Back when we were young, my siblings and I used to play a game called ‘torture’. Sounds fun, right? Being the oldest of the brood, you can imagine what role I got to play. With my ten-year-old sadist hat firmly on my head, I locked my younger brother and sister in dark closets where giant hungry talking penises lived, I made them streak through the house wearing only a hanger for ‘clothing’, I made them lie prostrate on the ground while rubbing their face into the carpet for a timed interval, I tilted them backwards in a ‘dentist chair’ and water boarded them until they couldn’t stand it. Only the niggling boredom of childhood summers and sick days could have motivated my siblings to go along with such a game. A game in which they were eternal victims, persecuted for the crime of their birth order.
In addition to terrorizing others, as a child, I was also terrorized by my own mind. At night I would slink into my sibling’s bedrooms, pleading with them to take me in. I was scared I had been infected with HIV from a syringe sticking up between the seats at the movie theatre. I was afraid of hobos jumping off the train behind our house and scratching at my window. I worried I would kill myself or someone else in my sleep. To wit, at night I would enlist my brother and sister to hide all the knives in the house. I would order them to pile furniture by the exits, making tiny barricades out of chairs, stools, and tables, then tightly secure them with bungie cords to prevent me from jumping off the balcony during a somnambulistic episode. When I came to them in the middle of the night, they would mostly swat me away or throw a book at my head, but sometimes they let me crawl in next to them. I was a tortured child as well as torturer of children.
My brother and sister are the only people with whom I’ve ever had a physical altercation. I can remember chasing my brother around the back yard screaming that I was going to ‘break his fucking legs’. I remember him screaming in his high pitched pre-pubescent voice as he ran; a strangled squeak trailing through the air like a ribbon. I know that we fought a lot, although I’m not sure if we fought more than is normal. I also know that I was responsible for the majority of the fights, which I initiated and then fibbed my way out of, lying to the death with absolutely zero compunction.
Nowadays, things have changed. When we go to a restaurant, one of us will order first, and then the rest of us, like an echo chamber, will intone same. Beet salad with goat cheese, same. Miso ramen no onion extra noodles, same. Spinach and ricotta tortellini, same. Shirley Temple, same. Diet Coke, same. I’ll have the same. We agree for the most part on movies, except Snatch and Reservoir dogs, which my brother loves and which my sister and I tease him for loving. We agree on people and dogs, except King Charles Spaniels and Corgis (I love Corgis and my sister isn’t down, my sister loves King Charles Spaniels and I’m meh on them). We like lemons, pickles, true crime, bookstores, cats. We don’t like team sports, animal meat, or thrill seeking. We are staunchly opposed to aquariums and zoos and strongly in favour of universal healthcare. When I’m out with my sister we are often mistaken for a lesbian couple. When I’m out with my brother, we are often mistaken for a heterosexual couple. Even though I am four inches taller than my sister and have paler skin, darker hair, lighter eyes, we are still often mistaken for twins. In other words, it is easy to see the intimacy between us but not so easy to imagine the family tree.
In our unity, I’m fairly certain we can be quite insufferable. Our circle is a tight one, and its existence goes some way in explaining my modest need for a social life outside of my family. This has been problematic for many of my extra-familial relationships. I’ve had some people go so far as to suggest our relationship with one another is ‘unnatural’ or ‘abnormal’.
Did I mention we all live together in one house? I am 35, my sister is 32, and my brother is 30. My sister and I live on the main floor of a large heritage house, with my husband and our friend. My brother lives downstairs. Before living downstairs, he lived in a basement suite in the house next door. His move from next door into the big house, was the last stitch in a geography of relationships that has ebbed and flowed over the years, finally coming to find us all living beneath the same roof.
After high school we briefly went our separate ways. My sister moved to Kingston for university, I stayed in Vancouver and then moved to Arizona for graduate school. My brother bounced around Vancouver’s west end making movies and trying to kick start his film career. And then there were all the places where we stayed too long to be considered mere travellers and not long enough to claim residency: India, Nepal, Japan, Spain, France, Cuba, Mexico, Toronto. Like moving coordinates on a map we zig zagged back and forth, moving away and then towards one another over time, dancing across latitude and longitude in seemingly random ways.
In 2011, I moved to an apartment in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. It was a block away from my sister, who had recently broken up with a long-time boyfriend after he revealed a string of egregious infidelities. She didn’t like being alone, but mostly she did not want to live with me. I was messy. I left dishes in the sink. I clipped my toenails and threw the clippings behind the sofa. I forgot to flush the toilet. I put empty milk bottles back into the fridge. I left old coffee cups in the cup holders in her car. I got parking tickets and failed to fill the gas tank. I raided her closet and wore her clothes and didn’t wash them or hang them back up right. I had a reputation for losing things, which I still feel was unwarranted. I ran around naked like a banshee. And I was poor. I ate her food, mooched of her cable and big screen TV, tagged along on trips and expeditions and had my way paid. It’s easy to understand why she didn’t want to live with me. To top it off, during this time, I had my third major depressive episode. So whereas ordinarily I could at least offer good entertainment value, now I mostly slept on the couch watching reruns of all nine seasons of the Office on Netflix in a faux-velour robe that was missing the tie. My depression isn’t the romantic tearful variety. My depression is the flat stare at the walls and watch paint dry variety. You can imagine how much fun that is to live with. I slept most nights at my sister’s house, sharing a bed like when we were kids. Eventually I abandoned my old apartment altogether, left it in mid sentence, with a sink full of dishes and a mound of clothes the height of a Saint-Bernard that smelled like old camping gear. Everything in the apartment was coated with a thick chalky film, the remnants of a battle between diatomaceous earth and a flea colony. I was like a Floridian during the housing crash, walking away from their luxury home, loaded up with whatever would fit in their arms.
Back then, my uniform consisted of a pair of Lululemon pants and a tangerine-colored down jacket. I also wore a bright flowered headband, vermillion, teal, and scarlet daisies intertwining across its length. You know how we say people’s clothes express who they are on the inside? In this case, my vivid exterior provided a direct counter to what I was feeling on the inside. In this case, my outside denied my inside. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that the only part of me left in colour was my outer shell. Everything inside had gone black.
Finally, the opportunity to move into a fantastic heritage home on Vancouver’s east side arose. At this point, I had taken time off school and work and was too depressed to go look at the house. I trust you I said to my sister and the next week, I moved into the house sight unseen.
The block distance between my sister and I had now been shrunk down to just one hallway. She lived at one end of the hall, I lived at the other, and our childhood friend lived in the bedroom in between. I was a zombie for a while before pulling out of my depression. I don’t think I unpacked any of my boxes for the first six months. I lived amongst towers of books and books in boxes and giant tupperware bins full of unmatched earrings and knotted chains and grimy sterling silver rings from adolescence.
“The greatest adventure in life, is finding a home in this world”. Someone said this, but I don’t know who. I read this quote in graduate school and it followed me back to Vancouver, where I wrote it on a polaroid of my pug Violet, and tacked in on the bathroom mirror. I don’t know exactly what it means or why it called to me. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I lived in 14 houses before the age of 18. Or the fact that I have now lived in 21 houses overall. I’ve lived in my current house for five years, and it occurs to me that this is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.
I live in this house with my brother, my sister, our roommate Julia, and my husband. I have to be honest, this isn’t the way I pictured things. I always imagined marrying a man who wore a suit to work every day, having a house with a mortgage, having three kids, driving some kind of sports utility vehicle. There is no reason I should have pictured such a life-it wasn’t even the life I necessarily wanted. I was thoughtlessly throwing myself in the direction of the life I grew up in, without thinking what other lives might exist; without a full understanding of what it really means to find a home in this world.