Monday, December 3, 2012

Oldest Friend

By Lisabet Sarai

I've known you all my life.
You are my oldest friend.
Your face is there where the memories start.
It's there where the feelings begin.

I wasn't even two when he was born, so I don't really remember the event, but my parents loved to tell me how excited I was about the arrival of my little brother. One of my first recollections of R was a train trip we took halfway across the country, from the Midwest where my mom and dad had settled back to the East Coast. We had a sleeping compartment. I sat on the upper bunk, eating an orange (the sticky sweetness winds itself into the memory), watching my chubby sibling below, trying to stand as the carriage swayed back and forth. He wore powder blue shorts with suspenders over a white shirt. I was so proud that he was learning to walk. I think I must have been about three at the time; he would have just passed his first birthday, as I'm sure we were headed east to celebrate the holidays with family.

R and I were close as kids. We'd tell each other stories and share details of the vivid dreams we both seemed to experience. We launched amateur theatricals and played at being pirates in the woods surrounding our house. Sometimes we fought, as all kids do, but I'd defend him fiercely if someone else attacked him. As we reached our teens, though, our paths diverged.

On the surface, we seemed very different. I was the good girl, obedient and shy, a straight A student who was afraid to drive and hardly dated. He became a rebel, grew his hair long, joined anti-war protests, smoked pot, played in rock and roll bands, drove around in an old silver-painted ice cream truck he'd picked up for a couple of hundred bucks. He has a brilliant, questioning intellect that never fails to impress me, but back then he labored in the shadow of his brainy sister, dealing with teachers' expectations (“Oh, you're Lisabet Sarai's brother?”), so his academic record was far from stellar. I went straight from high school to university, where I hid for the next eight years, earning more degrees than anyone would ever need. He dropped out of college after half a semester.

If you looked at our sex lives, though, I was the one flouting convention. I gave away my virginity when I was fifteen. I'm pretty sure he graduated high school with his intact (if one can use that word about a male). As we matured, I had many lovers. His loves were few and far between, partly because he was such a perfectionist, partly because his fervent feminism made him suspicious of his own feelings toward the women whom he found attractive.

We have a special connection in the creative realm. R makes his living as a singer and songwriter. Compared to him, I'm a hobbyist – I write primarily for enjoyment, adulation, self-expression. I could never support myself with my writing; I couldn't stand the pressure. But he goes out there, day after day, performing, regardless of how he feels. I'm in awe.

Yet he has told me that the poetry I penned as a child and teenager were what inspired him to write his first songs. And I know that he's proud of my career as an author, even though my chosen subject matter makes him uncomfortable. “You're such a great writer,” he tells me. “Why don't you write a serious book?”

I smile, a bid sadly, because I know I'll never make him understand just how serious I find the topics of desire, its fulfillment or denial, its lessons. The fact that he's a fan despite it all gives me a warm glow in the pit of my stomach. In my will, I've bequeathed him the rights to all my literary works. It makes me grin to wonder what he might do with them.

The lines that begin this post are from a poem he wrote about me. They bring a lump to my throat whenever I read them. I've written about him, too. In fact, he's contributed characteristics to some of my heroes, though I love him too much to tell him what he's inspired. He'd die of embarrassment. But here's a poem I wrote for him, on his birthday, more than a decade ago, which perhaps captures a bit of my feelings for my brave, free, conflicted sibling (who still surfs, even though he's nearing sixty).

Surfer Man

Endless summer: hot
sun bakes your skin,
wind in your hair,
sand on your soles.
The waves beckon.
Pretend you don't see
the sweet flesh
in the brief bikinis,
eyes on the foam
caressing the beach.

Endless summer: free,
poised on the board,
point of balance,
stasis in speed,
muscle and will
in perfect union.
A flow of power,
spirit to body
and out to the world.

Endless summer: song
plays in your mind
like a radio
as you dance the waves
again and again.
Ignore the girls
you know are watching.
Skim, soar,
walk on water.
Nothing's impossible.

The day lengthens
but never ends.
Slanting rays
paint the sea
with liquid fire.
Joy, youth,
singing, strength,
all endless,
the gifts of summer.

Salt on your lips,
skin raw,
from the sun's kiss,
shoulders sore
as you drag your board
up the empty beach.
A scrap of song
recurs, and you smile,
remember the freedom,
the power, the magic.
It's there; it's endless.
The summer will wait
for its next release.

I won't send him the link to this blog post. He'd probably hate it. Tens of thousands of miles separate us now, but I hope that he feels the love I'm beaming across that chasm. Nothing can separate us in spirit.


  1. It sounds like you have an incredibly deep bond with your brother. You never cease to touch me with your words, Lisabet. I can feel your genuine love and admiration for this man. This is a lovely tribute to him. I am sorry he will never see it.
    It's beautiful.

    H K

  2. It seems a lot of the time when two siblings are so different growing up, they usually grow apart in their adult years. So it's wonderful that you and your brother are close, even though your so far apart distance wise.
    The poems were beautiful, very touching.


  3. What a beautiful poem (yours, though of course I found his words at the beginning lovely too) and post. I really enjoyed reading about your relationship with your brother; thanks for sharing, Lisabet.

  4. Hello, Heather,

    He knows how I feel about him - and he has seen the poem, which was a birthday present for him.

    He keeps trying to convince me to move back to the U.S. I keep trying to convince him to visit me in Asia!

  5. Hello, Jen,

    My family was very close when I was young, and we seem to be getting closer as we age. This is true of my sister and me, too - even though she's a lot less like me than R is.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Thanks, Emerald!

    Love knows no physical boundaries.

  7. Hi Lisabet!

    This is the first time I've heard you talk about your brother. Didn;t know you had one. Your whole family sounds so interesting and so complex. And yet things have turned out so well over time. When we think of these things, it gives you a sense of time passing, and the people who float along side us or pass away down stream.

    I'm also amazed by people who can make a living doing creative work. God bless him.


  8. How great that you and your brother were close while
    growing up. So many people I know have lost touch with their siblings. (But then, many of my friends are some flavour of GLBT & had to choose, at some point, between their blood relatives & their chosen family.)
    BTW, congratulations on your award for Quarantine! I tried to say this on the Erotic Readers & Writers loop, but wasn't allowed.

  9. Hi, Garce,

    Well, when it comes to trauma (a frequent topic in blogs), I'm much more likely to talk about my mother... I have a younger sister, too.

    I heartily agree with you about people who make their living out of their own creativity. For me, being FORCED to be creative would completely kill the spark.

  10. Hi, Jean,

    I ache for you, and all the other GLBT folks, who were disowned by their families because of their orientation. It's hard for me to imagine any family doing that, but when I'm realistic, I see how distorted my views are by my own close and loving family.

    (And thanks for the congratulations...!)


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