I don’t see Uncle Jordan much. I’m not bothered, really.
It’s not that I don’t like Uncle Jordan. He’s a cool guy, I guess. I know Mom likes it when he comes to visit. And all of my brothers and sisters look forward to seeing him. But visits from Uncle Jordan usually involve some sort of awkward ‘talk’ between us, and I can never really figure out how to deal with them.
When Byron, Adam and I turned 16, Mom threw us a party in the back yard. Not a wild party or anything – I mean, Mom was in charge of it – but it wasn’t bad. Most of our cousins came, which was cool. We don't see them very often.
But to be honest, I don’t really like birthdays.
Most of the time, my family is used to having three identical brothers around. On our birthday, we’re kind of treated differently. Like suddenly they’ve just realised we all age on the same day. It sucks to hear the same jokes about clones and identical thought patterns over and over again – especially from the people you live with. The people who should be used to you; the people who should know you as individuals and not just as a set.
Most of the time, I like being a triplet. But I guess as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered just how hard it is to forge your own personality, and I think I get it worse than Byron and Adam.
Because there’s no Uncle Byron and there’s no Uncle Adam, but there’s an Uncle Jordan.
On our sixteenth birthday, most of our cousins left early. Our house hasn’t got a lot of space, so most of our aunts, uncles and cousins left after cake in the afternoon. The younger kids were all crashed out after a sugar high anyway.
I was clearing away paper plates and napkins – something Mom had assigned me to – when Uncle Jordan found me and clapped me on the shoulder.
No kidding, I thought. What tipped you off?
I said, “Yeah.”
Uncle Jordan shrugged and I felt sort of bad. I don’t know what I don’t like him. The others all love him. And it’s not like he’s ever done anything to cause such dislike, really.
Except share my name.
“How’s school?” he asked.
He nodded and helped me load another pile of dirty paper plates into the trash bag I was hiding.
“Had a good day?” he asked.
The poor guy seemed like he was really struggling for conversation. I couldn’t see why he was bothering, really. We can never talk easily. It’s always awkward. It’s probably my fault.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool.” I picked up a crumpled napkin and tossed it into the trash. “Thanks for coming,” I added after a moment.
“Oh, sure,” he said, sounding surprised. “Sure, no problem.” He cleared his throat.
I started to wish he’d go and bother someone else. Any single one of my siblings would be pleased to talk to him.
“You know,” he said, giving the same breathless laugh Mom makes when she’s nervous, “I always find it harder to talk to you than your siblings.”
He’d said exactly what I was thinking, but I still felt offended for a moment. I just nodded and concentrated on clearing away plates. One of them had a bit of cake left on it and I wondered if it’d be considered too gross if I picked it up and ate it. Lunch seemed forever ago.
“I always feel like I need to set an example, you know?” Uncle Jordan scratched the back of his neck.
I abandoned the clean up, trying to pin down why I felt so bothered. “Yeah,” I said after a moment. I frowned. “I feel like I’ve gotta live up to you.” I lowered my voice, glancing around for Mom. “I hate it,” I admitted quietly. “I’ve already got two people I’m constantly competing with. I don’t need another one.”
Uncle Jordan grinned at me. He looked sort of relieved. “I haven’t set a terribly high standard,” he said.
I grinned back, feeling a little better about things. “Byron and Adam don’t have this problem.”
“Well, Adam was named after your grandfather. But he’s dead, so it’s not hard to outdo him at most things.”
I laughed, and Uncle Jordan looked like he was relaxing a little. I felt kinda bad about making things difficult for him before.
He looked down at his hands after glancing around for the others. “I try really hard not to favour you,” he said quietly. “I think I tried so hard that I did the opposite. I think things between us are a little colder than they should be.” He looked upset.
I hoped this wasn’t going to turn into one of those moments you see on Jerry Springer, where people cry and everything escalates into a shouting match with lawn chairs being thrown around because emotions have been suppressed.
“It’s okay,” I said.
Uncle Jordan shrugged. “I was beside myself when Dee named one of her kids after me, you know.” He grinned again. “I felt like I had a duty of some kind. Like it’d be me who would teach you all this cool stuff, like how to talk Pig Latin –”
“You did teach us that,” I said, grinning at the memory.
He looked surprised, and pleased. “Did I?” He shrugged again and continued. “Anyway, once you started walking and talking, Byron and Adam were with you every step of the way, and I thought... you know... I can’t treat them any differently. But you’d been labelled different anyway, because you had my name, and I wasn’t sure what to do...”
“I don’t think I was stunted by any of it,” I said, hoping we weren’t headed for a hug. I’m no good at mushy stuff. (Mom had to birthday-hug me while I was trapped against the door of the fridge that morning, because I kept dodging her.)
Uncle Jordan gave a sigh, a smile, and a shrug. “Happy birthday, anyway, Jordan.”
“Thanks,” I said.
He nodded and walked back towards the house. He looked sort of sad. I hoped it wasn’t my fault.
It wasn’t my fault I’d been named after him. It wasn’t his fault either, and I guess I can’t blame Mom for it. She wasn’t doing a bad thing, naming one of her sons after her brother.
It wasn’t until that day, though – my sixteenth birthday – that I was really able to pin down why I was so bothered by it. It wasn’t until then I realised Uncle Jordan was bothered by it too.
He felt he had to lead, and I felt I had to follow.
It turns out neither is true. All I gotta do is try to figure out who I am.
And I figure, at 16, it's not so bad if I’m not sure who that is yet.