Doesn't Matthew have anything better to think about than remind me of every stupid thing I've done in my life. When he does I end up yelling and crying and looking sooo immature. If he'd just stick his hound dog nose out of my business. But you know what, I've made a mature decision that he's not going to change and I can't make him.
How did I get so smart? My best friend, Alicia, has a brother who got hooked on drugs. To help her deal with her confused feelings, she and her mother started going to Al-Anon meetings. These are confidential, group meetings where people dealing with a loved one's addictions can get help...for themselves, not the addict. So I started reading the Al-Anon material she had in her apartment.
It made a lot of sense to me.
“The basic belief you have to buy into,” explained Alicia, “is that you can't change anyone's behavior, only your own.”
“And how is that working for you?” I glanced up from the booklet.
“It's been hard to let go, but I'm feeling better about myself and even about my brother. And I know my mother has stopped crying herself to sleep every night.”
I don't have anything near the problems Alicia and her family have, but I would like to get along better with my brother. I borrowed her paperback on How Al-Anon Works and stayed up late reading.
That's when I made the resolution to be kinder to my brother and not worry about changing him. But I would also take care of myself and do things that made me feel good.
Matthew is a dentist. I mention this because it explains his strange hobby of collecting old tooth pick holders. As I lay in bed the following morning, I tried to think of how I could be kinder to him and also to myself. New Year's Day, which was also Matthew's birthday, was two days away. Since it was so close to Christmas, he always got a combo-present. I thought maybe he felt slighted because of this, but he never said so. But I decided that one way I could be kinder to him was to find a special gift for him on his actual birthday and then let it go. If he criticized my choice or said I was wasting money, I wouldn't react.
I gave him a subscription to Rolling Stone for Christmas, which was mean because I knew he'd go on a rampage about its editorial content. I needed to turn a new page in our relationship. I would go out and find a 'good' present for him, even if it backfired on me.
On my lunch hour from my job as a paralegal, I dashed out to “Second Hand Rosie's”. I didn't know what kind of special item I'd find but I enjoyed browsing there. So I was being good to myself, too.
Short on time, I went right to the owner, Leon—he'd inherited the store's name when he bought it—and asked if he had any toothpick holders.
“Hey, you came at the right time. I just got some boxes of junk—errr, I mean wonderful merchandise—from a house sale. I think one of those old timey ones was in it. It's in that box next to the stuffed bobcat. Look for a flash of red.”
Everything in the box looked old and dirty, but I did see something red. I gingerly pulled it out and smiled. It was the cutest thing. A red headed bird was perched ready to pick up a toothpick from a hollowed out log, about four inches long. It was made of painted metal, dusty but not chipped. Perfect for Matthew.
I bargained with Leon a little and finally got it for only $40. That night, I cleaned and shined the holder and wrapped it in the financial pages of an old newspaper. I figured if Matthew didn't like the gift, he could always read what interested him.
On New Year's Day, we all met at my parents, I brought a cake for Matthew and after we sang the birthday song and he blew out the candles, I gave him my gift. As usual, everyone else had already given him his combo-Christmas-birthday gift at our Christmas get-together.
“You're giving me a birthday present.” Matthew blinked in surprise. Then reverting to character he said, “Oh, it's wrapped in an old newspaper. I guess it's a joke gift then.” He smirked and tore off the paper. His mouth dropped open when he lifted the holder from its wrappings.
“But this, this is marvelous. I don't know what to say.”
If I didn't know better I would have thought I saw his eyes water. But I did know better so I braced myself to not respond when he started criticizing the gift and me. My New Year's resolution to treat him kinder included not allowing him to get me upset.
He stared at me. “I...I really don't know what to say. I truly did not expect you to give me such a fantastic gift.” I could have taken offense at his low expectation of me and I did feel as if maybe my resolution to be kinder had backfired. But no matter what he said I knew he was really delighted with the tooth pick holder.
I changed my usual behavior. I didn't snap back at him. I just said, “I'm glad you like it.” and, wonder of all wonders, he reached over and gave me a hug.
Perhaps my resolution didn't backfire after all.