When I was eighteen years old, my half-brother X disappeared. I have two half-brothers, X and Y, my father's sons, both of whom are about twenty years older than I. Obviously, we were not raised together, and we never even lived in the same house together, although, come to think of it, I seem to remember X living in the spare bedroom in our house for a few months when I was little. For reasons that are somewhat opaque to me, having their foundations in events that occurred before I was born, there have always been serious tensions in the relationship between my half-brothers and my family. Y categorically refused, for ten years or more, to have any contact at all; X was more present, but intermittently hostile. None of these things were directed at me. I was a pretty little girl upon whom everyone doted, X and Y included, and they tried their best to be brotherly. If anything, I was closer to X, as he came around more often. He was jokey and goofy and enjoyed making me laugh. Once, when I was little, he took me to the zoo, and I also remember him trying to teach me about right and left, and I also have a copy of The Hobbit and a Joanna Hurwitz book with birthday inscriptions from him. Inevitably, though, adult issues interceded, and overall I did not see much of my brothers. I always tell people that I am an only child.
When I was a senior in high school, X invited me to come visit him for a week in California. I did, and though I told everyone including myself that it was really fun, the visit was in fact somewhat harrowing. X, though essentially kind, was clearly not quite OK. He maintained an unsteady veneer of casual jokeyness, and his sense of humor was very much intact, but his overall behavior was random, manic, and overwrought. He talked at me incessantly, loading me with bitter diatribes about politics, economics, and various members of our family. Also, he had the alarming habit of falling into abrupt deep sleeps, sometimes almost mid-sentence. The entire experience destabilized me intensely, so much so that, some time towards the end of the week, I broke down and sobbed at a restaurant over mussels, in the middle of yet another furious spiel about I don't know what. At the time, I assured X and myself that I was just tired because we had done so much sightseeing that day.
About three months later, X disappeared. For awhile, we just couldn't reach him, and we thought maybe he was busy. Then his office - he held a high position in finance - said he was on sick leave for back trouble, which none of us had known he had. Then his home answering machine had a new outgoing message, a weird one of a jostling, muffled conversation, as though someone had inadvertently hit the record button with an elbow. Then his office said he was gone, and they had no further information. Then his home number was disconnected. That was twelve years ago, and I have not heard from him since.
Today, my father emailed me a phone number that he had gotten hold of somehow, saying he thought it might be X's number. I called right away, and the person on the other end gave me a cell phone number. I called the cell phone number, and my brother answered. His voice, as always, was jokey and goofy, and I could not tell what he was feeling, other than faint surprise.
"I can't talk right now, because I'm in a meeting!" He said, "No, I really am! Aren't I in a meeting?" And he must have held his phone up to the room, because I heard five or six voices - "He's in a meeting!" "He's in a meeting!"
I suddenly remembered that when I went to visit California, I had arrived at the airport only to find that he not there to pick me up. When I called him, he was jokey and goofy and apologetic. "Sorry, honey! I'm here with a friend, cleaning my apartment for you, and I didn't get done in time! Here, talk to her, she'll tell you!" And he handed the phone to a dead-voiced woman who said, "He's been cleaning his apartment." When I got to his apartment - by cab - she was still there, blond and scruffy and Courtney-Love-like in jeans and a fatigue jacket, to my eyes too young and too dirty to be the appropriate companion for a middle-aged executive. She left, and I did not see her again that week.
This morning, hearing "He's in a meeting!", I wondered who was in the room with my brother. Was he in a fancy office like the one where he used to work? Was he surrounded by people in khakis and button-downs, or more Courtney Loves? Was he tricking me? "This is your number, right?" He asked cheerily. "I'll call you back when I'm finished!"
I have not heard back from him yet.