Separate Lives: Drifting Apart on the Ice Floes of Life
“When are we all free?” Allen* asked us in the sibling group chat. “There’s a cool exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art I think we’d all be interested in seeing.”
“Weekends only,” I responded, “assuming I don’t already have plans to go out. Got work during the week.”
“Same here,” Andre said. “Schedule’s crazy right now. I’m basically booked for October.”
“I just started my new job,” Eli put in, “so I don’t even really know my schedule yet.”
“You guys know me,” Lauren said. “I can check my days off in advance, but they’re not always Saturday and Sunday.”
The conversation continued, the five of us jostling our schedules around, trying desperately to pin down a single day we could spend together.
It used to be so easy.
I lived the life of an only child for three years, eight months, and 28 days before my sister, Lauren, entered the world. To be honest, though, I can’t quite remember what life was like before her. We grew up together in our little Bronx apartment by the 6 train, playing and fighting and running and screaming and doing all the things siblings do with and to each other.
Ten years later, we met Allen, Andre, and Eli, who would become our stepsiblings. Even before that title became official, we spent a lot of time together. Four years, two divorces, and one remarriage later, they began visiting every other weekend since their dad — now my stepdad — had moved in with us. Eventually, Andre moved in too, and for Allen and Eli, every other weekend soon became almost every weekend.
Whenever the five of us meet new people as a group, they’re often quick to comment how incredible it is that we all get along so well — siblings and stepsiblings alike (not that there’s a distinction to us anymore). It’s a fair observation; I’ve been around long enough to see families fall apart in half the time we’ve all been together.
Yet it doesn’t quite capture the dynamics of our many relationships. There’s the relationship between the five of us as a whole. There are relationships that only concern four or three of us at a time. There are multiple pairings to consider. And there are, of course, our individual relationships with ourselves, which affect every other relationship in the group.
But for all that… yes, it is incredible that we all get along so well.
Which is why it sucks that we can barely organize a single day together anymore. We’ve gone from weekends together to weeks apart.
I can’t remember when it started, because these kinds of things never have a clearly defined timeline. I’m the oldest sibling, though, so I guess you could say it started with me.
I dormed for my first semester of college just to get the experience (and commuted from then on to shave a truckload off of my eventual debt). All my siblings were there on move-in day, not so much to help unload what few boxes I had as to say goodbye.
They hardly needed to. School was close enough to home that I could take a train back for the weekend. And I did — often. I couldn’t stand not seeing them for too long.
Allen went to college next. He didn’t dorm, and he didn’t spend too much time on his workload. But I did. I also worked part-time and interned, which often made me the odd man out when it came to get-togethers.
Next on the academic list: Lauren. She only dormed for a semester, too — but that was because she dropped out. School wasn’t for her, but it didn’t take her long to find a job when she got back.
Neither Andre nor Eli dormed. But by the time Andre started college, I’d already finished it and entered the real world.
More work, less time.
Years passed, and soon that mantra didn’t only apply to me. The others got jobs. Significant others entered the picture. Things were still looking good for the Fabulous Five; they just looked good less of the time.
In recent memory, the last time all five of us were together was a BYOB backyard screening we did of Jurassic Park about a month ago.
I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time, so I wanted to focus on it.
Allen brought his girlfriend, so he wanted to focus on her.
Lauren is a social butterfly, so she wanted to focus on everyone else.
Andre had a few drinks in him, so he had to focus on focusing.
Eli… wait. Eli wasn’t there.
So, when was the last time the five of us were together? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. It had to have been sometime within the past year, but I can’t recall the specific occasion. Ain’t that something.
“Don’t you find it strange,” I’ve said to each of my siblings in turn, “that we barely see each other anymore?”
To paraphrase their responses, they all responded with some variation of, “That’s life.”
“Maybe so, but… don’t you find it sad?”
“Yeah. But that’s life.”
Is that really all there is to it? Or have we grown apart without consciously noticing? Were the signs always there — in diverging interests, different friends? Could I… could we have done anything to stop it? What about that trip to the MoMA? Is that still happening? If not, maybe we could so something else instead. Get the band back together somewhere else.
It can’t be this hard. It just can’t. This can’t be life. I won’t let it be. Yet what choice do I have?
I mean, look at my own life right now. I work five days a week. I’m quietly applying for more work, because I need more money. I spend my weeknights writing a book. I’m flying down to Florida for my best friend’s wedding in two months. I could potentially be taking a class next year that would take up a good chunk of my time, as I did this year.
Allen, Lauren, Andre, and Eli’s lives are no less busy. There are significant others to attend to, promotions to accept, gigs to work, competitions to win. It never ends. It never will end. We’ve all come to accept that.
But I won’t accept it without compromise. I won’t accept it without knowing I’ll be able to spend time with them all, separately or together.
I’m visiting Allen soon so we can catch up on things, in person rather than over the phone.
I’m rewatching The Lord of the Rings movies with Lauren, something we haven’t done together in years.
I’m sharing a book I love with Andre, who normally doesn’t read, but is loving the experience this time around.
I bought a game Eli loves so we can play together, even though I know I’ll be on the receiving end of a ripe butt-kicking.
And I will make sure we all go to the MoMA before that exhibition ends.
Families don’t always stick together. I know that. I’ve seen various pieces of my own family’s puzzle detach themselves and zip away, never to be seen or heard from again. It happens.
I’m also no stranger to intentionally separating myself from family members who are only capable of hurting me in the short and long terms. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again if I have to.
I’m not even particularly attached to family traditions. I’ve caught flak for that, but I’d rather stick by what I believe than plaster on a faux smile.
And you know what I believe more than anything else? That I’d be nothing without my siblings, even if none of our relationships are perfect. They will never be, but that’s okay. I’m not vying for a perfect stitch — a watertight solution to the inevitable separation that comes with growing up.
But we could do better. We’ve become complacent as we’ve drifted off on the ice floes of life — myself included. But there’s still time to reach out, to grab hold of one another before we drift too far and have to fend for ourselves, freezing and alone. Plenty of time.
I see no reason to wait.
*All names were changed.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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