If you think 2,000 miles of water could drive two people apart, you’d be right. Two years ago my brother left home to move to Germany and start a new life at the University of Munich, studying electrical engineering. Since my family is German and my grandparents still live out there – it wasn’t such a stretch. But in other ways, it was. My brother and I were never super close. Four years separate us as well as vastly different personalities. Sure, we are both smart alecks from time-to-time and we share a fond love of sarcasm, but I am much more like my rational father, while he is much more like my free-spirited mother. As kids, we would fight on and off, knowing just which buttons to push to make the other explode. We tormented each other and ratted on each other like the vindictive children we pretended to be. In later years, we formed a sort of acquaintanceship – I didn’t get in his way and he didn’t get in mine. We learned to have each other’s backs in defiance against our parents, but more out of a sense of future leverage over the each other rather than sheer love.
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Max’s transition to Germany was slow. He spent the majority of his summers there, starting when he was in 7th grade. I got used to him being away and the feeling of being an only child. The moment he called internationally telling us he planned to stay for good, I ransacked his king sized bed I’d had my eye on and relocated it to my own room. The first few months felt no different than any one of his summer trips. Life around the house was relatively normal. It felt as though the trip just grew longer and longer until his absence was gradually accepted. Even when we lived at home he was rarely home, asleep all day and out all night. The year just before he moved to Germany, he’d moved out of the house and bought an apartment with a close friend. Not having him around was routine. When people ask me about him they tend to direct their questions in a very sympathetic direction, as if they are tip-toeing around some touchy subject. To their surprise, I always have the same response. Having Max in Germany feels no different. Yeah, sure, for Christmas I get Holland Clog Slippers rather than the scented candle he could have picked me up here in Kansas – but it feels no different. However, when I talk to him the difference has become exceedingly apparent. Imagine talking to someone you have known and lived with your entire life, yet they seem like a stranger. Our bi-monthly phone conversations never tend to get past monotonous small-talk. The fact of the matter is, regardless of our sibling connection, we really are complete strangers. His life is the polar opposite of mine. We don’t have common interests or experiences to share. Our pathetic attempts to scramble for a topic do no better than asking “what’s new?” During every phone conversation there is a constant pressure to make it last and not let the opportunity go to waste- but short of remembering what our voices sound like, they all end aimless and empty. I feel like its expected of me to be upset when I only get to see a close family member once a year. And while I love him dearly, it is hard to miss a stranger.