Sibling Rivalry and a Gift As Old As Creation
The LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created — men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”
— Genesis 6: 7
This is 1990, and I am a child of five, and my soon-to-be sibling— tucked like the flap of an unlicked envelope within my mother’s womb — is the child not yet born. This is 1990, a year since the fall of the Berlin wall, and I am waiting for my own walls to fall, the walls of this once-perfect and once-impenetrable fortress, built just big enough to fit one child, an only child, a me child; a child whose world has been sans-dependent of another child, another child conceived without this child’s knowledge or permission. But this is 1990, and despite the pleas of the me child, this new child is about to make their entrance, the breath which G-d gave on the sixth day of Creation passed through generations of once-children, to now, to 1990, to this new-child’s lungs.
This is 1996, and the new child is now here, has been here now for more than five years. And this new child, whom I call sister, is about to start her first remarkable day of school. And I, the old child — the child who was once new, but now am old — I am about to start the first unremarkable day of my fourth school year. This is 1996, the year of the first-day Polaroid, the year the sister, the new child, wears the bright yellow shirt — to draw attention, I am certain; to stick out like a sore thumb — and I, the old child, wear black, to mourn the death of the life I once had, to mourn what was once sacred when old was new. Yes, this is 1996, the year of forced smiles in first day pictures, the year I watch the new child stumble up the school bus stairs, the year when, as I watch, I secretly wish my name was Cain and hers Abel.
This is 1999, and I am waiting for the world to end, watching the clock’s black hand tick-tock, tick-tock like a timer on a still-unblown bomb; like a still, helpless mouse just waiting for imminent doom. This is 1999, and my unknowing sister just sits on the couch, picking at popcorn like a baby bird, some long-forgotten cartoon blazing through a fuzzy T.V. screen. This is 1999, and disaster’s on its way, but the sister doesn’t seem to know, or if she does, she doesn’t seem to care, and I imagine our lives in little fragmented vignettes, barbecues here and birthdays there, holidays and laughter and celebration. This is 1999, and I feel guilty for some of the things I’ve done, and the trouble I’ve caused, so when the once-children have left the room, I turn to the new child and make my act of contrition. “I’m sorry,” I say. “Will you forgive me?” — “For what?” — “For not being the best brother I could.” This is 1999, and the end of the world is near, and all the 9-year-old new child can muster between on-screen falsettos and a mouthful of popcorn is, “Sure.”
This is 2000, the dawn of the new year, and nothing has happened, so I ask the new child to pass the popcorn, and I take back the apology I’d made before.
This is 2001. And 2002. And 2003. And a decade more. And I, the old child, and she, the new child, are living our lives. And we, both once-children, become children no more. And we go our own separate ways.
This is 2013. The year I will want to forget. The year my sister’s tears flow like a monsoon from her swollen eyes. This is 2013, the year of the sister with a rambling mouth, whose voice is loud and shrill and anguished, but I can hear nothing. This is 2013, and I’ve stopped listening, and I’ve left the room, and I’m cupping my hands around my ears, choking back tears. This is 2013, the year when the words, “she’s gone; I’ll never have one again,” play like an eerie, broken record in my mind, over and over and over again. This is 2013, the year that G-d became angry, and I regret that He made me, and I wish He would blot me from the earth.
This is 2016, and I am in a hospital room, and the sister is here, too. This is 2016, and the room is soaked with the smell of alcohol, with the smell of bleach, with the smell of lotion that the once-child has just smeared for the first-time on the new child’s tiny arm. This is 2016, and thoughts of Cain and Abel are no more, and the world has not ended, and G-d has not blotted me from the earth. This is 2016, and the breath which G-d gave on the sixth day of Creation has passed once again through generations of once-children, to now, to 2016, to this new child’s lungs, for the new child (whom I call niece) has found favor with the LORD.
But Noah found favor with the LORD.
— Genesis 6:8