I have a fundamental beef with my brother, Pick. I reproach him, tell him off, release my anger, and he comes back at me with his equanimity. Who is he to feel emotionally superior to me? Does he see me as a child? You would think that after all these years of trying I could get him pissed off. I think something must be missing in him.

For years my sister, Deb, and I have met with him annually at Red Lobster for a birthday dinner. We were all born in the same month, with my birthday coming first. Pick’s wife, the darling Miss Emily, dropped out of the dinners three years ago because our conversations made her too nervous. I’ve never been invited to their house, where they’ve lived for over twenty years, but if I did walk through their door I’m sure Miss Emily would lock herself up in a room to avoid having to listen to me. And if she did, I think she’d be on the right track.

I talk to Deb on the phone at least once a week, but Master Pick never calls us. Our communication with him is limited to occasional emails, such as the ones we send to schedule our dinner, which is the only time Deb and I see him during the entire year. Our dinners are inevitably exhausting and grueling, their aftereffects lasting with me for days. One problem is that we spend a lot of time languishing in the silence radiating from Pick. Another is that he never seems to question his point of view, as if his mind never stops admiring itself. I see things shifting as I listen to people or as I think. Pick thinks he already has all the evidence he needs and that it all came from within him. And since he already knows what he thinks, why should he concern himself with anything we’re saying? Why should he be bothered if I tell him what I think of his obliviousness, if I lay into him about the armor of indifference he uses to distance himself?

He intends to discourage me by acting as if I’m spinning my wheels for nothing. His favorite comment after I try to get under his skin at the dinners is: “Something from nothing,” which he’s shortened to: “SFN.” I’m left to imagine the inner glow Master Pick enjoys after supposedly nullifying me with three letters. His lofty perspective is that I never change, though he’s the one who never changes.

But this is the thing that’s got me breathing out heat fumes. I get an email from him every year on my birthday that usually says: “Happy birthday. Pick.” Not that the emanation from those words has ever warmed me, but this year I got this message: “HB. P.” I couldn’t fail to notice this constriction’s obvious reference to SFN. In his passive way, Pick meant to diminish me, and I resented this veiled retaliation for saying what I think of him. Was he angling to sever the last tie connecting us? Was he maneuvering me into being the one who dropped out of the dinners so I could never claim he killed off the group?

Pick is a curse on our family. He hogged the limelight with our now-deceased parents from the day he was born. He and Emily sit over there in their comfortable chairs absorbing junk television, Pick probably grinning to himself at his clever “HB” and how I’m reacting to it.

I held the fort for a week, denying him the pleasure of an agitated reply to his birthday message. Why let him think he could drag me around by my anger? Besides, I wanted to take time to consider how to tell them my decision. After careful consideration I ruled out saying I had an illness, which could have led to a suggestion to reschedule. I thought it best to go with the truth.

I replied to Pick and copied Deb, and I kept it civil. “HB” was an inadequate and unsatisfying birthday wish and I did not care to celebrate our special days with someone who would belittle my birth in this way. I said that I’d reluctantly concluded that I would not attend the birthday dinner.

Pick’s three-letter response came back quickly. “SFN,” it said. I didn’t expect him to care enough to say more. Deb called later to let me know she’d sent him an email saying she preferred to postpone until we could all get together. She didn’t want to be lost in Pick’s silences, she told me, avoiding eye contact, her mind spinning and lurching while his undermined hers by apparently doing nothing. Pick may have hoped it would work out this way, she said. I admit the comment annoyed me.


Photo by Bethany