March 31, 2015 4:45pm: Harlem, New York City (Aaron’s birthday)
After meeting Rugged Airport Guy (Brendan), and lugging my suitcase from Penn Station (34th Street) to 125th Street, then walking from 125th to 245 W. 120th St, and I’m at the apartment! In a happy daze from the traveling and the adventures ahead that this apartment seems like one of the very best places in the whole city. 🙂
I ring the bell and Aaron buzzes me up, so I lug the suitcase up the stairs to Apartment 2. And it’s a fun and odd hello when you’re greeting someone you’re about to live with for 6 weeks. What do you say to kick that off? Hey, nice to see you, happy birthday, guess we’re gonna be living together for awhile so hope this all goes well!
Aaron’s relaxing in the living room, having just taught a full day of 6th and 7th grade math. I just stand in the kitchen, looking around, still in a daze as I try to get my head around the idea of being housemates with my brother in NYC. The apartment’s about as wonderful as I remember from the first visit last Thanksgiving: a bedroom, an office with a guest bed, a long hallway covered with photos of Aaron and Caty’s adventures, wide open family room with sloped main wall covered in windows, overlooking 120th Avenue and Saint Nicholas.
There are lime and turquoise accent walls which give the room a cheerful vibe, accented by a flatscreen TV and so many books tucked throughout the room- classics, memoirs, math books, fiction. Generous couches where I slept all week last November, kitchen table I last saw filled with a Thanksgiving feast. Cozy kitchen with prep station, framed photo of New York still including the Twin Towers, twinkling lights draped from kitchen to family room.
It’s almost 5 pm and I’m on vacation, so I crack open a Blue Moon from the fridge and roll my suitcase back to my new room. Waiting on the pillow, from my Mom, a little housewarming/sabbatical start gift. Scary Close, by Donald Miller, which shares his journey of sharing who he really is with others, not who he thinks he must be. My Mom is so cute and thorough. The post-it note you see here clarifies that while the book is for me, everything else in the box, including a birthday card, is for Aaron. Which is helpful, lest I mistakenly think she sent ME a blender on Aaron’s birthday.
I tuck the suitcase away, survey my new bedroom – desks for Aaron and Caty, a little closet space I can hopefully borrow, and a cozy, pink-sheeted, freshly made bed (I’m assuming Caty’s to thank for this one). It was such a sweet, dazed, nervous-excited feeling to be in this place, a little like when your parents left you at summer camp, or when you walk into the building of your new job for the first time. Here we go, I guess we’re doing this.
But Aaron turned 26 today so there’s no time to overthink the weeks ahead – there’s a birthday dinner to be had! Caty, Aaron and I walk over to Best Market, the closest grocery store and purchase oodles of premade, delicious sushi for dinner at home, and we resume on the two family room couches with plates of Philadelphia rolls (Caty only), tempura rolls, California rolls, dragon rolls, with soy sauce at the ready.
Over dinner, Aaron and Caty share their respective days teaching and I catch the first glimpse of why I wanted to be here with them. I sit with Aaron on his birthday, the first time possibly in 10 years, and listen to his day firsthand, no text, no call, no videochat, just brother and sister and brother’s girlfriend, talking about nothing more substantial than which kid said what and misbehaved in this way. One of his students gave him a box of chocolates for his birthday – “don’t tell the other teachers, Mr. Klingensmith” and another asks why he came to school on his birthday, and the three of us wish we adults lived in a world where you get to just skip work on your birthday*. These are the details he rarely shares when we’re chatting with a few thousand miles in between us. So this simple dinner with simple conversation is plenty for today.
In hindsight, if I was writing a story, scripting each move of the characters, it seems like it’d only be right for the sister to arrive in New York on the brother’s birthday, given his integral role in the story:
Three years apart, Aaron and I have always had a pretty normal, pleasant sibling relationship even given our fairly different personalities. Aaron is a math major and math teacher. The best approximation of his personality I can give is 60% Jim Halpert, 40% Spock. On the other hand, I’m the feeler, the one who can cry equally quickly at a critical word or poignant TV commercial, and would give him a hug about every two minutes if he’d let me. (He wouldn’t, for the record.)
As with many siblings, once I left for college and we were no longer under the same roof, we started the slow transition from siblings to sibling-friends, but I’d say it’s really been over the past few years since Aaron’s finished college as well that I’ve started to appreciate his special brand of wisdom and encouragement. He’s generally a man of few words but that’s made some of them particularly influential to my own thoughts on life.
-Sometime in 2012? Heard through the grapevine of my Mom – “yeah, so Aaron thinks you need to have, like, more fun in your life. He seems to think you don’t really spend enough time doing things you really enjoy.” Okay…noted, I guess?
-Sometime later in 2012? “I know you’re really into saving money and all. So what are you actually saving for? Just to save, or to actually, like, do something with it?”
-September 2013, dinnertime while I’m visiting Aaron in New York. “So.. is this pretty much what you normally talk about? Work, and selling stuff on eBay? Are these your two interests?” It was said without any harsh judgment – in his mind, he’s probably just gathering data – and in thinking through my comments and where my head was generally ‘at,’ I had to admit he had a little bit of a point.
-October 2014: I call Aaron confused about my next steps, feeling at odds with the growing desire to leave the working world for a bit. “If you have the chance to not work and just enjoy your life, why wouldn’t you do it? That’s awesome! I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
“I talked with Caty about it some more. We think it’d be awesome if you lived with us for awhile.”
Aaron kept asking me about in in November, December, and I started to think he really might be open to the idea of me living with him for a bit. As the older sister considering the prospect of living with her brother and his girlfriend, in Manhattan, for a month, it’s hard not to think you’d be a giant imposition. But in a rare move, I took his words at face value and decided it’d be crazy not to do it, not only for the chance to enjoy New York but for the chance to grow as sibling-friends. I’d had this weird, mounting feeling for a number of months that maybe family and friends were vastly more important and meaningful in life than career, and that at my current rate, it would be all too easy to look back on my 20s and wonder why I hadn’t spent more time enjoying life with the former.
So there I was, sitting on the family room couch at 245 W. 120th, NYC on Aaron’s birthday – thanks to him more than just about anyone else I can think of. Happy birthday, Aaron… Love, your sister. 🙂 **
**As I write this, I realize I’m not sure if I actually ever gave Aaron a present for his birthday. Shoot. Sorry about that, Aaron.