Second Step

Our “home” in Gilbert, Arizona last week.

Until recently I have not talked on my blog about one of the biggest tragedies of my life: losing my relationship with my closest sibling, Travis. A couple years before our mother died, we were fighting, and we had a truce the week Mom died, in December 2011. That was the last time I saw my brother, and practically the last time he communicated with me for ten years, despite my many attempts to communicate with him and his family.

I actually scrolled back through my blog looking for what I had said in the past about the dissolution of my bond with my brother, but the only time I mentioned it was five months ago when I briefly told the story in a blog post. I guess I’ve been too baffled and dismayed to even put it into words.

What I can talk about today is a step toward rebuilding a relationship with my brother Travis again. The first step was communicating with him, which began during the final weeks our father was alive, September 2020. The second step was seeing him, which I did last week for the first time in a decade.

Perfect, perfect neighborhood – one of many in the Phoenix metro area – reminded me of the neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands.
“How is that lawn so perfect?” you may ask. It’s plastic. Perfectly green and trimmed plastic grass in the entire neighborhood. Yes, for real. It makes sense in the desert where water can’t be wasted on lawns.

I have to give credit to my other brother Tanner, who is new to our family. He’s a social person and from day one had this fantasy of getting the siblings together who shared a dad. When we first met, we had to burst his bubble and reveal that the other two of us were not speaking. Tanner set to work right away, to make adjustments to that arrangement. It may very well be the fact that he came in from “outside” the family, with zero baggage as far as we were concerned, that made it possible for us to open up to him. But it’s also because Tanner is relentless in his love, and his pursuit of family peace.

It was Tanner’s idea for us both to come to Arizona and meet Travis on his turf. Our Airbnb rental you see in the photos is close to where Travis lives. I grudgingly did this for Tanner, and maybe a little bit for me. With him by my side to support and protect me, I thought I might have the courage to face my brother. So I agreed to the plan.

But let me tell you. I have had so many months of fear and anxiety. It grew more intense as the date grew closer. When it was time to get into my car and leave my home to begin this road trip, it was terrible. I was tempted to cancel the trip completely. Ah, but in the end, I am still Crystal, and I have learned that when something makes me fearful, that is exactly the thing I am supposed to do.

The inside of the rental house is SO pretty, tasteful, comfortable. There’s my trusty Nikon on the table.
Tanner and his family work well together.

Having Tanner and his family around me was a huge help. I’m not sure they knew how scared I was, or if they did know, they chose the correct approach: leave the topic alone and just hang out and have fun. They are a loving, fun family who work well together and tease each other, and me, and are so generous I had to actively think of ways to pay for things or pitch in because usually they had paid or done the work (cooking, cleaning, laundry) before it even occurred to me.

My second step began earlier in the day, when I went with Tanner to help deliver stuff to a storage unit. Tanner had a load of things to be delivered to Travis. We met at a storage unit and had a task to do. I tried to stay busy to keep myself from freezing like a deer in headlights. Travis held out his arms to hug me in greeting, which blew my mind. He had been actively rejecting me for ten years (in my perception), and the friendliness was completely unexpected. So I hugged him. It was awkward.

Later in the day, after our awesome hike in the desert in my last blog post, we were scheduled to go to Travis’s house and have dinner with them. We hiked too long and were late. That meant we did not have time to go back to the Edward Scissorhands house and clean up. Which meant we all showed up in dusty clothes, all sweaty and stinky with messy hair. That took a lot of pressure off, to be honest.

And somehow, it was ok. I felt wide-eyed and stiff, with a slight ringing in my ears and a constant eye on an escape route, and I think I held my breath for the first 30 minutes. My brother Travis didn’t seem like he was acting differently, but his wife Bridget seemed as spooked as me, which was encouraging – at least one other person seemed to be where I was emotionally.

My nephew and me, at Mom’s house for Thanksgiving 2010. Do we look related here, or what? He’s a teenager now, and as tall as I am. Both of us have MUCH longer hair today. ­čÖé

I got to meet my nephew for the first time since Thanksgiving 2010. I don’t even know him. I don’t know what his joys have been, his losses, his achievements. I don’t know what he thinks of me, or if he even knew I existed before 2020. What has he been told? The pain of it threatened to send me looking for an escape route again.

Tanner introduces himself to Travis’s pup, Lulu. It always helps to bring treats.

After dinner, my nephew wanted to play a card game and to my delight, all the adults were ready to play as well. It was a hilarious game and we all laughed so hard. Tanner’s kids got along with their new cousin. At one point I got a chance to talk privately with Bridget and it was healing for us to be able to talk frankly and acknowledge some things to each other, before Travis came in and steered us away from emotional topics.

Travis, me, Tanner. Yeah, we all look sorta related, too. Guess who did not get any “tall” genes.

Everything, in the end, worked out just fine.

I’m not saying things are great, but I am proud of all of us for doing what we did to get this far. The only thing left now is step three. Whatever that is.

10 thoughts on “Second Step

  1. I’m proud of you too, Crystal. This was one hell of a road trip as such (as I told you, I’d reach Stockholm in Sweden from Tuscany and return too), and then you had this emotional reunion on your mind as well. I’m so glad that it went well and that you laughed together. A beautiful step, whatever step 3 will be.

    1. Ha ha ha! You did tell me and I had forgotten. Yes, a long drive with adventures the whole way, and a big emotional scary meeting at my destination. But we laughed together. Laughter is medicine.

  2. Those are some happy faces, Crystal! And my favorite takeaway from this lovely story is trusting in “I have learned that when something makes me fearful, that is exactly the thing I am supposed to do.” Brava. Our fears are small compared to what it takes to confront them. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I can relate in some ways. Family is complicated for many of us and I’m thankful anytime that it shared. Thank goodness for people like Tanner!

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