry woman, then mended with tape. 

A selfish, hedonistic asshole, by all accounts. The kind of guy that all those posers in their velvet bathrobes with their martini shakers wanted to be, for realsies, complete with more action than most guys will ever get, resulting in a platoon of descendants doing their best to mop up the mess guys like dad created while rolling our eyes at wankers trying to pass themselves off as players. 

But his kids didn’t do half bad. Yeah, yeah, I know all the family planning fundamentalists would have you believe unwanted children … bastards … are all doomed to lives of failure and misery. It’s in Harry Potter, after all – wanted children have extra mommy-magic, while children born of deceitful lust are destined to become villains. But that’s not the case. Our two legitimate siblings also seem to be okay in a material sense. Maybe we are overcompensating for our dad's Dionysian disregard for self-control. 

Rick is the most masculine guy I have ever met. He was a soldier (tanks!) and a carpenter, then he became a karate champion and opened his own dojo, where he teaches kids how to knock bullies down. As someone steeped in a culture that looks at masculinity with a critical eye, I can’t really find anything toxic about my brother’s brand of manliness.

I have always seen gender as something people perform, since I’ve never felt it that deeply. In some ways I’m extremely feminine and in lots of other ways I’m kind of butch. I’ve spent my life around mostly nonheterosexual people, and now that I no longer need a boyfriend to chase all the other boys away, I don’t bother. I don’t really fit into subcultures where they do traditional gender roles because I tend to have interests that code as genderless or masculine, such as science fiction, and playing rock music.

I like to tell people the story about the time my ex-husband (who was also terrible at traditional gender roles, which was a large part of why we got married) went to a wedding in a more traditionally-minded area. Once we got there we were immediately split into male and female groups. The males were all dispatched to the wedding venue to set up chairs and the PA system … except none of them knew how to deal with a PA system and a soundboard – I do, but I was off with the women. Who were ironing and hemming and adjusting the wedding party’s clothes, something that escapes me – but my ex-husband (whose hobby was making SCA costumes) was pretty good at it, too bad he was off with the men. The only garment-related skill I possess is embroidery, which is merely decorative and not functional at all.

So I fit better in an urban world with genderfluid people, and my brother meanwhile occupies a space of extreme masculinity. In fact, he reminds me of my book character Rufus Marshall, the embodiment of Ares, God of War. Both of them are soldiers who became athletes, both of them are equally likely to have a squad of guys doing martial arts moves outside their homes, both like motorcycles, both shave their heads.

Even though he is a hypermasculine warrior and I’m a gendernebulous mage, even though he’s a Southern California native and I’m a San Franciscan from Hawai’i, we sprouted from the same tree. I feel a kinship with him that I have never experienced before with another human.

As well as the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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