by Maya Pontone
The first thing I noticed was his height.
Before I had left for school in August, I was used to resting my chin on top of my brother’s head whenever he gave me a hug. But when Carter greeted me at the front door with that awkward side-hug so many 13 year-olds give, I was startled when the scruff of his dirty blonde hair brushed up against my cheek and ears. It had only been three months since I’d last seen him, but in that short time frame, I had clearly missed a lot. Now he was nearly as tall as me.
I can distinctly remember, in the weeks leading up to my first year of school, dreading the changes in my relationship with my family. I knew that while leaving home would give me the freedom to be my own person, it also meant separation from the people I saw every day from my first days of preschool to my last days of high school. As the oldest of three younger siblings, I wasn’t fully aware of the impact their daily presence had on my growth until I realized what my absence during some of the most formative years of their lives meant.
It suddenly hit me that I wouldn’t be there to offer guidance during their awkward middle school years, or to comfort them during the frustrating chaos of high school. Family group chats and phone calls could never replace sitting next to them at the kitchen counter while they struggled with Algebra homework, or listening to them from the front seat of the car while complained about some text a stupid boy sent them, or teasing them in the bathroom when they drunkenly brushed their teeth after their first party. Visits home over breaks wouldn’t just be vacations, but desperate attempts to play catch-up on all that I had missed in my siblings’ lives in the months I had been gone.
I never understood the true extent of everyone’s temporary presence in each of our lives until I realized those closest to me were no longer with me. I always considered my family to be permanent. But in reality, no one is meant to last forever. Regardless of how intertwined our lives may be with others, we are all leading separate lives; this truth can be hard to remember sometimes when we become unconsciously reliant on others’ unwavering presence.
Growing up, there were times when I felt overwhelmed by my family’s close proximity. It did not matter if I fled upstairs to my bedroom or snuck downstairs into the basement—there was no corner of the house where I could escape the noise of my family’s incessant yelling, laughing, crying, bickering, whining, and barking. I didn’t know then how much I would eventually yearn for this chaos when faced with the loneliness of individual silence