My husband and my brother have the same stature, though polar zeal. My brother is an explorer crazy-man who loves wolves and geckos. My husband, who grew up in New York City, plays golf and tennis. Both are nearly two metres tall. I've never felt more secure than walking between them. Both are my family, though I only just found my brother.
I grew up in Le Vesinet. My parents had decided we would live in a leafy suburb of Paris. The argument was that my brother would need a backyard. Had we lived in the city, he might have gone rogue, rappelling down old spires. Instead, he hung out on the roof, kept a pet tree frog in our pond and wedged himself between glass panes on French doors.
We didn't fight. And I always loved him, I just didn't really believe he existed. I was in my own existential angst, more concerned with lovely little things. He wore goggles around the house and sailed ships in the bidet. I locked myself in my room. It went on like this for 15 years. We were cordial, just never truly connected or aware of each other. We both went to university and back to see our parents for holidays. I've never asked him, but I think along the way he discovered not all girls were as whimsical and crazy as me. He knew sooner than I did that our little nuclear family nestled away in a village was its own kind of Utopia.
We didn't look anything alike. He was dark and handsome. I was fair and ginger. Our mother had a favourite morbidism: "Be nice to your brother, he's all you'll have when we're gone". Still I didn't get it.
A few months ago, my brother moved to SoHo in New York, two blocks from me. Our parents moved to Cape Cod, to sail, fish and read. He came over to my apartment and we talked for hours and I looked at him, impressed with his character and heart, but still unsure who he belonged to or why he was there.
One day when I needed it more than he could have sensed, I received a message from him on my phone. A simple, 'Sis! You're gonna kill it!'. I received a few other messages in following weeks, pictures of owls (we both had childhood obsessions with snowy birds), silly, loving notes that I should call our mother, and most often, soft encouragement as he knew I lacked this hopefulness on my own. His messages reminded me of something, but I couldn't figure out what exactly. Our mother had always left us written-down thoughts or glitter or little tokens in our rooms, lunches or mail. He'd learnt this kind of love from her.
A few weeks ago, this giant 26-year-old boy, who was mindful like our father and spirited like our mother, but really nothing like either, was over again for lunch. My husband was out and it was just us.
"I feel sick," I complained to him.
"What'd you eat today?" he asked me.
"I had some coffee and a cookie." He looked down and up at me through long, long eyelashes (we both had these, but mine were white-red and visible only with mascara).
"Stephie, you know that makes you feel sick. If I ate that I'd be dying."
Neither of us did well with wheat. It wasn't a romantic revelation. This was my brother.
Because I was certain I was a changeling at birth, I'd refused to recognise him. There was never any easy evidence that we were related. I tried to recall if we'd had similar interests and all I could remember was him destroying one of my art projects, or the ambulance coming for him after he biked off a cliff into a ravine, or how I used to laugh at the suit he wore in ski competitions. Then, I remembered so many moments all at once.
Heart and vigour run in families, like metabolic reactions, and resilience. My brother had told me so many times without words that he saw the darkness, and by way of extreme sports and making it this far, how to fight for the light.
And now, just when I'm about to start a family of my own, I have met and fallen in love with my brother by blood. Our mother and father live hours away and, for the first time in our adult lives, we're within minutes of one another. My brother senses when I need him. This phenomenon sometimes happens with friends or lovers, but by that point, they, too, are family.
My brother and I still look nothing alike, although we order the same thing at dinner, wake up around sunrise, love odd creatures and laugh at ridiculous jokes. My mother-in-law just told me she thinks my first baby might be a boy, a combination of my husband and my brother. And I am reminded again that somewhere inside of me there's a template for family and it does look remarkably like my brother.
'An Extraordinary Theory of Objects' is published by HarperCollins