Siblings apart grow closer together

My brother and I spend three afternoons in a row splashing around in the pool in our California backyard. We whoop and holler and laugh and throw water at each other. We play stupid games like "Let's go underwater and close our eyes and spin as fast as we can, and then when we come up we won't really know where we are, and that's the best part."

Occasionally, one of us gets out of the pool in a giant mess of water and runs dripping over to the diving board, watching for our dog, who likes to zip in between our legs, tripping us up.

Once we get to the board, the one still in the pool screams the "Superman" theme song at the top of his lungs (Da-da-dadaaaa, Da Da Daaa, Da-da-da-da-daaaaa, Da-da-daaaaa!) while the other backs up as far as he can, takes a deep breath and a running leap, and lays himself out flat over the water, arms outspread, as though he's flying.

The diver usually lands in the pool flat on his belly in a skimming sort of belly-flop, which doesn't hurt as much as a real belly-flop (we know this from long experience), and comes up sputtering and laughing, eager to see how far he's made it across the length of the pool.

We swim haphazard laps, because one of us usually ends up making a face at the other, and then we both crack up and have to come up for air, because we're laughing so hard that we're snorting water.

Sometimes we have underwater tea parties. We sit cross-legged on the bottom of the pool and make like we're little old ladies drinking out of teacups. We blow air out our nostrils, and this looks so bizarre that the tea party ends abruptly in a barrage of bubbles. We laugh underwater, trying to hold our breath as long as possible.

We have contests: "Hey, how far do you think I can swim underwater?"

"Oh, I dunno."

"I bet I can swim two laps."

"I bet you can, too."

"OK, ready? Time me! Time me!"

"OK, go!"

And then it's my turn. I only make it 1-1/2 laps across our pool.

I am 25. My brother is 20.

On the afternoon of our last pool day, my brother spends all night in his room, packing for his two-year assignment to Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Early the next morning, he and my parents drive me to the airport for my return to New York (my flight leaves first). I sense the sheer size of my brother next to me. I think briefly that he's far too big for me to worry about, far too old not to be able to take care of himself.

I ponder the fact that we rarely see each other anymore, but that we've only become closer through the years of separation.

I think about how I never wanted to be like my parents, who worry intensely and frequently about things that need no worrying. Still, I offer a silent prayer that he'll remember to eat enough in Ecuador.

Mostly I think about how, the next time I visit my parents, there won't be anyone sitting in the back seat next to me. I am standing next to the car, saying my goodbyes, and my brother, taller than I, wraps me in a big, long-armed hug. He says, "Oh. Gosh. I'm leaving."

And I say, "Uh-huh," and drip two lonely tears, and walk off to my flight, leaving him behind.

I don't look back. But I hear the car door slam, and I can imagine him sitting in the back seat, staring at the back of the driver's seat, yearning to go home and push me, fully clothed, into the pool.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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