Oh Brother(s)

My family has always been important to me. They have supported me throughout the majority of my life and I always knew that I could count on them if I needed help. That isn’t to say that they were always physically there, as I spent the majority of my childhood raised by my niania, Aija and my older brothers. My mother traveled for most of childhood and was only home 3-4 weeks out of the year. I grew up around my Aija, my grandmother and my two older brothers. My brothers, Sven and Jakob, were from my mother’s first marriage. Their father had died soon after Jakob was born and my mother had been forced to raise them herself. Like me, they had a nanny (niania) who was with them every day since my mother could not be.

Sven and Jakob were very close to each other, they were only two years apart and similar in a lot of ways. When I was born, they treated me like a younger brother and I provided them with hours of entertainment. My brothers loved to torment me and I am still surprised I survived my childhood.

Around the time I was 4-5 my mother began to take frequent trips to the US. She had met a fellow attorney on one of her trips and they soon began a long distance relationship. After a year of “dating” they flew to Italy, married and when I was seven they had my youngest brother. When Nikolas was born, they decided that it was time to move my older brothers to New York City so that the boys could grow up together. At the time, I was in Vienna so that I could attend the Wiener Staatsoper Ballettschule and when I went home during a break; my grandmother informed me that my brothers were now in America. I was fairly upset at the idea of being the only member of my family left in Europe except for family in Kraków and Świnoujście, whom I rarely saw. I went back to Vienna, upset and missing my family.

I lived in Vienna/Łódź until I was 11, at which point my mother moved me to the US as well. Even though I had missed my family, the thought of leaving Europe was terrifying. My mother had decided that it would be best for me to not know that I would be moving and for the weeks leading up to my flight my grandmother was very sullen. The day of my departure, my mother picked me up at school (which was very rare). I was so excited to see my mom that I didn’t even realize we weren’t headed back to the house until we arrived at the airport. When I saw the airport, I excitedly asked my grandmother, “Are we visiting family in Krakow?!” It was at this point that my grandmother burst into tears and I realized something was wrong. Our driver unloaded luggage from the car and we began to head inside. I kept asking my grandmother what was going on, but she just kept shaking her head and shushing me. By the time we boarded our flight I was terrified and visibly upset. My mother had still not told me where we were going and my head was swimming with possible destinations.

The flight from Łódź landed in London and it was then that my mother told me I was moving, permanently, to the US. I cried for the first few hours of the flight and then fell asleep halfway to NYC. My mother woke me up right before we landed and told me that I was going to see my brothers (my youngest brother for the first time).

Seeing my older brothers was amazing. I realized how much I missed them when they were asking about my flight and our grandmother. From that point on, they were the two most important people in the world to me. With my parents traveling, my grandmother still in Poland and my inability to communicate with my youngest brother, they were the only people I could actually converse with. They began to teach me basic English phrases and we went to see English films together. They showed me around NYC, walked me to school every day and taught me where to get “American” food. The three of us became very close and remained that way until we moved to Missouri a few years later.

The move to Missouri was really the catalyst for a lot of change. It was the point that I realized I had been raised differently, that my language was a huge barrier and that my family wasn’t typical. The move to Missouri happened after my father was offered a job in Kansas City and my mother had decided to quit her job. Missouri was a huge change for all of us, as we had always lived in urban areas. We moved over summer break and my mother enrolled us all in the same school district. We spent the summer getting acclimated to the humidity and I thought the heat might kill me before school even started. My older brothers became quite popular with the Midwestern girls. Both of them were much taller than the rest of the boys at school and they still retained enough of an accent that girls found it “exotic.” Being several years older than I was, they became more interested in having girlfriends then helping their younger sister. My mother, seeing that I was being left behind by my siblings, enrolled me in summer ESL courses. I became obsessed with learning English and by the time school started I was far enough ahead to begin taking courses.

Both Sven and Jakob were adored by the majority of the school. Teachers loved their tenacity, every coach wanted them to go out for their sport and they had amassed quite a following of their peers. I was known as “Sven/Jakob’s sister,” but I also attributed this to their inability to pronounce my first name. My relationship with my older brothers, especially Sven, began to become strained and we spent less time together as they prepared for college.

The year before Sven’s graduation, he began to distance himself from our family as a whole. He spent the majority of his free-time with his friends and only came home when my parents forced him. He began to dabble in drugs and alcohol, eventually requiring my parents to send him away for the summer. Jakob was less interested in partying, but the loss of his older brother caused him to withdraw and he turned to music. Over the summer he used the majority of his savings to buy audio equipment and records. He began producing his own songs and writing music on his guitar. When Sven returned from his “vacation to Arizona” (which is what my parents told everyone) he and Jakob immediately bonded over his new hobby.

When Sven graduated he left for the University of Colorado to study aerospace engineering and only came back home for major family events. After Sven graduated, Jakob and I became close once more. I was terrified about Jakob graduating and leaving home so I tried to get him to apply to schools in Missouri. Despite my best efforts, he ultimately decided to go to Duke so that he could apply to law school there. With both of my older brothers gone I was left to fend for myself as my youngest brother was too little for me to spent time with. It was difficult for me and I missed by brothers terribly. I begged my mother to let me visit them, but she would never let me go and I resented her for it. I kept in contact with my brothers and every once in a while one of them would venture back to Missouri. When I left for college, both of them returned home and helped me set up my dorm room. This was to be the last time I saw Sven, but I didn’t know it at the time and I wish I would have spent more time with him.

After I was moved in, Sven left to head back to Colorado. He had fought with my parents almost the entire time he was home and told them he wouldn’t be coming back to visit them any time soon. I assumed he was just being dramatic, but he never came back to Missouri and in early 2006 he called to tell me that he would be moving to Japan in September. I was devastated to have him move so far away. Apparently he has wanted to work with JAXA for a while, but couldn’t until his contract was up. At the end of 2006, Sven moved to Tokyo and then began working with JAXA in mid-2007. A few years ago he got married and now has two children. None of us were invited to the wedding and we have yet to meet any of his family. I have not seen him since the day I was moved into my dorm, but I’m hoping that he will visit in a few months.

When Jakob graduated from Duke, he moved to Colorado to live with Sven and anglicized his first name (Jacob).  He then purchased a house and the two lived together for a while until Sven decided to move to Japan. Jakob still lives in Colorado and I get to see him once every year or so. He has yet to distance himself from the family the way Sven has and since converting to Buddhism he has been better about communicating with my parents.

My brothers will always be important to me. They were my first playmates, the two family members I talked to almost every day and an integral part of my support system as I was growing up. Both of my brothers helped raise me and I can attribute a lot of personality traits to them. I do wish that they were more involved in the family and that they didn’t feel the need to distance themselves from us. I keep hoping that they will come around at some point so that I will be able to hug them and tell them, “Thank you for all that you did for me.”

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