June 22, 2017 by The Citron Review
by Alice Lowe
My father drove slowly up the hill, silently, his annoyance at having had to leave the house so late on a chilly September evening thick in the air. I was eleven and surprised when he said I could come along to pick up my sixteen-year-old brother. As we continued up the winding road, the Del Mar homes got bigger and more sprawling.
“High and mighty,” my father said. “Rich people are the worst,” he said, his outlook colored by encounters with them as a TV repairman. “They’re never satisfied, always find something to complain about, bitching about the charge.”
I held the crumpled paper with the address my brother had given him and kept a close eye on the house numbers.
“This is it,” I called out when I saw the bold black digits on a white curlicued board posted to a tree.
Dad turned into the long curving driveway at 10 p.m. on the nose. Our headlights caught the front of the expansive ranch-style house nested in the pines, and I saw them in the beam, David and the girl, their bodies coiled together like a double helix. She was a head shorter than his six-foot-two, with long dark hair, barefoot and wearing shorts. Their arms dropped to their sides and they splintered apart, an abrupt interruption of an embrace.
“That’s him, never late,” I imagine David muttering as he hastily but reluctantly unstuck has lips from hers. He wouldn’t let us catch him in a moment of intimacy– would never tell, much less show, any shred of his private life to his family.
Here, for the first time, I saw my big brother as a boy who would kiss a girl in the dark. As approaching manhood. As a sexual being—not that I recognized it as that. I was only aware of my own prickly anxiety at seeing them together. Like that. As if he’d broken some unspoken rule. As if he’d betrayed me, would soon desert me.
They spoke a few words, and their hands brushed as she walked toward the front door of the house. I’d wanted to see her face, but it was too dark, and she never looked our way. David trudged to the car, got in the back seat without a word, that sullen, angry look on his face I knew so well.
I threw a barrage of questions at him.
“Is that your girlfriend? What’s her name? Is she pretty?”
He ignored me, but I continued, heedless of incurring his wrath.
“Do you love her? Daddy says she’s rich, is she? Can I meet her? Will I like her? Will she like me?”
Our five-year age difference was never more palpable than during these brittle late teen years of his—I was a nuisance, a pest to be swatted away.
“Quit bugging me,” he said. “Leave me alone.” Then he went mute, brooding. My father remained wordless as he gripped the wheel.
Silence was our family default mode.
I wonder if David even remembers the night in question, the girl in question, now, more than sixty years later. For me, this obscure flashback emerged out of a jumble, as buried memories often do, like an old sock from under the bed. The events of the night now appear as a backdrop for the flurries and flutterings of my awakening.
My brother enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from high school, married young and started his own family. He always lived nearby, but we didn’t see each other much, had little common ground. We wouldn’t draw together, bridge the gaps and silences, until after our parents’ deaths years later.
I left home as soon as I could too, driven by the need to free myself from those barriers of silence in order to grow, to become a different person, unrecognizable to my childhood self. I’d been a fearful child, fearful of strangers, of the dark, the unknown. It was fear that I felt that night when I saw my brother behaving in adult-like ways beyond my understanding. I knew the so-called facts of life, but I was too young and timid, too reticent to acknowledge my feelings. What had remained hidden until now was my agitation at the veiled glimpses of what lay ahead, my distress at changes over which I seemed to have no control.
It wasn’t existential fears that came to the fore at the time, however. The next day I was obsessed with more immediate longings and qualms as I stood in front of my full-length bedroom mirror and assessed my gangly frame, my skimpy braids and crooked teeth. With pre-teen earnestness I posed the questions from the Doris Day song, “Que Sera, Sera.” I too wondered if I would be pretty, if I would be rich. Would I have boyfriends kissing me yearningly, secretively in dark corners? My mirror image had no answer other than the song’s, the frustrating knowledge that I would have to wait, that the future is not ours to see.
Que Sera, Sera.
Alice Lowe reads and writes about life, literature, food and family. Her personal essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including 1966, Adelaide, Baltimore Review, Brevity, The Millions, Permafrost, and Tishman Review. One piece was cited among Notable Essays in the 2016 Best American Essays, another nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology. Alice also has authored numerous works on Virginia Woolf’s life and writing. Alice lives in San Diego and blogs at aliceloweblogs.