My brother died yesterday morning.
What a a strange sentence to write, starting with the word "brother." For much of my life, I tried to ignore the fact that I had one of these--two, actually. S. was my half brother, and more than 30 years older. I always hesitated when asked that most basic of questions: did I have siblings, or was I an only child? It took forever to explain why the answer was yes to both: see, my father was married before he met my mother and had two sons, and my mother was much younger than my father, and I have nieces and a nephew older than me, and... By this point eyes glazed over, and people looked at me like I was from Mars. Today, with so many varieties of non-traditionally-configured families, such answers are often a source of pride in following an unconventional path. When I was kid, though, it was embarrassing to be so different from the norm.
My answer was further complicated by the eventual wish of all parties involved to forget that those brothers were part of the family. When I was very little, we would get in the '67 Chevy every Sunday afternoon and drive a few miles to visit S. and family, who lived in a narrow cookie-cutter home with a finished basement and postage-stamp-sized yard, right next door to a cavernous mall parking lot. There we imitated a sit-com: my mother and sister-in-law would retreat to the kitchen while S., my father, and a bunch of men with beer bellies broke out the cards, schnapps, and cigars and I went downstairs to marvel at my nephew's big tank of tropical fish, play with their Schnauzer, D.J. (named after the Dow Jones Industrial average; my brother must have had a good year in the stock market), and hang out with my baby niece, the happiest person on earth. Just being near her made me want to hug everyone; it didn't seem possible that she could be related to the dour adults upstairs.
Still, I always felt a little awkward, as if they weren't my real family. I never quite fit in. Years later my mother gently explained that my niece and nephew were jealous that my father now lavished most of his attention on me instead of his grandchildren, which was true. She didn't say that everyone thought he was nuts for having a child so late in life, but I knew that was also true.