The other day I picked up an anthology of short stories about only children at Book People. That's the sort of thing we only children do—try to find books that explain why the hell we are the way that we are. You see, being an only child is not easy. It doesn't come with instructions.
Sure, you get tons of gifts at Christmas, the sole attention of your parents and a bedroom all to yourself. However, being an only child can be very lonely. It can cause you to become disorientated when you're not the focal point of every conversation. It can cause you not to share. Me? I have a problem sharing my food, my mother will readily tell you. I turn into a deranged animal if you ask for a bite. An infamous story involving a pickle and lack of generosity on my part prompted my mother to buy me a cucumber Christmas ornament as a reminder of my gormandizer ways. But come on, a pickle is like subsistence gold to an only child of Jewish decent.
When I was a little kid, I loved being an only child. When I wasn't talking to the mirror, I talked to adults. I thought I was a tiny version of them in Hello Kitty underwear. All the attention was focused on me and I had no snot-nosed little sibling to compete for the affections of the elders in my family. It was a good life. Though we were not wealthy, I never had to go without because there simply wasn't anyone else to have to share with.
When my parents divorced, I realized my chances of getting a sibling suddenly doubled. The night my father was to marry his second wife I had a panic attack. What if he has another kid?! How can he love someone the same amount as me?! How was I going to learn to share my father? It had only been he and I for so long. Luckily, neither my father or mother went on to have another child and my reining title of "Apple of Their Eye" stayed intact.
Ironically throughout this time, I cried myself to sleep every night worrying that my parents would die. I would lie there, vividly envisioning my mother and father being swallowed by dinosaurs or blown up by aliens and leaving me all alone. My entire family gone and me hopeless. Though I did not come from a religious family, I prayed the same little made-up chant every night to ensure my parent's health and longevity. The same phrases repeated over and over; the more OCD, the better chances they wouldn't die, "Please don't let anything happen to them. Please don't let anything happen to them. Please don't let anything happen to them." I'd work myself into such a frenzy that I would eventually crash from mental exhaustion.
Though the tears were real, I knew deep down that the likelihood of me becoming an orphan child were slim. My parents were young, I was young and weren't we all really just going to live forever, anyways? I realized that worrying really didn't help anything, so I learned to stuff my worries into the back of my brain.
Then I grew up. Then I saw the wrinkles become a little more defined on my parent's face after every visit home. The frosty pigment that had taken over their complexion, the folds of skin hanging over their knuckles. The slight aches and pain and prescription pill stories began popping up in conversations more and more. It hit me, just like it did when I was a little girl, but instead of dinosaurs and aliens I understood the truth- one day I would be all alone. One day these two people are going to leave me and my family will be gone. Before that day comes, there will be the gradual display of aging in which at some point I will need to care for them. Just as my only child mother is doing right now with her mother. There will be the questions and fear. There will be wondering if you're making the best choices and wishing for someone who understood what you were going through. It will be at this time that I wish I had my sister to talk to or brother to lean on. A sibling to reminisce about the times when we were young and a family. After my parents are gone, no one will know about our story as a family besides me.
What I wouldn't give to share my pickle now (good thing I'm not a boy, because that would have had a double meaning).