Bursting My Bubble by Octo G. Enario
Sibling relationships: a recurring topic at the gym; everyone has a story. Most comments focus on how bratty or out of control or ungrateful a brother or sister was. Some, but only a few, tell about how rich or loving a sibling was to them. I don’t know in what category my following sister-brother story fits.
“Of course, big brother Billy never does anything wrong.” This was a frequent retort by my much younger sister, Soror. As the firstborn, I was always the golden boy of the family, and Soror brought up the rear 14 years after my birth. While I was completely unaware of it as I grew up, she felt she had to live in my shadow. As I later learned, this is a common phenomenon with families.
Our paths separated when I married and moved away from the family (and Soror) from New York to North Carolina. As a new resident of the state, I tried to learn a lot about its history and that of the Southeast in general. A trip to Charleston, S.C., got me interested in the Gullah/Geechee African-American culture found in the coastal southeastern states. I was completely unaware that it existed and that it had persisted intact through centuries. After much research, I considered myself an “expert” on the topic, especially compared to all my Yankee friends and relatives up north.
Time passed, and Soror and I again were thrown together when she and my folks followed me to Winston-Salem, by which time I had become divorced. Soror and I became much closer since we had so much in common — both single adults “making the scene” and both Yankee transplants still with strong sibling connections. It was not rare for us to go to singles parties and dances, outdoor events, and occasionally on vacation together.
One of our excursions together was a short trip to the coastal town of Beaufort, N.C. Although our actual status was as equals, the old family hierarchy still lingered. The perception of Octo, the older and more erudite golden boy, and Soror, the second-class junior, hung in the air. It was not so quickly dismissed after so many years of development.
As we walked around the town of Beaufort, we saw the little island across the creek with its wild horses running about. As usual, I commandeered the role of well-informed cultural guide and gave Soror the full history of these wild horses. Throughout the visit, I continued with the various histories of the area in my usual pedantic and maybe haughty manner. If I were more sensitive and less ego-driven, I might have noticed that Soror was not on the same wavelength as I. She probably was saying to herself, “Alright already, enough with the lessons, Mr. Show-Off, let’s just chill out and enjoy ourselves. This is a vacation from work and not preparation for a history exam.”
As the days progressed, I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself. What a good big brother I was, taking the time to help educate little Soror. It felt pretty good to be the well-informed professor, charitably sharing my knowledge with my junior sibling.
Toward the end of our stay in Beaufort, I was running out of things about which to enlighten Soror; it was only a small town. Almost imperceptibly, Soror began to relax as my lessons ended. I thought that all my information sharing finally had helped her relax. Now, I am sure, this was not the case.
We had to go to the little post office branch to get stamps. Soror was probably thinking, “God, I hope he doesn’t give the history of the damn post office.” I was thinking, “This is getting a little boring now that I cannot be the beneficent enlightener. But wait, listen to this African-American man ahead of us on line. Wow, he is speaking Gullah. Yes, we are here on the coast, and I have found a real live Gullah and a whole new topic for downloading to Soror,” thinking she probably was getting bored too and wanted the history “class” to continue. I pointed out the man to Soror and told her to listen carefully as he went on speaking. She did.
When we came out of the building, I began my 15-minute “lesson” on the Gullah culture, language, and history. I was in my full glory as I droned on about all those facts I had stored up just waiting for a chance to unload and demonstrate my scholarship.
After pontificating for minutes, I ran to the end of my knowledge and now expected my audience of one to straighten up as she clapped her hands enthusiastically and shout, “Bravo!” This was not to be.
Soror remained silent for a while as she looked me straight in the eyes. I awaited my plaudits from my grateful student. Soror began to form her lips into a slight smirk and said, “He was not speaking Gullah. He was speaking English. It sounded strange because, as any perceptive observer would have noticed, he had a cleft pallet. This disability caused the garbled speech.” With this brief response, Soror had let all the air out of my inflated ego. It made her very happy, and I am sure it was for her the high point of the trip.
Junior Sibling: 1
Golden Boy: 0