This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.
Friday, January 28, 2022
My brother texted me at 4:30am this morning to tell me that he had just gotten on the road to make the 900-ish mile trip from New York to here. I’m stop number one on a several month road trip he’s taking. I also hear that I’ll be stop number last when he is on his way back.
Given how he drives (which is on a mission with no dalliances) I suspect he will be here a lot sooner than I would have been there if the trip was reversed. It usually takes Ralph and I about 15 or 16 hours to make the trip. It takes my brother 13 or 14. So I figure I’ll have to start looking out for him around 6, which means I get to put in a full day of work. Yay?
Somewhere in there I will attempt to dust, vacuum, wash towels, get the air mattress, and be ready.
In the meantime, the word today is: anticipation.
Somehow the morning went by and I worked like a maniac but nothing actually got crossed off my list. It’s nearly lunchtime and considering the dishes from yesterday’s lunch are still in the sink, I’m going to get Burger King. No, the scale was NOT any nicer to me this morning, thank you very much. But at this point, will one Whopper Jr. really make a difference?
I anticipate the afternoon will be madness of similar variety.
I texted my brother to check up on him. He didn’t answer.
Still no word from my brother. Clearly he is dead.
How do you drive for eight hours and not stop to pee or fill your gas tank? He is dead, or a crazy person. For now I’ll go with crazy person.
My mother texted to ask if I had heard from him, which means she thinks he’s dead, too, but isn’t going to say it. It’s started to snow and she’s worried he’ll get caught in it. Since I was driving to pick up Burger King anyway, I decided to call her so we could tell each other things that would make us feel better about not hearing from my brother for eight hours.
It usually goes well, these things, until someone says the word worry, and then that’s all you do. But it’s not my word today, so I ignored it.
Instead, we talked about a new bread recipe she made, and I tried to explain how I feel like I’m caught in a swarm of killer gnats lately, unable to see or breathe or find the air mattress.
It’s like “death by a thousand cuts.” There is no one thing, no two things, not even a dozen things that are piling up, demanding attention, sucking the time out of my days. There’s just a swarm of task-gnats and responsibility-gnats and requirement-gnats all glomming my face and eyeballs for attention.
My mother told me my brother took half a banana cake left over from his birthday party with him. When he gets here he will need a place to put it. Now I have to clean out the refrigerator.
My brother lives. He texted to say he had stopped to get something to eat. He’s halfway here. Plenty of time left to dust, vacuum, wash towels, get bed sheets and possibly figure out what to feed him when he gets here.
Before he left, he said he didn’t know what time he’d be here or if he’d have eaten or not, so I shouldn’t wait up. He told me, “Don’t not eat.” On a normal day I would not listen to him. I would wait up. Today though, my nostrils and ear holes are filled with gnats and I can’t get out.
It’s snowing. There was no snow in the forecast for today. Now, apparently, there is. If my brother gets caught in snow he is going to arrive cranky, I can tell you that.
We’re not always the most fun people to be in a room with when we’re cranky.
I can remember driving to visit my mother after I got married and moved to New Jersey. It should have been a two hour ride, but it never was. It was torture hours, is what it was. As a result, I would arrive cranky, which meant I had to yell about a lot of things for a while before we could settle into snacks. My poor mother, I think about those days now and feel very bad. I can imagine her anticipation, the way I feel now, thinking, yay, I will see my daughter soon! And then opening the door to a swarm of gnats instead.
What I am anticipating most about my brother’s visit: chill evenings with a cocktail and time to talk.
Things I’ve done from my list: zero. Gnats eaten: lots.
They’re protein, I hear.
When my brother and I were kids we watched Smurfs on Saturday morning cartoons, when Saturday morning cartoons were a thing as opposed to the 24/7 on-demand content glut we have now.
There was one recurring scene where Papa Smurf was taking the other Smurfs somewhere, and the Smurfs kept asking, “Is it much farther Papa Smurf?” And Papa Smurf would answer cheerfully, “Not far now!” But they would ask again, and again, and eventually his Papa-like demeanor would give way and when someone next asked, “Is it much farther Papa Smurf?” He would yell. ‘YES IT IS!”
My brother’s arrival is not much farther now. Especially when you still haven’t dusted, vacuumed, washed towels, gotten out the bed sheets, found the air mattress or thought about what to eat.
Is it much farther, Papa Smurf?
According to my brother, it’s two hours. And he’s stuck in traffic so it could be longer. I’m a horrible person because my immediate thought was, “Maybe I’ll have time to wash the towels after all.”
My other brother texted to say hi. We talked about this brother’s visit. Other brother asked, “Are you preparing your liver?”
A few days ago I told a friend that my brother was visiting. He said, “Oh boy, can your liver handle it?”
I feel like they’re trying to tell me something.
Things I’m anticipating when my brother arrives: having someone to run around cleaning up after me.
My brother doesn’t just drive with a mission. He does everything with a mission. Planning a Saturday with him is like boot camp. He has precise times and tasks and places to be. Planning a Saturday with me is like wanting filet mignon for dinner and ending up with peanut butter and jelly instead.
One of the things he is very good at is keeping up with my whirlwind. I cook and fling milk across the kitchen and drop [everything] and pile up pots, then he swoops in with his mission and the next thing I know, there is a mountain of clean dishes to dry and he has all the knobs off the oven so he can wash them and scrub under them before putting them back on.
I have a teeny drainboard in my kitchen, one that holds about a half a dozen plates and no glasses at all. But for Ralph and I, it’s perfectly fine. When my brother visits, he gets beyond irked by this teeny drainboard. Many a thing has met its death after rolling off or being thwarted by this teeny drainboard when my brother is on a mission. While it makes short work of drying, I do occasionally miss my favorite mug.
So Ralph and I bought a special giant two-tier drainboard for whenever my brother visits. It sits in a cabinet above the refrigerator the rest of the time, but when he is here it comes out to take over most of the counter and look absurdly large. But it’s worth it if it means that I can create the disaster and someone else will mitigate it before I can say, “The almond milk cover is in the quiche!”
I can’t find the hand soap so I put an empty dispenser in his bathroom with a promise that I’d get some tomorrow. I gave him bar soap instead. I never did have a chance to wash the towels, but I did dust the ceiling fan.
I feel like there should be something pretty and decorative in the bathroom, like a jar of flowers or a tissue box or something. Anything, really, except an empty soap dispenser. I looked everywhere in my apartment for something you might put on a bathroom counter, but unless it was a cordial glass or a bag of animal crackers, I had nothing.
I put a fresh candle in there. That seemed appropriate. With nothing else to decorate with, because I’m terrible at this sort of thing, I added one of my Hello Kitties. It’s one that he won for me at a carnival in one of those claw machines. She is wearing a scarf my mother knitted.
It’s not exactly tulips and pretty hand soaps but he’ll get it.
I expected him to text me with a heads up but all he did was knock on my door with a bag in one hand. He wasn’t even cranky. Even though we saw each other a few months ago, I’m still delighted at the sight of his face in front of me.
We went up and down the stairs about four times to carry things in, almost all of which were things I asked him to bring me from our storage shed in my parents’ attic, then poured the whiskey. My liver is ready.
My brother is ensconced in freshly washed blankets (alas, not with freshly washed towels) on the air mattress in the office-slash-guest-room.
After a long solo drive he’s pretty exhausted and I’ve eaten no dinner but a lot of gnats today. I’m no longer anticipating his arrival with all the excitement and fretting that entails, but now I anticipate the things we’ll do over the next several weeks.
It doesn’t matter what those things are. Whether we stay home and watch random Disney movies or go out to visit distilleries, the thing is that my brother is present. Just knowing he is in the other room at night is enough.
We’ve always been more friends than siblings, even though I almost let him drown when he was five. In the meantime he is anticipating a birthday dinner in two days, which I have spent about as much time preparing as I did washing towels. And I suspect he doesn’t want gnats.
Photo: Hello Kitty adorning the bathroom counter and awaiting her guest.