I don't usually comment on books unless I've read them, for obvious reasons. But in going through my "Ted is Here" folder this a.m. (way too early this a.m.), I came across a review of the book Apples and Oranges by Marie Brenner. In it, Brenner, a high profile writer for Vanity Fair, explores her relationship with her brother, Carl, who couldn't be more different. "Our relationship is like a tangled fishing line," she writes (I'm cribbing from the review, btw.) "We are defined by each other and against each other."
It's Carl's diagnosis with cancer that compells her to understand who they are as siblings better. As far as I can tell, she never comes to a conclusion. (Obviously, I need to read the book.) The review does mention the paucity of sibling research to help her understand. Brenner, and the reviewer, are right--there is a dearth of sibling research. But there was one bit of research, by Robert Plomin, PhD, a psychologist with expertise in behavior genetics, that speaks to the point of how siblings can be so different.
Plomin's take is that, though siblings do share many genes in common, they grow up in different environments--their parents are different, by dint of a few years experience, their school experiences are separate, their friends separate, their social lives different. All of these externals provoke differences in personality.
Jerry Rothman, a pscychologist who'd lost a sibling growing up and later realized it had a huge impact on who he was, explained it to me this way: "When I was growing up, my favorite meal was chicken," he said. "But my sister's was steak." The difference, he says, reflects the family's differing socioeconomic circumstances as time passed, i.e., in his early childhood, steak was too expensive to be an option. By the time his sister arrived, they family was experiencing better times. I thought it was kind of a lovely example.
(Rothman, incidentally, started one of the first centers for sibling loss, designed to help sibling mourners cope. I don't know if it still exists....it was in Chicago. Rothman, sadly, has since died.)
There was another researcher I came across, Francis Schachter, I believe her name was, who wrote a paper on sibling differentiation. Her take was that siblings become different as a survival technique--they look to fulfill different roles in the family. There's another slightly nutty researcher..oh, what is his name?...who has a similar, Darwinian, take.
At any rate, this isn't to say that there IS a ton of sibling research out there. There isn't. But there are some who have given thought to the same question that interests Brenner, and it's interesting to see what they've come up with. I really should look into what's been going on in the field lately. Meanwhile, I think I might pick up Apples and Oranges. I'm sure it'll be thought provoking......
At the least, it appears to be yet another book in the genre of sibling loss memoir--a HUGE, unrecognized, genre--albeit one with a more sharply defined angle than most. The reviewer makes mention of Carl's ashes in the last paragraph. I'm guessing he didn't make it.
Not long ago, I got off a plane in Phoenix and confronted the words “Ted is Here,” painted on a pillar in bright orange. I almost cried. Ted, I realized, was the name of a budget airline. But it was also my older brother’s name.
My Ted died of an immune disorder 27 years ago, when I was 14 and he was 17. His story, along with that of another boy in Texas, were merged in the movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” (Which my family did not authorize.)
Like most people who’ve lost someone they love, I’ve always wanted him back, or at least present, in some way. As a kid, I wished for a spectral sighting. As a young adult, I sought out psychics and mediums, one of whom once instructed me to ask Ted to give me signs that he was still present. Once, I asked Ted to show me a clown. Two days later, at a coffee shop, I looked up and realized I was sitting under a clown mural. My elation was short-lived, however. Had Ted contrived it, or had I unconsciously found myself a clown?
I’m not making a case for the supernatural here. But seeing that “Ted is Here” sign gave me the old I-see-the-clown feeling again.
This blog, which I’m launching on May 27th, the anniversary of Ted’s death, is an invitation to those who knew him—and those who didn’t—to share their thoughts and memories about the Ted they knew, or the Ted they imagined. Hearing about him, knowing that others are carrying a bit of him around with them, is another way of keeping him present. Honestly, I’d like that much better than seeing a clown.
I’ll also be posting thoughts and commentaries on siblings, sibling loss, families and grief—subjects I have, not surprisingly, become interested in. And for those of you who’ve read my book, The Empty Room, which tells my story and those of others who’ve lost siblings, I welcome your thoughts and messages.