August Book Club Pick: Immediate Family

August Book Club Pick: Immediate Family

August Book Club Pick: Immediate Family

From Immediate family

Last night I told you that today could be difficult for us, and you said why, and I said because you’ll be married and you’re older, and you said I’m older, and you looked at me that I’ve never seen any face other than yours , a kind of mischievous pride that oscillates between the certainty of your own truths and the question of whether you will get away with it.

I was supposed to be with our mother, helping to complain about the girlfriend, your future wife, but instead I headed to your corner of the Mexican restaurant during rehearsal dinner. Above your head was a red piñata and behind you was a large dark window that a few hours earlier had held up the beach. You were surrounded by our father’s friends, holding a beer that was as much a display item as the piñata; what you probably wanted was just an ice cold Coke. The other hand was in your pocket and you hunched a little in your collared shirt, happy to be noticed, to be in the center somehow, but you weren’t sure how to handle your body as a result. A month ago he called me to ask if I would give him a speech. When I saw his name, I wondered if he was calling to apologize, to fix things between us, but instead he went straight to the question. This is exactly the way he said it: You will give me a speech.

I listened carefully to the sound of your voice because I didn’t hear it as often these days, and instead of being annoyed as I had thought, I marveled at the feeling it brought with it, as if time had not passed, like bad things don’t. they had happened or maybe they still had and regardless of whether we were here, back to what we were before. A speech? I said. Isn’t that a godfather thing? And you explained that your best man had pulled out of the speech, maybe even dropped out of the wedding, and you didn’t want to talk about it because it was a long story and please. You said please twice, please give the speech, you were in a bind. Otherwise, would you really be asking your sister?

Did Mom go over to this? I said, and she let out a heavy sigh into the phone, like those brief bursts of the northern California wind that come out of nowhere and out of the sunlight and push all of her hair into her face, disturbing an otherwise pleasant day. The sigh made you sound like you’ve lived a long, hard life even though you were twenty-eight and seemed to lose responsibility like a sock in the wash.

So it’s a best sister speech, I said.

I guess, you said, and before hanging up I reminded you that I hadn’t put you in trouble at my wedding, and you reminded me that I hadn’t asked.

•••

You used to write to me when we were young; I found messages stuffed in my shoe or in my lunch box. Back then, all his letters were a characteristic combination of great sentiment and formality that I have come to miss greatly.

To my sister: you are the best sister in the world. From, Danny Larsen.

Hello, I love you HEPPY BIRTHDAY Sincerely, Your brother

Even now, as adults, I still hear it on their voicemails. It’s me danny, you always start, as if it did not recognize the number or the sound of your voice.

•••

Once when you were a teenager, I wrote you that angry letter, do you remember this? I got home from college and gave it to you on Christmas Day, for it to take effect. You tossed it on your dresser where it sat unopened for the rest of the week and, feeling regretful by then, I picked it up and put everything in order.

The letter was about money, of course, as most of our fights would turn out to be. You had taken cash out of our mother’s underwear drawer a few days earlier and bought a silver bracelet for a blonde girl at school. (How much was I able to say in the speech about your lifelong appreciation for blue-eyed blonde girls.) When our mother discovered the bracelet in your backpack, you pretended the gift was for her, the dangling hearts were so clearly not intended for a mother. Actually, you still hadn’t given our parents anything for Christmas, and I’d put both of their names on whatever I had. When you asked me what the letter said as I packed my car to go back to school, I said it explained what I thought of you when you did things like that.

His body settled into this statement and from across the driveway I saw the words warp into a strange shape for the journey ahead, through his ears, his frown, his throat, his heart.

Well, you said after a moment, what do you think of me? You said it so seriously that we both couldn’t help but smile. The question seemed absurd after so many years together, and I didn’t finish answering before saying goodbye to you with a hug.

•••

You asked me what it’s like to be married, what we would do at home if we didn’t have television.

Speak, I guess, I replied, and your eyes widened like it was the last line of a ghost story.

•••

I have thought of us often over the years while trying to become a mother. I’ve thought of simpler times: like when our parents would go out and bring us pizza and you would squeeze the blue cheese dressing onto our plates for dipping as I had taught you. We’d see whatever you picked on Blockbuster because in about thirty minutes you’d be asleep. Sometimes you fell asleep holding the pizza cross-legged on the couch; He was probably about fourteen, which would make you eight. Your head would slide back, your mouth would open, and then as I took your plate, your body would slide towards me, dead weight on my shoulder or lap. At this age, our days no longer contained physical closeness; I no longer lifted or balanced you or carried you on my shoulders like before. I was fourteen years old and bodies were becoming new territories for me, mainly mine, and I no longer touched people without conscience. But on nights like this he would let you sleep completely comfortable, he would cover you with a blanket and finish your pizza and from time to time, if you stirred, he would rub your back. What surprises me after all these years is the fear that I still feel when talking about your body, a body that I know and have lived with for so long, a body that I hugged, pushed, carried and cleaned.

Were there simpler times? What is something simple for you?

•••

I tell myself that I can’t worry about the speech. I can’t worry about the speech in a place where everyone will have had too much to drink and you will be so busy being famous for a day that you will barely remember the words. I tell myself that I am the last minute substitute, that I should keep expectations moderate at best. I tell myself that the success of a marriage does not depend on the success of the speech, and if it did, there would be many more unfortunate unions in this world.

Perhaps I am concerned because I have seen our parents planning with their girlfriend for the past six months, how money has translated into care again. Where have you been? Maybe I worry because I want to be good for the three of you, because I have refused to do something just for your sake. I helped with the cake, the bride’s color scheme, the backstage drama of who would be sitting next to whom. I helped with the flowers and found our father a tie, cutlery, chicken or steak; I agreed to wear whatever the bride chose. I tried to help with the absence of the bride’s parents, and how our parents bore the costs as a result, but too often I got angry and ungenerous and consequently it didn’t help me at all. He was angry mostly because, of course, he still loved. you, because everything was always done for that, despite what you told me.

When you called a month ago about the speech, I realized that I had never put words to that kind of love, or more specifically Our kind, and how he had always felt a little different from everyone else. I didn’t know how to orient it to the light to see through it, and instead wanted to buy the cake, wear the dress, and be in time to explain that I love you. Because what did I know about what facts should be collected or thrown into a person’s story? What right did I have to talk about your life?

Taken from Immediate family by Ashley Nelson Levy. Copyright © 2021 by Ashley Nelson Levy. Reprinted with permission from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. All rights reserved.

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