the accidental trio

One of my upcoming travel buddies is a pretty unlikely suspect: my youngest brother, Benjamin.

If it were up to him, Ben wouldn’t even be my travel buddy at all – just a familiar face on the flight down to Ecuador, and maybe a fleeting presence at a dinner or two, as long as it’s on our parents’ credit card. His original plan was to ditch us immediately upon clearing customs, as his vacation was to be a 10-day-long rock-climbing adventure, his chance to dominate the vertical on continent #3.

But the only other sibling that enjoys hurling himself off of cliffs has fled the scene, leaving this smart, sarcastic and incredibly stubborn 20-year old stuck with me and Chels for the week. And to be honest, I’m not really sure how it’s going to go down.

To fully understand the severity of this undertaking, you must first understand Benjamin. And while you can’t really understand B without having the unique pleasure of meeting him in all his in-person glory, in lieu of the real thing, transcripts of conversations often capture that particular Benjamin-ness astonishingly well.

For example, last night’s brief phone chat.

Benjamin, answering: Hello?

Rachel: Hi, B.

B: Hey, can I call you back? I’m watching Lost right now.

R: Sure. I’m surprised you even picked up…Dave’s like glued to our TV right now.

B: Well, I’m watching it because I hate it. Not because I like it.

R: Of course. Of course.

Or, this gem, related third-hand from our brother Jacob.

The scene: a small math seminar at Dartmouth. The characters: Jake and a mutual friend, who was living with Ben that quarter. The quote: “Your brother spent the morning throwing a tantrum about numbers.”

Are you starting to get it now? This kid is literally the most argumentative human being on the face of the planet. He’s a philosophy and physics major, if that helps to put things into perspective. He is exactly the kind of kid who would throw a tantrum about numbers. And about a hell of a lot of other things, too.

He’s also totally sharp and hard-working and insanely bright, and while he loves to fight, he usually does so with a stone-cold intensity, a creepily calm demeanor and a steely persuasion that at least forces you to consider the fact that you’re probably wrong, even if you’ll never admit it to him. When he thinks no one’s looking, you can occasionally catch him doing something kind and empathetic, though he rarely shows his own vulnerability. In fact, he and Jake both seemed to have scored a monopoly on the toughness gene in our family, because they’re always the cool, calm and collected to my…well, anxious, paranoid self. I’m actually 90% sure Benjamin thinks I’m certifiably insane (his thoughts on this blog: “It seems to be…therapeutic for you.”)

Of course, we all have our weaknesses – even the stone-cold, rock-climbing rocket scientists among us. And in his case, the weakness in question is pretty much pathetic.

Shots. The kid who has his own ice axe can’t stand them. Won’t get them. Is refusing to go to the jungle simply because he’s more scared of needles than Yellow Fever. It’s both infuriating – like, how do I get cast as the pussy sibling when that kid won’t even get a tetanus injection? – and yet also oddly empowering.  I feel extremely capable right now. Have I booked us any hostels or jungle stays yet? No. Have I decided where, exactly, we’re going? No. Did I pass high school Spanish? Barely. But I do know that I’m capable of getting my ass to the Drexel Travel Clinic next week, and brave enough to weather a few injections. And that has to count for something.

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