What A Brother Means To Me
by Ruby Bayan - 04/28/00
My brother Ronald and I were born in the mid-fifties. Just the two of us. And because we grew up in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, we spent most of our younger days dodging inquisitive stares from friends and schoolmates who all had no less than four brothers and sisters. At least we had each other. It was okay. Well, most of the time.
Ronald is two years younger than me. I would've been thankful I had a brother, if only I didn't envy him. As we grew up, I couldn't help getting jealous. Oh, I had special privileges for being first-born. But he also had his for being the youngest. And although our toys were, of course, his and hers, I still felt envious of him.
It's not just the special attention he got. It was him, himself. First of all, he inherited the fairer skin and the sculptured nose of our mother's Spanish ancestry; I inherited the dark skin and pug nose of our father's native Filipino forefathers.
Ronald was always at the top of his class. Graduated valedictorian in elementary and high school. He was a full scholar at La Salle Greenhills, one of the premier private schools in Manila. Mother got tired of framing all his medals and certificates. Me, I had only two medals for second honors.
My brother could draw. He had the eye-hand coordination, the patience, and the style. He had a gift. I didn't have any -- or nothing to match his. I felt ordinary compared to him. I wanted to be like him.
Maybe it's the typical sibling rivalry phenomenon. Mother said she caught me maliciously squeezing Ronald's hand as he lay in his crib a few days after they brought him home from the nursery. I think I just never outgrew the fear that a baby brother would steal the limelight from this pretty little Ruby.
What I didn't know was, Ronald had also been secretly envious of me! He admitted it many years after we had moved on to lead our own separate lives.
I realized the extent of his envy when I studied how to draw charcoal portraits. Ronald was into photography at that time. A co-worker succeeded in convincing me to try my hand at portraiture. So, with patience and persistence, I was able to create a number of sketches, including a life-size portrait of a very pretty subject -- Ronald's wife, Gem.
Of course, they both liked the portrait. But I didn't know that Ronald wouldn't be able to stand the idea that I was capable of drawing -- a portrait, no less. After all, HE was the artist in the family.
A few months later, on my birthday, Ronald handed me a present -- something he had privately been working on -- a larger-than-life pastel portrait of me! Pastel portraits are much harder to do than charcoal, so, in effect, he put me in my place. I admitted, he's a much better artist than me.
We both laughed at ourselves. And sometime during that period in our lives, he confessed that he had also been jealous of me. He saw me as someone he wanted to be -- gregarious, exuberant, and always on the go. At least that's what I remember he said.
From then on I dismissed my hidden jealousy for my younger brother. He's special in my eyes, but now I know I'm special in his, too. I should've known all along.
When I left the Philippines almost two years ago, Ronald embraced me real tight as we said good-bye at the airport. I haven't seen him since and I miss him terribly. I took for granted all the time we had growing up together. Now that we're thousands of miles apart, I look back at the time we could've spent enjoying each other's company.
But then again, our childhood memories will always be with us. Wherever we are. And we will always be the one brother and the one sister that we have always been to each other.