The eldest is Antonio. He is beautiful, with perfect bone structure, broad shoulders and flowing brown hair that he tucks behind his ears when chatting. After long showers and gazing at himself in the bathroom mirror, he combs his wet hair and strolls around the house in a white towel while his hair dries naturally into thick wilting curls. On the streets, women gaze upon him as they approach. Young waitresses ask him out while he’s on dates with other young, gorgeous women. I’ve seen countless delicate, wedding-ringed hands cradle his hair whilst looking into his face. He often fiddles with his hair himself, absentmindedly and never fails to catch his reflection in car or shop window. Although he’s aware of his beauty, he pretends it’s exaggerated by others and pretends to be teased by it. We all tease him for it. His brother’s are relentless. Yet he has a certain resilience that he’s carved out over the years. He took their sister’s death with utmost maturity and wisdom. He was the rock, and kept his calm, when the rest of us had our guts tightened with despair. Antonio is a beautiful boy with a beautiful heart.
The next eldest is Fredrik. He is sharp-witted and jittery. He has a knack for conversation and always has something to say. He enjoys the casual sport of tennis on grass and books on literary theory, history and religion. He is held back, somewhat, by his yearning to impress his superiors, like me, his father – and my wife – his university lecturers, and others he meets who are well read in the fine arts. Maybe this is good for him, as it provides motivation. I certainly do not discourage it, though I hope one day he will aim to impress only himself. That is what I try to teach my sons, but, admittedly, this yearning for attention from Fredrik can be quite flattering if I’m caught off guard. He can be a great delight and has well considered opinions and I enjoy our discussions.
He drinks furiously and I suppose the drink and hard drugs are, in part, a way of coping with his sister’s death. I encourage him to speak with Antonio about it, but they often clash horns. I am not too concerned about his drinking and hedonism, as he always does what needs to be done regardless of his hangovers. He was naughty, loud, and angry as a young boy, and I admit to sometimes spiking his porridge with a little port to calm his nerves. Thereby, I feel somewhat responsible for his current thirst for wine and beer. Still, he is the feistiest and most shrewd of all my boys and I love him dearly.
Then there are the twins, Cameron and Dmitri. They could not be more opposite. Cameron is meek and a little snakish and jealous, whilst Dmitri is bold and self-assured. They are similar only in their overall virtue of kindness towards others and towards each other. Growing up, we were often concerned that Cameron preferred men to women. Back then, this would have caused him difficulties. Society was not so accepting as today. Nowadays it is something to be proud of. Regardless of our concerns, he has had various flings with both men and women, I am told. I’ve met a few of the women only, as I’m sure thinks I have old fashioned views towards homosexuality. The women he brings home are all pallid impressions of his mother. Pretty clothes, and kind, petite faces – but no backbone. As a child, he spent hours drawing and colouring-in in his bedroom. He clung to his mother and stroked her cashmere skirts and sheer blouses until drifting off to sleep. I found him hard to relate to and he often reeled from my attempts at discipline. He hated sport and still does and as a teenager, he would spend hours talking to girls on the landline, causing mighty arguments around the house as others wanted to use the phone - or the Internet, which had just been invented and would dial-in through the same line. His twin brother had no use for either the phone or the internet for he was a man of the earth. Nonetheless, he often defended poor Cameron when the others boys jeered at him. Despite being so different, the two have maintained a certain twin-comradery. Dmitri once wrapped a towel around Antonio’s face to stop him from disturbing Cameron’s phone call. This sent Antonio into a fit of rage, but try has he might, he could not free himself. It sent me into hysterics, but I had to cut it short before it got out of hand.
Dmitri spent his childhood outside, playing basketball with the Latinos and Africans in the gravel courts down the road. If he was interested in something, like basketball, he would give it all his energy until he was better than all those around him. Then, at the slight chance of being beaten, he would abandon the project altogether and try his hand at something entirely different. This happened once when a new kid, only 14, but 6’1’’ entered the basketball courts on the first day of the summer school holidays; he wiped the floor with Dmitri and his friends. Dmitri came home silent, brooding. He didn’t eat his dinner, and spent the week trudging through the corridors of our house like an assassin planning his kill. I told him to get out of house and when he did he walked to the nearest town and came across an old gym full of ex-convicts and street-kids. The owner there took a liking to him and, with my permission, set him up with some hand straps and gloves. Dmitri’s single mindedness and utter loathing towards limitation and servitude turned him into a fine boxer. Though, one day, he entered a competition. He was ill-matched in experience and was knocked out in the first round. After that, he never touched his gloves again. I do wish he would stick to one thing. He is so smart and fierce; he could master anything if he put his mind to it. Though time is running out; he won’t be young forever.
Perhaps largely due to the fortitude and protection gifted so naturally from his twin brother, Cameron has been able to blossom in his pursuits without fear of too much teasing. He has done well for himself in the field of art, as we suspected and encouraged, but, I dare say, my wife continues to coddle him far too much, and his art suffers as a result. He is soft and scared. If he only followed his heart and not sought safety in whims and trends of the masses, he, I’m sure, would create timeless masterpieces. Currently, he is all gloss and product. Though, I suspect many artists must fight this battle, and I do not blame him for it. I blame the treacherous pop noise that surrounds him daily.
Bertrand, the youngest of my five eldest boys, has also found himself in the arts. But not in a glossy manner, like Cameron. He is an artist in is blood and his heart and can do nothing else. He prioritises truth and art above people and is therefore so often misunderstood as a brute. He lives in poverty and has ruined many friendships and two marriages. It is clear to the whole family that Bertrand would prefer to say one truthful thing to one person, than to earn a fortune by faking it through society’s hoops. Even I, his father, find myself second guessing my words in the presence of Bertrand. I fear his bullshit-meter was bestowed upon him directly for a higher place and I dare not challenge it. I am very careful with my words around him.
Aaron, the middle child, is one of my favourites, though of course I’m not supposed to have favourites. The arrow of his being is cocked and aimed directly towards connecting with others. To be with him is to form a duo of warmth and excitement that nothing outside can penetrate. His only trouble is he yearns to connect with everyone. This inevitably results in false-alliances and misguided loyalty. I have urged him to pick his friends discernibly, but his love for humankind is too blindingly strong to be fractured by acumen. He has great fun in his life and he is adored by many. But if that adoration ever turns to disapproval, or even indifference, he becomes anxious and worried and frantically tries to claw back lost bonds. Where the boy excels in geniality, he lacks in direction. He puts relationships first and career second. I urge him to try and meld the two, though, I admit, it is a difficult task.
Stephen is a pain and I haven’t got much more to say about him. I once caught him with his hands around his sister’s throat over a trivial matter. I gave him the belting of a lifetime and I suspect we have never forgiven each other to this day. He is surly and incapable of getting on with others. He has the temper of a spoiled fat bully who has dropped his ice-cream. His mother loves him dearly and has learned how to defuse his angry rampageous. I have not. I can only fuel them, and accordingly, I avoid the lad as much as possible. He was pleasant enough at his sister’s funeral, but afterwards, he scorned Antonio for arriving in a sports car. “Leave it,” I told him. But he would not let up. And it caused great distress amongst the boys who were already beside themselves with such misery and gloom.
Hubert is a musician. He left home the earliest of the boys, at only 16. His mother spent 10 days in his bedroom, weeping and sleeping on his bed during the day and walking around the house checking on the others, during the night. The last we heard of him, he was playing free weekly shows at a small bar in LA. He told us in a postcard with a LA’s skyline on the front. He talked a bit about God, which made Dmitri scoff when he read it over my shoulder. We all miss him, and hope to hear from him again soon. He was perhaps too pure and positive for our rambunctious family of misfits. He seemed to be always walking on a beam of light. This new God obsession may be a reaction to his sister’s death, or it may be his extensive traveling. No doubt he’s seen every cathedral in Europe. I deposit funds into his bank account every fortnight, as I worry he would otherwise take to the streets. I do not receive thanks or any acknowledgement whatsoever, but I see the account slowly diminish in funds and that comforts me somewhat. He probably thinks the money just lands in there as a result of his prayers. His mother prays for him to come home. I have managed to realign my worries about him. He has the voice of an angel and has exceptional musical talent. I sometimes find myself searching the charts for his name. Time will tell.
Jerry is the glue. He will be the one telling jokes and ribbing us all at the dinner table. If someone is surly, he will effortlessly pull them out of it by bringing them into his positively tangible forcefield of charm, charisma and goodwill. Unfortunately, he gets surly himself, and cannot pull himself out of it. This can last for weeks and no one knows how to approach him. If only he saw the light in himself that everyone else sees. When he’s on a good streak, he makes amazing things happen out of thin air. For example, he set up a theatre company in our hometown, hired playwrights and actors and built it into an empire. Some of the shows that he has produced have gone global, with shows airing in London and New York. He is the most successful out of all the boys, in a purely international sense, but if his surly moods get the better of him, he risks losing it all. I am in the processes of searching for a sort-of life-coach for him, or a partner, who can take over when he is taking a depressive dive. It’s his only hope, I fear. I would do it myself, but I am busy with my own affairs and I don’t understand the world of show business, so I wouldn’t be much help there. I really do worry about him. He has so much to lose. Mental health is a foul beast.
My two youngest are similar in physique, a couple of beanpoles, but very different in there approach to life. Matt, the youngest, has a meticulous and unshakable character. He refuses to drink alcohol or ingest any form of drugs or stimulant, even coffee. He is skinny, perhaps, because he is always of his feet. Constantly tinkering, making things, fixing things. At his bequest, I purchased him an empty plot of land by the ocean and he built a house on it with little to no help from anyone but a sparky and a plumber, who he watched closely to learn the skills for himself. From years of abstinence, his mind has hardened and become vigilant and rooted in discernment. He is formidable with women and will take his pick and peruse one until she is his. Once he has a partner, he slowly goes about bending them to his will. Not in an outwardly abusive way, but subtly and over time. He choses their clothes, scoffs at or okays their pass-times, like he is training the perfect pet. I sometimes worry that his ruthlessness might appear to some as coldness or evil, but deep down he does care for his fellow human and he loves the natural world and his brothers. He can be ribbed if he is caught off balance and takes it in his stride, and this gives me great relief.
He and Bertrand despise each other. For, while Bertrand makes a living out of the meaninglessness of existence in his art, Matthew spends every waking hour hammering his own meaning into it. Additionally, Matthew sees Bertrand’s drinking and slovenliness as weakness. Bertrand finds this condescending to the extreme. They have often come to blows.
William, the second youngest, is what Australians would term, the Larrikan. His currency is humour and he can rarely be caught talking on serious matters – or if he is, he soon finds the funny side in it. It must be made clear, however, that he is by no means, a clown. It seems he is funny not for the sake of others but only for his own delight – to lighten his own world. In this sense he can come across as a little odd. But beneath the pranks he is wise and well-read. He understands, like Bertrand, that the world is meaningless, but therefore, logically, it must be made fun of. Growing up, he soon asserted control over all his brothers, and even his mother and I. He did this by constantly playing pranks on us all, and refusing to get involved in matters of seriousness. I love him for this, and without him, I think, our family could dissolve into stints of unhealthy competitiveness.
And those are my eleven sons. We all struggle together, we all fight and argue and step on each others toes. We all have our views of each other and I cringe to think of some of their views towards me as a father. Still, I am happy to know them all, even as I see them less and less these days. They have made me who I am today.
And as for my daughter, I will miss her forever. Not a day goes by where I don’t.