Being an only child kind of blows. Sure, I’ll be the sole heir of my audiophile father’s obscenely expensive stereo (a multi-component beast that easily fills half of his living room) and modest real estate holdings, but I’ll never be able to look a sibling in the eye with that ‘comrades in war’ gaze and give him or her that, ‘Can you believe we lived through this shit?’ look that we both understand perfectly without saying a word. There’s no other living being who can remember, along with me, the scent of the anise bush outside our small house on Belvedere Street, or the fashion shame of my Dad’s really loud ‘airport’ shirts. I have a stepsister, of sorts, with whom I lived from about 7th-9th grades, and we do share a lot of absurd and amusing memories, but I think it’s a bit different from someone with whom you are share DNA and all 18 hellish years of coping with your parents.
Perhaps this is why I seem to have spent a good portion of my adult life nurturing relationships with quasi-brothers, from the four guys I shared a Natoma Street warehouse with in the early 90s to my very best friend of nearly 20 years, whose life I am so intimate with he might as well be my own blood brother. I know him better than he knows himself, and vice versa, his Mom calls me her own, and his little brother I consider family as well. We both grew up in differing but equally traumatic hells on different ends of the state, and this survivor badge has been an epoxy-like bond between us, growing sweeter with the years and accumulated history.
Several years ago, while still married, I was in dire need of a sofa for my new gaff on Dolores Street. Cruising Craigslist, I found an ad titled ‘Big Ass Couch,’ and since I’m pretty fond of big-ass anything (my ex-husband once looked around our flat at the oversized chairs, coffee table, couch, armoire, etc., and said, “It looks like giants live here,”), I knew this was the couch for me. It was, at the time, currently in custody of some dude called Choppy over on Grove Street, and when I went over there to look at it, said dude opened the door and there was an instant connection. A few months later the ex-husband moved out and Choppy, looking to start a new phase in life, moved in. He had a girl and soon I had a new boy and thus, the timing was never right for anything more than a tight friendship, which was probably a blessing because we’d have stabbed each other by now and instead have become virtual brother and sister, since we’re both ‘lonely onlies.’ He has a great tattoo – the word ONLY in script on the right side of his chest, followed by a sun on the left (‘only son’) – which I found disarming and utterly perfect. He’s got the same crusty, protective air as any brother rightfully would – he hates all my boyfriends, hassles me about my footwear, comes over to paint my walls, and we tease each other mercilessly as if we really are sibs.
My last love was the middle of three boys, raised in the ‘half-hippie, half-redneck’ town Bolinas in West Marin. A little gunshy, it took several months before he would introduce me to his brothers – and though they’re cagey cats who keep their cards close to their vests, I guess I grew on them and last Christmas I got sloppy hugs and tipsy, ‘You’re family, man, you’re family,’ admonitions from their lips, and I know if I ever needed a fresh salmon, a fridge moved, or a bad man’s kneecaps broken, these guys would be there for me, even if they’re not big on the phone calls and Christmas cards or whatever.
In this American, west coast, Sixties-hangover, topsy-turvy world, family is a lot more than just shared lineage. I’m closer to my mates who’ve been through it with me for the last decade a half, folks who know all about the Sisyphean nature of my love life, the banality of my work, the maddening charm of my storytelling, and the various pairs of shoes and jeans I’ve rocked, than I am with my relatives, who, while lovely people, are not even close to being capable of comprehending my reality. In this day and age, I figure you take what you can get. If your family comes in the form of non-DNA sharing snarly photographers, tough-yet-tender working guys, or aesthetically particular and furiously independent Latin homothugs, so be it.
Still, I’ll never stop wishing I had a real blood brother. I keep hoping that someday a lovechild who’s been searching for myDad (if he only knew what he were about to find!) will come out of the woodwork and appear at my door; a man with blue eyes like my own, tall and lanky, who can fix car engines and calculate wind drag. Some guy who’s left-handed, like me and my Dad. A bloke who makes the same goofy faces I do. Another ‘lonely only’ who has all his life been longing for a kick-ass sister like me.