Calling my younger brother is a common occurrence at least three times a week. We typically start our conversations talking about 80s music, with him pointing out Pink Floyd and AC/DC posters on my dorm wall and asking if I’d heard one of their deep cuts. During our last conversation, I called while he was eating lunch, prepared to ask him about his music taste.
“What’s up?” he answered tiredly.
Shouting voices of a high school cafeteria distracted from his voice. I asked him to go somewhere quiet. He agreed and I waited a minute as the background noise didn’t quell, nor did I hear the tell-tale sign of footsteps.
“You didn’t move,” I accused.
“Well, I like the spot I’m in.” I glared at my phone but didn’t fight him on it.
“This is just a conversation. I’m your sister, not an interviewer.”
“Whatever you say,” he bit back.
To preface, Hayden is 15 years old, spends an hour a day grooming his hair and effortlessly charms everyone he meets. We both claim we got the “good genes,” even though we look nothing alike.
My mom loved to gloat over her and my uncle being “the best of friends,” even in their adult years — that seemed impossible. My brother and I as best friends? Never in a million years. I simply lived by the rule of no one messes with my brother but me. Truthfully, I think that I’m somewhere between an adequate and mediocre sister to him.
As children, I would grudgingly help with his homework, punch a bully or two who had hurt him and always offer to play Star Wars with him, even if I would treat him like a piñata with my toy lightsaber. We weren’t exactly best friends, but a chaotic duo capable of terrifying babysitters. It happened to be that as children, nothing was more fun than the outrageously dangerous ideas we’d come up with. In my defense, we’d typically walk out with an equal number of bruises.
When I hit the preteens, Hayden and I went our separate ways. Or more accurately, I went my own way and prevented him from following. There was no malicious intent to blindside my younger brother. I simply thought it was time to go through my “emo” phase in which I exclusively listened to Fall Out Boy and yelled at anyone who tried to get me to leave my room. Unfortunately, that included him.
Eventually, Hayden got old enough to learn that asking me nicely to play with him wouldn’t work, and he had to get my attention with different tactics. He would “mistakenly” place alarm clocks under my bed that went off at 3 a.m., cover my room with toilet paper and insist on only blasting music when it was time for homework. One time, he taught our dog the command “attack Logan”: a command that sent our dog running to me barking, ferociously placing his front paws on my leg before smiling up at my brother for his guaranteed treat. Hayden’s creative mind thought of every “Home Alone”-esque trap to make me miserable. I, naturally, started to find his existence infuriating.
My parents excused his actions as attention-seeking. My dad, who was the youngest brother growing up, would sometimes laugh at Hayden’s more innocent antics. To everyone else, eating the last of my candy stash was harmless. Even though I understood Hayden only wanted to spend time with me, I stubbornly decided that I’d only do so when he decided not to be a pain. That left us at an impasse for five years.
Of course, I felt guilty at points. I was too proud to give into his wishes, which made me hypocritical when asking for the maturity of a 10-year-old boy. And in retrospect, there was also a degree of jealousy. He was born a future prom king and captain of every club and sports team thought of. I had been a gawky nerd with braces, glasses and bangs that never suited me. Eventually, high school life took over my limited free time, and Hayden found his own friends to focus on.
When quarantine started, we were suddenly thrust back together in the same small New York City apartment. He staked his claim over the TV, but I won the speakers — meaning Hayden was forced to listen to everything I did. I take enough pride in my music taste to call it eclectic, but I’ve always favored rock music. I range from Elton John ballads to Led Zeppelin hard rock, and even British New Wave. Eventually came the questions.
“Who sings this song?” He’d shout while “Paint it Black” generated noise complaints from the neighbors.
“The Rolling Stones,” I’d dryly respond before stealing his snacks from the kitchen. A few weeks went by with little fanfare over Mick Jagger’s voice filling up the living room.
One day in September, I dared to venture into his room. I had almost been too distracted by the teenage boy smell to notice the chorus of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones playing out of his speakers.
“Good song,” I commented.
“Thanks,” he responded, noticeably perplexed. There had been a disbelieving note to his voice. Had I actually complimented him without sarcasm or was it a hidden insult? We made brief eye contact before a silent agreement to never speak of it again.
Over the course of the next year, more 80s rock would sound from his room. I recognized it as the music I’d constantly play.
During our recent phone call, I’d brought up his repetition of my music. “So do you admire me and my fantastic taste or something?” I asked teasingly.
“No,” he scoffed, before pausing to think. “I listened to rap because my friends did. But COVID meant I didn’t spend time with them, and I realized I liked your music better. But when you think about it, it’s Dad’s music, not yours.” I hummed in agreement. My music taste had originated from my dad recommending me music from his childhood. I’d reject any suggestion to his face, yet proceed to add it to my library later.
As I left for my freshman year at the University of Michigan, Hayden and I jokingly excluded our dad as we talked about our new shared music taste. I bought my brother a vinyl record of David Bowie’s greatest hits, and we started arguing over the Beatles. He claimed he knew more of their songs (A ridiculous, unprovable claim).
“I’ve seen ‘Across the Universe’ more times than you,” he announced over our recent phone call, referring to the 2007 movie featuring exclusively Beatles songs.
“No you haven’t, it’s literally my favorite movie musical!”
“Then I’ve seen ‘Yesterday’ more times than you,” he countered, bringing up yet another Beatles-based movie.
“That doesn’t matter. It wasn’t even that good.”
“Great plot, but could’ve been executed better.”
Hayden had clearly over-analyzed the movie too. We both went silent over the phone until a question came to my mind.
“So that’s why we get along now? Music?” I asked with a subtle endearment in my voice. YetI knew the answer before he said it.
“Nah,” he responds. A high schooler cheered across the call and I had to wait another minute before Hayden replied. “We matured, ya know?”
I did know. The pandemic had changed our family dynamic. My brother and I are fortunate enough to have supportive parents, but we were forced to grow up faster in the past two years. Our parents worked longer and harder, so our responsibilities grew. We had been tasked with taking care of our sickly grandparents, and parent guidance diminished. As the pandemic progressed, we started to alternate between our apartment and grandparents’ Connecticut house. For half a year we’d only catch a glimpse of each other during the transitioning car rides. I only knew of his evolving music taste from our shared Apple Music account.
“I didn’t need you for entertainment then or anything anymore. We started to do everything alone.” Hayden added as an afterthought. I ignored the ache in my chest that came with his words. Maybe if I hadn’t been so dismissive, he would’ve needed me. He didn’t try to bother me for attention anymore, and while it was once unwanted, now the constant irritation was gone, leaving only a frostiness in its wake. We could’ve shared the burdens of the past year. But I was an adult and he was fifteen, which seemed close enough. I accepted his newfound independence and pressed on.
“So why do you think we talk now?” I questioned.
“You’re nicer now. You treat me like a normal human being, an equal, not a child,” he explained. “Whenever you were with your friends, you’d act all superior and want me to leave. This weekend you were cool though.”
Of course, I had been “cool” that past weekend. It was parents’ weekend and the first time I had seen him since the summer. After three days in Ann Arbor, he was already planning out his supplemental essays for admission. It had helped that he made fast friends with my roommate, going so far as to refer to her as “the sister I always wanted.” I even walked into the sight of him giving her 80s music recommendations, like the Eagles and U2. The three of us shared Pizza House feta bread while listening to ZZ Top.
And not much to my surprise, Hayden got along with my friends. It made sense — we are similar. We have identical senses of humor, think comparing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones is like comparing apples to oranges, have a love of leather jackets and grew up watching the same Cartoon Network shows. Our high school extracurriculars are the same, so were many of our high school friends. Our frequent conversations no longer stemmed from two siblings being shoved together by circumstance, but simply a desire to share.
We talk about everything now: music, teachers we shared, drama, our parents. A few days ago, after complaining to my roommate about the humiliation of asking a fifteen-year-old for advice, I reached out to my brother with a question about relationships. My roommate laughed and affirmed that he might be younger, but knew me well enough to offer guidance.
I wanted to tell my new boyfriend about my feelings for him. Hayden instructed me to have a candlelit dinner, wear a nice dress, buy my boyfriend a box of cookies, single-handedly eat the box of cookies before gifting them for mental preparation, and write a love letter instead. He then informed me that “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel and “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley were the two most romantic songs in existence. After we agreed over the latter 80s song, we started to talk about our plans for the end of the school year.
“Do you think we’ll get along during the summer?” I asked Hayden over our recent call.
“We won’t fight quite as much. We might fight more in June since I’ll have a month to get sick of you. And we’ll both want to hang out more. We’ll want to hang out more. Like a friend?”
There was a hopeful note in his words, one that only a sibling could hear.
“So you’d describe us as friends?”
“Meh, if it helps with your article.”
Statement Columnist Logan Klinger can be reached at email@example.com.