Lily Mandelbaum, DJ Louie XIV, and Sam, Elisa & Lily
Living With My Big Brother and Little Cousin

For the last four years, I have lived in the East Village with my brother. About nine months ago, my cousin Sam also moved into our three-bedroom apartment on Houston. The three of us live two blocks away from my mom and dad, whose apartment also doubles as the SLU Headquarters. I used to be uncertain about whether or not it was "good" or "healthy" to live in such close quarters with my immediate family. Even though I have always been extremely close (like BFF-close) with my mom, dad and brother, when I first moved back to NYC after a two-year stint at college in LA, I felt a certain pressure from the outside world, a judgement that living with my family was somehow inherently wrong at this stage of my life. The voice in my head, as well as the images I had built up as a teenager, told me that my early 20s were not a time for family -- it was the time for freedom, for independence, for getting "away." I began to feel like I was doing something wrong if I chose to spend a Friday night at the movies with my bro or have a home-cooked meal with my parents instead of going out, getting wasted and hooking up with a random guy. Even though ostensibly there was nothing wrong with us living together (and, in fact, my brother and I basically have had a seamless roommate relationship) I spent a lot of time judging myself for the basic set-up of my life.

Last year, my brother called me out on my "grass-is-always-greener" mentality as I was neurotically fantasizing about some "perfect" and independent life I would have if I moved to Brooklyn with friends. He also told me that it was making him feel like shit. It hit me like a ton of bricks how right he was: I was giving my power away to these unwritten societal rules and not taking full advantage of the gift that I had been given by having such a supportive and loving familial structure. Ever since that moment, my mentality has slowly shifted towards trusting my intuition, feeling proud of our closeness and taking advantage of it to its fullest.

Since that moment, I have confirmed that those voices in my head were entirely paranoid. With that new awareness, those negative thoughts have dissipated, and I have never felt a stronger sense of self.

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While I was clearing up my headspace on this topic, my 19-year-old cousin Sam moved in. Until January, I had probably uttered less than ten sentences to Sam in my entire life. We had only really seen each other at yearly family functions and never worked past that awkward, small-talk phase of our relationship. To say the least, we were not close. After a very rough couple years in high school, a subsequent truth-seeking gap year in Israel, Sam was in need of home as he began his first year at NYU, feeling like a fish out of water. I was thrilled at the notion of opening up our third bedroom to him, but I was unsure of how things would unfold. We were pretty different after all -- Sam is a "jocky bro preppy" type and Louis and I are more, um… artsy fartsy? A bit feminist? Eccentric? Queer? Probably all of those things.

In the last nine months, things have unfolded in ways that I never would have predicted. It took a minute to break the ice and get to understand each other's lifestyles, quirks, sense of humors, and vulnerabilities. But, nevertheless, over this period of time, we've all become extraordinarily close. Louis cooks us dinner, we go on family runs by the river, we fight, we taunt and tease each other, and sometimes even curl up together and watch a movie. In a certain respect, Louis and I have acted as mentors to Sam, guiding and supporting him through the phase of in his life in which he is valiantly breaking old and debilitating habits, finding his passions and building his world from scratch in the overwhelming and daunting New York City. Louis has been teaching Sam to DJ, while I sit up late helping him vet NYU courses. Louis has introduced Sam to Yoga and I try to set him up with girls. We both take him shopping for new clothes that are way out of his old boxes, and yell at him for playing too many video games (we joke that the hypothetical reality TV show about our lives would be called "Raising Sam"). In just nine months, Sam has become more self-aware and comfortable in expressing himself. He recently told us he loves us, something we never could have pictured him saying a year ago.

But for everything that we have been able to give to Sam (whether he knows it or not), Sam has completely matched us in terms of what he has given to Louis and me. There is an overwhelming sense of purpose and fulfillment that I feel by being able to be part of a new family member's life in this intimate way. More so, at the end of a long, stressful, and frequently dramatic day at SLU, I look forward to the sobering, simple, straight-dude perspective that Sam provides me with. I've realized how necessary this counter-balance is to my over-thought, often irrational and neurotic female take on experiences and emotions. I find comfort in how Sam lovingly makes fun of my "strange" outfits and jokingly refers to my girlfriends and me as "a feminist club."

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The odd couple.

Our differences make the relationship especially unique because, in any other circumstances, Sam and I never would've become friends, let alone shared an apartment. However, due to the intangible bond inherent in a blood-connection and the steady time we have gotten to spend together, I've been able to find not only a common ground, but also what's turning out to be one of my most important soul-connections. Last Sunday, when I started to conceive of this blog post, I took a step back: My cousin Alison (who lives a few avenues over in the East Village) came over to do homework and all four of us (Lou, Sam, Ali and I) were each in different rooms of our apartment, not speaking, just doing our own thing, in the comfortable silence that can really only exist between extremely close family members or friends.I know it sounds cheesy, but an overwhelming sense of peace washed over me in that moment and I realized how utterly grateful I was to have my family close to me, both physically and emotionally.

Needless to say, Sam has been the final nail in the coffin to my idealization of a family-free life, i.e. the kind of "independence" perpetuated by bourgeois modern culture that says it's weird for a girl in her 20s not to be living far away from home and partying 24/7 (it's not like my family doesn't give me the space to be independent and completely my own person: they probably support my individualism to a fault). Sam's presence in my day-to-day existence has helped me recognize the power of community and how much of a tragedy it would be to take my family for granted. Not everyone has the privilege of being born into such an accepting tribe, and, while I recognize and deeply respect that some people do need to "get away" and find a new "family" and community in their friends and loved ones, I feel very lucky. My closeness with my family hasn't squelched my sense of independence or my autonomy. What it has done is provide me with a secure foundation that has lead me to take huge leaps and risks, like working through all of the ups and downs that come along with running and building my own business -- one that encompasses all of my deepest dreams.

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Snuggling with Louis.

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My desk.

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Louie's new tattoo.

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Louis's desk.

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Louis's hats that Sam has started to steal.

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Sam's desk.

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Louis expressing his inner middle-aged housewife.

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The results part 1.

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The results part 2.

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The typical state of affairs.

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Sam's decorative contribution to the apt, which has ruined our Feng Shui.

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 True love.

 

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