IN a candid tell-all, Melbourne international student Amrit Kaur shares how distance and time apart can sometimes improve the quality of our relationships with family, and in her case, with the brother that was once the “bane of her existence”.
As I peeked into my brother’s now desolate room, the bright red walls seemed bare, when before they had always seemed to scream for my attention.
I found it peculiar that I had never really looked at his desk before. I ran my fingers along its teakwood exterior, imagining how different it must have felt when it was littered with loose change, earphones, stacks of papers and game consoles. The feeling was strange, to say the least, considering how I never cared much for it in the past.
“I want a sister!” My words echoed through our house all the time. Of course, it was always met with a less than favourable response.
“No, that’s not possible. God has already given us what we were destined to have,” my mum would say.
I would make sure my parents acknowledged my sulky face and I’d issue a warning growl to my brother. The one who disfigured my dolls, grabbed the bigger portion of anything we had to share and, most annoyingly, would always try to prove that he was better than me at everything. To put it simply, he was the greatest bane of my existence.
He was only a year and four months older than me. Most people said it was a good thing, that it meant we would grow up close as we went through most of life’s major events together. I saw it differently. Being that close in age meant everything was a competition.
We fought over who got to sit in the front seat of the car, except for that one time when the middle seat in the back suddenly seemed more appealing. We argued over who was smarter, and believe me when I say it felt like a world war when we discussed who our parents loved more.
As adolescence bestowed itself upon us, we didn’t compete as much, but that didn’t mean things got any easier. My dad is a highly regimental man who has spent more than 40 years in the Singaporean military. Boys and dating were strict no-nos and my brother took it upon himself to ensure it stayed that way. If a boy tried talking to me in a less than platonic fashion, he would be introduced to the four knuckles of my brother’s right fist.
For the longest time, I envied my friends who had sisters. They would speak to me of outings and secrets shared in the late hours of the night. It seemed like a forlorn possession to me, something I was fated never to have.
Then things took a strange turn. Last June, my brother had to enlist for national service in the army back in Singapore. It’s mandatory for all physically fit male citizens.
As I waved him off on his first day, I couldn’t help the tears on my dismal face. I wondered why I was acting this way. Why wasn’t I happy we would finally have some relief from his loud music in the wee hours of the morning? I should have been overjoyed I now had ample time to use the bathroom sans his lengthy shaving routine?
As I stood there alone in his room, I had an epiphany. I missed him. I actually missed the person who caused me agony all these years. It was perplexing that it took me 20 years to figure out what a blessing my brother was.
If I had looked past the insignificant flaws, I would have seen how he almost always took the blame for me, saved me from numerous heartaches and always generously allowed me to play with his friends even though I was nothing short of embarrassing.
I suppose the reality of adulthood hit me. It dawned upon me how much life changes. After I’m finished with university and he’s done his army service, the world will get in the way. The dynamics of our relationship as siblings will inevitably change as well. It will become secondary to a future that will entail spouses, children and careers. Daily interactions will morph into the occasional weekend gathering.
You could say I’m glad I figured this out sooner rather than later. There is a special relationship between a big brother and a sister that is simply inexplicable. They’re almost like second fathers, which is why I would do anything for my brother, including give up the front seat.
Do you, like Amrit, have a story about the international student experience to tell? Email us your contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org.