I believe that when it comes to people you love, you must do one thing—persist. Even when they’ve slammed the door and fastened the locks, you hunker down on the porch. Make your place on the front step. Wait for a heart to ease open.
My brother, John, taught me this. When he was born, I was eleven and instantly obsessed. I covered him with blankets, lifted his wobbly head to show him my favorite cartoons. Flashforward a few years to the summer I was eighteen, and he was seven. I taught him to sneak in the country club pool, to play ping-pong, to count in Spanish. I took up jogging, and he followed on his bike. When August came, I left for school. John stood barefoot at the top of the driveway, arms flailing a goodbye. Four hours and one state-line between us. I didn’t know then the magnitude of distance.
In college, my interests expanded: travel, dating, poetry. During the summers I wanted to see how many miles I could cover. I sent postcards from Wyoming, Alaska, New Zealand. John lined them on his desk. My trips home were rare, and each time I left, John went upstairs and closed my bedroom door. His way of barring the heart.
It took of couple of years before I recognized John’s slow retreat. I consoled myself—”it’s not my fault that there’s more than a decade between us.” One weekend back home, between engagement showers and summer school, I took him to a movie. He wouldn’t share my popcorn. He asked permission to go to the bathroom. His interaction with me was formal, unfamiliar. Like I was a babysitter and not a sister. Inwardly, I tried to blame him for acting distant. But he was twelve. Did I expect him to articulate, to say, “Hey Sis, I haven’t seen you in four years. I don’t know you anymore.”?
After that day, I was determined to do better. I’d take him Six Flags, call him every week. But he never had time when I did, not for theme parks or even chats. He was busy with spelling lists and soccer practice. Months passed, and I felt more like a phantom.
It wasn’t until recently that we had a breakthrough. I spent a weekend at home, didn’t return phonecalls, skipped a wedding. Instead, I stayed up with John, ate pizza and tried to play his cordless videogame. I told him that once upon a time, his sister was the queen of Sega Genesis. And he laughed.
Now I’m not going to break out into “Cats in the Cradle.” For John and I, the story is different. Some of my poor prioritizing came from my own adolescent blind spots. But hindsight can be remedial, and mine has shown me this: sometimes you fight to be necessary. Make yourself matter by simply being present. This is where I find myself, at the doorstep, quietly persisting.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.