Growing up, I was a strange brother, seven years younger. My brother and sister were two years apart, their age was a gravitational pull that I couldn’t control.
My young age made me a candidate for the Most Annoying Sibling Award. I relentlessly harassed my older brother until he stuffed me into a hastily emptied toy box, sitting on the lid until Mom heard my muffled cries.
Then there was the year I was assigned to take photos before my sister’s prom. I was angry with her for some childish reason, so every photo in this pre-digital world showed my sister and her eventual husband only neck to toe.
No wonder I spent most of my childhood feeling left out of their older brother’s magic.
With age, however, I found my way into their sockets.
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When my sister got married, my brother and I were left behind. He was an intern at the hospital, and I was busy changing my college specialty as I changed boyfriends. During these years our connection erased our age difference, and the long phone calls and concerts brought us closer to us than we were when we lived under the same roof.
Years later, my sister and I both worked in the Okoboji school system, before my husband and I moved to Minnesota. Our sister life has found its rhythm, with daily phone calls, weekly pizza parties, and road trips while singing along to the Indigo Girls. This rhythm also included our children.
We’re a group of three siblings, but over the past few decades it seemed like two of us were always binary star permutations, leaving the third spinning around the periphery.
Then COVID pushed all of our stars out of the race.
When the pandemic first hit, my brother, who worked in the intensive care unit at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, texted: “It’s like we were in the boat before D-Day. . ” I was overwhelmed with concern for him. Locked in the house, I tried to teach my students about Zoom and manage my teenage sons in virtual learning. My sister, still in Okoboji, finished her school year by sheltering in place with her two high school students. Fortunately, our parents had chosen to listen to our brother and stayed home, an ironic change of roles from when they enforced our midnight curfews.
Soon the three of us started our text thread which included favorite fun tweets, recipes for sourdough sourdough, and real chats as our lives unwind due to the shared pandemic. My sister and I showed off our no longer hiding gray hairs, and my brother and I uploaded filtered photos of our dogs on Snapchat. Confused, scared and tired, and we turned to each other for support.
By the fall of 2020, however, it was clear that our lives would be markedly different, this time for geographic reasons.
My siblings and their families were all in Iowa with plans to get back to “normal”; we were in Minnesota where nothing had changed much since our initial lockdown in March. With the exception of video games and virtual school, my youngest son hadn’t seen any friends for almost a year, and my siblings’ kids were going to prom. While the distance between us was minimal (less than four hours), I sometimes felt like we now live in different galaxies with totally different systems of governance.
With these new rules, they were connected; I was not.
Our text thread continued, however. When the vaccinations started rolling out, we celebrated. My brother, of course, was one of the first because he was treating COVID patients in intensive care, and our parents followed shortly after. I cried with joy when I saw their brave vaccinated selfies.
I felt left out – again – when I last received my vaccine. As a youngest child, I used to give myself clothes and cars as the third driver of our family’s legacy, the 1979 Monte Carlo. I grew up being the last in everything. : get my driver’s license, get my university degree, fall in love. I also survived by being the last to receive my doses of Pfizer.
While I may find it hard to feel left out again in the future, I know I am not. Because we are family. From claustrophobic toy boxes to sloppy prom photos, we’ve survived a few hardships along the way. Hopefully one day we’ll add “global pandemic” to this list.
Kimberly Witt is an Iowa transplant rooted in St. Paul, Minnesota. With her husband of 17 years, she is raising two amazing teenage sons born in Ethiopia. She enjoys writing, running, and (surprisingly) helping her sons with their math homework. His writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Insider, Scary Mommy and more.