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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Worker Man.

The fluorescent yellow shirts were hard to miss.

I was running into the library for just a moment to drop off a movie due back that day, just minutes before close. The days was mild and I took the opportunity to run some errands and enjoy the weather.

At the corner of the mid-century building, two men stood in matching fluorescent t-shirts, jeans, and work boots; another located at the farther corner of the building, closer to the street. The two were loading mulch from a pallet into a flower bed while the third appeared to be digging up a bush and struggling.

My approach was quick (as I said, I was literally jogging through the parking lot to make it before close) and I was wearing real clothes and shoes and had makeup on, so somewhere between my activity and the fact that I presented female I caught their attention and one of the closer two glanced up at me, meeting my eye before looking back to his work while the other two men didn't even flinch.

And I immediately thought of my brother.
When he was little, about Tova's age, he used to tell everyone that when he grew up he was going to be a worker man. That encapsulated anything and everything from construction workers to trash truck drivers to farmers and I can't even remember what all else. Pretty much if there was an outside job that involved machinery, he was going to do that.

I used to shake my head at him and tell him he was being stupid and he should want to be a doctor or a teacher or something. 

Said the girl whose sole aspiration at the time was to be a ballerina princess.

A quarter of a century later, he's yet to hold a job that is located purely inside. 

Throughout school and into young adulthood, he struggled to find his place in the world. He tried on many different hobbies and activities in efforts to please pretty much anyone around him, but nothing really stuck. One thing was constant, however -- while I stayed inside reading and doing crafts and later memorizing lines and building sets, he was outside with his friends, playing.
I see now how hard it must be to live in the (figurative) shadow of a "special" older sibling. Watching my kids play together and seeing Tova slowly eclipse Kiedis in milestones, she being more "normal" than he, yet ever such the little sibling craving the love and attention of the older gives me such perspective on the tumultuous relationship my brother and I had growing up.

It is easier to love Tova in the traditional, simple sense. She likes cuddles and kisses and speaks in spontaneous sentences and is beginning to tell stories and show her wide and wild imagination and to be in awe of the little person she's becoming is effortless.

To love Kiedis means within his own parameters, by his rules, with heavy doses of patience and understanding even when you truly feel that every last bit of compassion you have has been burned up. It means dropping everything to meet his needs and allowing him to set his own boundaries and a lot of watching and waiting for the next intervention.

And the blossoms of rivalry there sit between those two places, where to him we just like her more; to her, he gets all the attention and can do whatever he wants.

That pretty much sums up my relationship with my brother for the first twenty years of our lives.
I averted my eyes from the landscaper and continued on into the library, my internal monologues arguing about rape culture/street harassment and class warfare, how being raised where I was you're indirectly taught not to talk to the help because you might be interrupting them or disturbing them, but really you're just being given license to act as if they don't exist because they are executing manual labor for a living.

Unless he was creeping on me. Then I could give him the here-to-fore because I am a lady and a feminist and FUCK when did society get so lose-lose all the damn time?

Driving home, I couldn't shake this perspective, of realizing that despite the neon colored safety garb so many of these "worker men" were rendered invisible by societal norms, and what that must feel like on a daily basis. I mean, sure, we all like to do our work in peace, but that doesn't dismiss common courtesy, does it?

It doesn't change that behind every backhoe and industrial mower there is a man with a story and a family that (presumably) loves him. That there are people behind the social rank we've been trained to (not) see, and that acknowledging them doesn't in anyway tarnish us as non-laborers.

That those men are no different that my brother and his neon yellow shirts at the fairly prestigious outdoorsy job he holds now, the brother that I'm proud of and am glad to brag on when given the opportunity.

And after twenty-eight years today of living underneath my shadow, among others, I want him to be seen. 

My brother is a kind and gentle man. He is thoughtful and deep and courageous. He is an amazing uncle to my children and the joy I get from seeing their faces light up -- and his -- when they see each other is more than I thought myself possible. He is forgiving and accepting much smarter than I ever gave him credit for.

I am so grateful to have him in my life, as my sibling, and as a friend.

Happy birthday, Sibling. I am truly glad you were born.