Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Homonyms

I committed the super cardinal sin of all time yesterday: I called home, and I identified my older-younger brother as my YOUNGER-younger brother on the telephone.

They sound DEAD ALIKE. Older-younger (he's 25) is hanging at home while preparing for the bar exam (I know, I know: Far too many lawyers in my family); younger-younger is turning 16 next week and so still actually lives there. Older-younger rarely answers the phone; younger-younger frequently does and uses monosyllabic words. So when Older-younger answered all monosyllabically, I launched into polite small talk intended for younger-younger.

I was so. embarrassed.

Children from multi-sibling families, like myself, know the deep annoyance that comes from being confused with a sibling. (And boys, when they're young and their voices haven't changed, often get confused with sisters.) Siblings tend to answer the phone the same way, the way their parents do, and they all have a similar intonation when they do so. But oh my God, I really should be able to tell my brothers apart on the telephone, don't you think?

What's worse is that they've traded haircuts: Older-younger used to be buzzed and has grown it out; younger-younger used to have long hair with a cowlick and now he's all buzzed. So when I see them from the back, now that younger-younger is nearly older-younger's height, they look backwards to me. Of course, older-younger hasn't buzzed his hair since he was 13 (some 12 years ago), but as the oldest I feel it is my privilege to live entirely in the past with respect to my siblings' hairstyles, bizarre food preferences, and so forth. The major benefit to being the oldest is that I recall far more stories about them than they recall about me, because I was already two years old before my mom started adding to the brood. (Two years spot on, actually - Older-younger brother arrived on my actual birthday.) So I remember all kinds of embarrassing things about them which they missed about me.

But I confused my two brothers yesterday. I suppose this isn't so bad; I had a roommate when I was in law school who was from Kansas, and our voices were so dead similar that our mothers and our fiances couldn't tell us apart when we answered the phone. (And props to her - I know she's reading - for being all pregnant!) But still. It's so horrible when you answer the phone and someone thinks you're your mother, or whatever. As a member of a four-child family, I know the pain of being confused with one's siblings. So I'm not sure I'll ever get over confusing my brothers, who internally are very little alike, if externally their voices are dead ringers for one another.

At least they're both at the same phone number. I'd be far more embarrassed if I thought I called one, really called the other, and ended up all confused. Because that's totally the kind of thing I'd do. And then I'd call whoever answered by the dog's name, because frankly I'm just not good with names. Even with blood relatives I've known since birth. I have problems.

Incidentally, and while we're on the subject of brothers, it turns out that seeing one's 15-year-old brother for the first time in five months and crowing, "Oh my God, you have such a cute little pimpstache!" is not really what 15-year-old boys want to hear. So sorry again, younger-younger. It's just that I'm pre-emptively old. If you had chubby cheeks, I'd have to pinch them and remark on how you've grown. Count your blessings.

2 comments:

Phoibos said...

I am a counter-tenor and my wife is a contralto, so my voice is often actually higher than hers.

Early in our marriage, her mother would call and be unable to tell us apart on the phone. You think *you* were embarrassed? :-)

Sara said...

There are worse things. Like answering the phone and having the caller ask - Can I speak to your mother or father?. I'm three decades old and my voice isn't that childish.