This sounds like it’s about me, but, like everything in the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed world, it’s about writing.
Charlie’s birthday was yesterday. Mine is coming up. Charlie has been getting birthday cards all week. I haven’t.
It isn’t that nobody likes me. Charlie’s cards are from his two brothers and three sisters. I’m an only child.
I know there’s this whole psychology thing about birth order and about “onlys” versus siblings. I don’t read up on those things much, because I think it has to be streamlined and simplified in order to make it accessible to non-experts. When you simplify a complex subject, it tends to get stereotyped and stiffened and falsified. Then you get fiction with a certain cookie-cutter aspect, and that’s no fun.
But I’m here to tell you, there are more differences between an only and a sibling than just the number of birthday cards in the mailbox.
Charlie’s mother had three brothers and a sister, and his father’s father had umpty-ump brothers and sisters. I’m the only child of an only child of an only child. None of us have been genealogically inclined. How many family stories do you think I have, in comparison to Charlie? Not very, that’s how many.
I have family stories about aunts and uncles, and the cousins are full of stories, which is one of the many reasons I was so delighted to have lunch with them the other day, but the stories of my line go back as far as my grandparents, and that’s it.
I’m not complaining, mind you. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be unencumbered by decades and centuries of other people’s lives. It’s just a different thing.
Charlie and his siblings have lots of stories in common — and not in contention. They get together and reminisce and debate details and dates. I don’t have a common history with anybody from my childhood. Mom and I can compare some things, but kids in those days spent a hair-raising amount of time unsupervised, and many of my memories have no known witnesses.
Again, it makes my adult re-experiences of childhood very different from Charlie’s. My memories feel private; it’s difficult for me to dredge them up and share them. Mine come with the traumas, fears, guilty pleasures, and emotions both negative and positive that thrill and baffle a child. Mine are wrapped in none of the familiarity that comes from pushing the memories around through the years hand-in-hand with loved ones who were there — or, at least, somewhere in the vicinity.
Sometimes Charlie remarks that I very seldom talk about childhood memories. When I do, he generally goes away with his hair curled. And I had a happy childhood. But even a happy childhood is a bizarre place to a child who has no perspective or experience yet, and the memories are just as bizarre, without sibs or childhood friends who can go, “That’s not a thing, forget it,” or “But then don’t you remember this happened and then it was all right?”
THE POINT IS, your characters live and relive their memories differently, depending on who they had to share them with and who they had to review them with. You may not need to deal with that but, if your character is feeling a little thin or flat, deal with it, if only as an exercise.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Does your main character have any siblings or childhood friends?