Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Big Brother

My family has never been known for its subtlety and decorum.  We are a loud, fun-loving, and at times obnoxious group.  An Alec Baldwin look-alike, my brother Tim is tall and imposing, and perhaps one of the most opinionated of our clan. 

Jeff's First Worthington Family Reunion, 1996
Shortly after Jeff and I were engaged in 1996, I took him with me to the Worthington Family Reunion, held every three years at the Jersey Shore.  Close to one hundred descendents of my maternal great grandparents—four generations worth—take over cheap motels and rental homes in Avalon and Stone Harbor for a week of reminiscing, drinking, punning, gossiping, eating, laughing, and arguing over the most inane details of times gone by.  We come from all over the country—California, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Michigan—and join with a handful of New Jersey holdouts “down the shore.” 

On the third day of the reunion, my brother and I were bobbing up and down in the waves thirty yards off the shoreline. “Why is it I had to hear that you’re freakin' engaged from cousin Bonnie?” Tim said, his tone equal parts flippancy and irritation. 

I tried to come up with something witty to deflect my brother’s underlying anger, but my mind went blank.  Why hadn’t I told him? I wondered.  We were sharing a rental home for the week.  I’d had plenty of opportunity to make an announcement, or to tell him in private. I could’ve simply introduced Jeff as my fiancĂ© when we’d arrived at the reunion two nights ago. Better yet, I could’ve called Tim after I'd gotten engaged two weeks earlier.

It’s not that I didn’t care about my brother being privy to the big news. On some level, perhaps I cared too much.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, agreeing to spend my life with Jeff meant I was replacing Tim as the most important man in my life, a title he had held, despite our outward displays of banter, since our father’s death when I was six, my brother nine.

Ever since my first real boyfriend came on the scene in tenth grade, Tim had had something to say about my love life.  When he walked in my bedroom one morning to discover that Paul had spent the night due to heavy snowstorms, he took the opportunity to threaten him.  Just remember—that’s my little sister!  Paul didn’t try to get to the next base for weeks. When Tim came home from college and found out I had recently started dating a guy he once played soccer against, he said, “Joe Beatty?  What a douche bag!” I broke up with Joe a week later. As a freshman in college I started dating Dave, five years my senior and working construction.  When I transferred schools at Dave’s request and moved in with him, Tim was furious, but Mom forbade him to intercede, so instead he bought me a cake stand for Christmas.

“A cake stand?” I asked him once I’d unwrapped his gift.  “Isn’t this something you give to married people?”

“That’s my point!” Tim shouted across the crumbled gift wrap, half glasses of orange juice, and wadded up red and green Hershey’s Kiss foils that covered the floor my parents’ living room.  “You’re acting like you’re goddamned married!”  I broke up with Dave before the winter break was through.

It’s not as if Tim hated every guy I ever dated.  Bob passed the test easily, Jim eventually.  But Jeff?  Jeff was different.  As far as I was concerned, I needed no approval from Tim when it came to Jeff.  He was not a guy I was "dating."  He was the man I was committing to spend my life with, big brother approval or no big brother approval.

“Sorry,” I said to Tim.  “I should’ve told you myself.”  No sarcasm.  No deflection with humor.  

My brother and I were quiet, both in our own minds, treading water over rolling waves in the salty Atlantic at dusk. Breaking the silence, Tim finally said, “I like him. Seems like a good guy.”

“He is,” I said. 

And with that the title was passed. 

Lauren and Her Big Bro on Tim's Wedding Day, 2010

Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, FREE here.  Or you can download the entire e-book on Kindle here.  Happy reading!  

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