Living with my brother

When it comes time to sign a lease, make sure that the signatures, when sounded out, are not even remotely alike to the ear.

In the fall semester of my junior year, I found myself living with my older brother. When I would mention my living arrangements in casual conversation, people would always exclaim, âÄúYou live with your brother? ThatâÄôs so cute! You guys must be so close!âÄù and I would have to correct them. âÄúNo, actually, itâÄôs not. ItâÄôs tyranny,âÄù I would say. âÄúIâÄôm currently building a moat around my room.âÄù ItâÄôs an inconvenience to have an annoying roommate, but itâÄôs an entirely different department of psychiatry to be living with your third parent. IâÄôm telling you my story for your own good. When it comes time to sign a lease, make sure that the signatures, when sounded out, are not even remotely alike to the ear. When I informed my brother that I would be starting at the University of Minnesota a year behind him, he was less than thrilled. I assured him that I would go out of my way to avoid him; it wouldnâÄôt be hard to do on a campus of more than 50,000 students. I even joked, âÄúBesides, itâÄôs not like weâÄôre ever going to live together. That would be weird.âÄù Three years later, I was hauling my stuff into his attic. Our situation was particularly unique due to the fact that my brother volunteered to live in a half-room, half-hallway in order to accommodate me. This was more practical than it was gracious of him because he only had a few objects to his name: a mattress, a computer, a Costa Rican flag, and a picture of our deceased grandmother. My life, on the other hand, came equipped with two closets worth of clothes, 12 pairs of shoes and many other incredibly useful items, such as a 16-inch, hand-carved elephant that I had snagged from an art museum when I was 19 years old. It might not have been so bad, except that, as is the case with most decrepit Como cribs that continue to defy all reason for their existence, the house was arranged in such a way that I could only access my room by walking through my brotherâÄôs room. Awkward is an understatement. My brother did not even own a desk and instead of going out and buying one, he improvised by taking off the door that separated the staircase to our rooms. He laid it cross-wise between two cinderblocks and stepped back to marvel at his handiwork. âÄúWhat are you doing?âÄù I asked. âÄúMaking my desk,âÄù he said. I tried to calmly explain to him that by removing the door between our two rooms, I would no longer be able to have boys over. âÄúThen donâÄôt have boys over,âÄù he replied. I was appalled by his insensitivity to my sex drive and so, to retaliate, I began smoking indoors. My brother hated smoking and I did not bother to open my windows. All of my chemical-laced haze wafted into his room like a massive ghost of revenge. I thought I was being clever, but my brother knew better. One day, I came home to find that my pack of Camel Lights had disappeared. âÄúLooking for these?âÄù he inquired from the doorway, displaying my coveted form of stress relief. âÄúSmoking can kill you, you know.âÄù âÄúAt least itâÄôs a poetic form of suicide,âÄù I retorted. âÄúGive them back.âÄù âÄúYouâÄôre sad, you know that?âÄù my brother lectured. âÄúIt only takes one cigarette to get addicted and youâÄôre not just harming yourself. YouâÄôre harming everyone else around you.âÄù âÄúI know, I know âĦ and smettere di fumare riduce il rischio di malattie cardiovascolari e polmonari mortali,âÄù I recited, waving my hand in the air. I had picked up smoking while I studying abroad in Europe and many a drunken night had been spent memorizing the blunt warning labels that came printed on the cigarette packs in foreign languages. I had imagined myself one day traveling to Latvia and shaming a chain smoker at the bus stop with, âÄúSmeketaji mirst jauni âÄú or admonishing the taxi driver in Spain: âÄúFumar acorta la vida,âÄù My brother, however, was not amused. He counted my cigarettes, drew a large number nine on the front, circled it in glaring red pen, and placed it on the corner of his desk. He even pulled out one of the cigarettes slightly farther than the rest, as if begging me to take it. He knew just as well as I did that because of our living arrangements, I would have to walk by his desk every day in order to go anywhere. âÄúIâÄôm going to count that pack every day and there better be nine in there,âÄù he said. âÄúI will know if one is missing.âÄù I rolled my eyes. âÄúYouâÄôre stupid. I can just go and buy another pack.âÄù âÄúI thought you werenâÄôt addicted?âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm not,âÄù I sneered, but I didnâÄôt buy another pack. It was a futile war. I didnâÄôt have any boys over either. Of the few that even maintained interest after I informed them that I lived with my brother, not one of them dared to leave my room the morning after for fear of waking him. I lived in the attic, so it wasnâÄôt like I could just send them out the window and on their way. It was irritating, but in retrospect, IâÄôm glad that I had that semester with my brother. He lives in Costa Rica now and I hardly ever see him. His common-sense responsibility kept my recklessness in check and our great âÄúsiblings-living-without-parentsâÄù experiment was vividly and routinely entertaining. If you find yourself in my situation or are contemplating it in the near future, donâÄôt panic. Living with your sibling, minus your parents, is probably the best course in conflict resolution that you can take and youâÄôll end up closer because of it. On the day that I suffered from a particularly abrupt break-up, my brother caved and handed over my cigarettes. âÄúHere, I figured these would help,âÄù he said. Yet what helped me most was realizing that there was a boy in my life that would always be there, despite the little things like cigarettes and petty fights, and he was my brother. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected].