My Brother Told Me: "Get a Real Job!"
He dove into his two patty burger with relish, taking a large bite as meat juice ran down his chin. I picked at my salad. We sat in silence listening to rock music blaring from the overhead speakers. I suggested this place, since it was close to my brother's home. It's rare that I visit and rather than aimlessly drive around the flat, grassy plains of Calgary's suburbs, it seemed a good idea to stop here.
Franchise restaurants all have the same decor nowadays. The large booths lit with 40 watt bulbs and a lounge area for drinkers. The maple brown colors, wrought iron and glass -- all fit into the picture of modernity.
It was a bit alien to me since I've been living abroad for three years now. My world is made up of two-wheeled transportation, exposed pipes in a bathroom and chicken buses.
Our silence wasn't about chewing food and sipping Coca-Cola. It was tension.
It began with a question.
"So, how is teaching in China going?"
"Uh fine. My contract ended with that main unversity and I was kind of scrambling to figure out what to do next. I've got a little debt that I want to clear up. I applied to a few schools and even interviewed with a school in Japan. Wouldn't it be cool to live there? But then that fell through, until I decided to stay at a private college on the same campus."
"Yeah, it worked out Hmmm.. so yeah, I'm curious, if someone in a similar lifestyle as yours runs out of money, then what do they do? It seems to me they'd be screwed, you know without any security. If you're doing a job like that... and you stop working for them or they don't keep you."
Security. The operative word. That's when tension rose and blurted from my mouth.
"Your example is no different than someone who is laid off from their job and they don't have any savings. It would be the same scenario."
So the silence descended. The air heavy with what we can't say to each other.
With my brother, it's always the implicit meanings. He tailors his life around investments and always having a job that fulfills that ultimate drive: making the uncertain, certain.
When I first announced to him that I planned to quit my job and travel indefinitely, I didn't hear congratulations or a sense of respect for trying to live my life to the fullest.
"You're older, I'm only concerned about your future."
"Are you going to keep doing this forever?"
I know that deep down he doesn't approve of my lifestyle and this hurts.
As a woman, I made the unusual choice to ignore one template and carve out another, and with this choice, it baffles the people I love the most.
I wonder if it also scares them. Not because my future hangs in the balance, but because I haven't followed the prescribed formula of how a single woman should behave.
I'm not man-hunting, shopping at Nordstorm's, or bemoaning my vacant womb. I don't think the fast paced, pressure driven existence in North America is the end all, be all.
If I were a twinkly eyed 25 year old, would my brother give his rubber stamp? Because by the time 30 hits, dreams are only fantasy. You can play at them, use this or that to be your muse, but then it's time to get serious.
My 'serious' is accumulating experiences, not money. Or meeting a local who jazzes me up with a different point of view. Taking in a slow sunset. Seeing the splendour of a palace rooted in history.
My dear brother believes there's a single method that rises above the others on how to live or earn. That a job can't entail many definitions. That a person's life is lived by one path, instead of hundreds.
I guess I'll continue to play this role. His nutjob, wacky sister who lives across the world. I'll smile patiently at his barbed questions, hug him close when I hop on that flight and let him be who he is.
In the restaurant, ACDC segued into Queen, which broke the silence as we laughed about the memory of our clunky, wooden stereo, how we always fought over what band to play next. I wanted Rick Springfield, he bullied me into Def Leppard. Such a head-banger.
My big brother. Everything is right again.