After Covid restrictions and surgery on both hips, Samantha’s twin brother Matt returned from Los Angeles to go on our family vacation. We haven’t seen our son—except on FaceTime—for 19 months, so we were excited.
Would Matt look the same as the last time we saw him? Would we look the same to him or—perish the thought—older? I wasn’t taking any chances. The day before he returned I made a hair appointment for color and blow dry.Much has changed. In our new apartment, Matt no longer has his own bedroom and bath. Instead, he is living on an air mattress at the end of our long living room, not sleeping so well and trying not to grumble about it. When the sunlight pours in, he throws a t-shirt over his face as make-shift eye shades. Still, Matt admires the panoramic views from the balcony and shares them with his girlfriend in London via What’s App.
He marvels at the changes on Second Avenue, all of the lively outdoor restaurant spaces and the young 20-somethings spilling out onto the streets with their exuberant chatter. Matt used to think the Upper East Side was mostly for dinosaurs like his parents. But not anymore.
He sighs. “I used to feel like I was too young to live here. Now (at 30) I feel too old.”
When we ask what he thinks of our new home, he says mostly what we want to hear, that “it’s a cool apartment with amazing views” (though he’s a bit fearful of stepping out on the balcony for too long). I know he wishes he had more privacy when he’s on the phone. But Samantha has graciously (and surprisingly!) allowed her brother to stay in her room when she’s not using it. Sometimes Matt uses our bedroom to take a nap or work with his writing partner. So far, so good. We are all sharing and not killing each other yet, but it’s only the first week.
Speaking of getting along, Matt was able to calm his sister down during an end-of-dinner meltdown. She was actually willing to LISTEN and follow his advice when Howard and I were too weary and upset to deal with her. Miracle of miracles, Samantha was actually grateful for her brother’s help instead of resenting it as she has in the past. She now understands what the word “strategic” means—at least in the context of her dinner eruption.
Thanks to Matt, she now understands that you can’t just apologize and expect everyone to accept it cheerfully and immediately, with no consequence.
“Be super nice for a while and stop making demands on Mom. Even if you don’t care about anyone else’s feelings, use your acting skills, if necessary.” He winks at Samantha.
In spite of ourselves, Howard and I are laughing. Wisely, our daughter has (so far) adopted that strategy.
Lately I’m thinking how much of life chez Elisofon remains the same. Our entry hall is painted red again and displays our Chinese screen and panels. We still have our old foyer table and mirror with the same family photos underneath. Our brightly colored living rug and teal chairs are unchanged, although in new positions. Samantha’s Keep the Change poster and all of the framed newspaper reviews of her film are up again everywhere, much to our daughter’s delight. As in our previous apartment, I have a framed copy of Matt’s poem that he wrote for me on my 50th birthday above my desk. For all of us, mixing the old with the new has made the new apartment feel like home.
“Lots of it still looks familiar,” Matt sounds like he’s trying to persuade himself. “Except of course I don’t have a room.” He must have it found it disconcerting to come home to a different apartment, not having realized that he was saying his final good-bye to his childhood home on his last visit. But my son doesn’t seem nostalgic which, I suppose, is for the best. Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic on his behalf.
Yet Matt does seem happy to see the soldiers that he and his dad collected during his childhood. He remarks that the battlegrounds are more crowded together and that World Wars I and II are being fought on lavender shelves in our bedroom. All those father-son bonding experiences of learning history through collecting soldiers have been preserved. Matt and Howard laugh over the memory of Howard quizzing his son’s girlfriends by asking them to identify the various wars. If the girl knew the Revolutionary War and World Wars I and II, she passed muster. If she didn’t know or guessed wrong, I knew her days were numbered.
Our family photos are still everywhere, surrounding us in our new nest. Visual memories of Matt and Samantha together and separately, with us and without us, cover almost every surface of our new home. Right now, we are all together in the same nest, under the same roof, enjoying a warm but temporary embrace.