[Author’s Note: It was recently National Siblings Day. This is for mine.]
I had no idea what lonely tasted like, except perhaps for those first two pre-sibling years of life, and those don’t count. A brother came along two years after my arrival, and by the time I was 9, I was the oldest of four children: me, my brother, and two younger sisters. Lonely was not on the menu. My younger siblings often clamored for their big sister’s attention, constantly invaded my space, and could not keep their hands off of my things.
I shared a bedroom with my little brother for a few years in the first New York City apartments, but I was upgraded to my own bedroom when we moved to Caracas, Venezuela. I was seven years old. I never had to share a bedroom again (until much, much later when I wanted to). My two younger sisters weren’t as fortunate, and pretty much shared a room until one of them left home. And although I had a space I could call “mine,” that hardly meant my peace and privacy weren’t constantly invaded. Lonely still eluded me.
It wasn’t until I left home at age 15 to attend boarding school in upstate New York. I was an ocean and most of the eastern seaboard away from my tropical home and noisy, constantly-in-my-face family members. Homesickness set in, especially once the summer warmth and humidity of New York gave way to damp cold sweater weather, and then much worse.
As a new Junior in my boarding school, I was assigned to a single room. This was considered a privilege, and it felt somewhat familiar, but I no longer had little sisters barging in without knocking and jumping onto my bed, or playing with my carefully selected and positioned knick-knacks on my bureau. I no longer had a younger brother bringing the newest and latest outdoor discovery – a bug or lizard, for instance – into my domain, or touching every surface in my room with his dirty boy hands.
I missed the loud sounds of their childish play interrupting my important adolescent reveries. Or worse, making it impossible to hear the popular songs I played over and over until I had the lyrics transcribed perfectly; lyrics that offered insights into my life as a burgeoning grownup. “Shut up!” I would yell from my canopied bed, record player or transistor radio on the nightstand beside me. “I can’t hear myself think!”
Only to be followed by my mother, poking her head in my door, with that disapproving expression on her face involving one eyebrow arched higher than the other, “Who exactly do you think you are?”
“I’m sorry,” I would offer, remembering myself, and how I was a member of a tribe, and how I’d better appreciate their presence and implied protection and forever kind of love.
In this new room of my own away from home I did welcome being alone, having time and space to myself, to think my important thoughts and listen to my deep music uninterrupted, and to just be. But the absence of those younger creatures, related to me by blood, who had, up until that point, been pretty much the bane of my existence, were missed. Their non-presence sometimes filled the room. I thought I’d be so glad to be free of those irritating younger siblings who were always underfoot, interrupting my thoughts, interjecting themselves into my activities.
But no. On those cold winter nights, far from the song of the coquí, I wanted nothing more than a pile-up of siblings on my lonely bed, legs and arms entangled, laughing until it hurt.