My sister Nancy’s been consumed by Netflix. Every moment outside her teaching job involves her beloved Netflix. She watches dark psychological dramas, The Crown, You, every show that highlights humanity and its utter stupidity. She relishes humanity’s tendency for greed and power struggles, her once deep laugh consumed by dark absorption.

I suggest going to movies, like when we were young adults. I even offer to pay for popcorn and 12-ounce Cokes. Or buy candy to sneak in. Skittles for me, Red Vines for Nancy. Nancy used to say movie candy was capitalism’s enslavement. Fetters disguised as sweetness.

Nancy just says, “I have Netflix.”

I have Netflix. A marker of something special, something distinct.

Netflix is a retreat from personal communion. An excuse to shut oneself up in small space and to binge on aloneness. I tell Nancy this. But Nancy insists on retreating. Aloneness is the point. It’s about personal fantasy. No teacherly politics on Netflix, except in shows with neat resolutions.

Nancy’s always watching Netflix, even when she invites me over, which is less and less. She communicates in fleeting smiles and grunts. Sometimes, she even mistakes me for Netflix characters, calls me Joe or Phillip. Once we used to meet for dinner weekly, either at her place or some restaurant of our choosing. We often went for Ethiopian or Jamaican and would exchange horror stories over meals. Of course, this was when cynicism was a mask and we were still hopeful about the shape our lives would take. We thought we’d write the next Lolita or be that lovable teacher, offering sardonic but thoughtful advice about literature and independent thought.

Now Nancy retreats. I can’t completely blame Nancy, being around annoying parents to the point of becoming a misanthrope. She says they demand, give me, give me, give me. Give my son an A. Write my daughter a recommendation, Ms. Botkin. How I wish I could confront the parents. Piss on their rugs, like the nihilists from The Big Lebowski. Take a crowbar to their cars, beat sense out of materialistic shapeliness. Tell them about the sister I once had. Tell them to stop taking her for granted. Ask her what she wants from life. How I wish I could tell them all these things. But Nancy wouldn’t want it.

She has Netflix instead.

“The world wants so much, Nick,” she says. “I’m not an emotional ATM. If some kid doesn’t understand The Awakening or Raymond Carver’s stories, I’ll explain them. But I don’t want to hear their parents’ life stories, about who’s fucking whom. Or how proud they are of selling out for this or that home. I’m just sick of people.”

I think of the parents, the students, the humanity Nancy laments. Am I part of that crowd of horrid humanity? Have I sold out? I don’t know if I want to know. How is it possible? I’m a writer, not an angry parent.

Maybe at some point, you lump them all together. Maybe nuance becomes tiresome.

Nancy claims I’m still her beloved little brother. It’s not you, I promise. But people say a lot these days, words as fleeting and empty as balloons. We talk in platitudes these days, about politics and generalities, trends in writing, stories we hate in the New Yorker. Things that lack familial connection or communion. Our old nicknames are gone with the wind. Nancy Drew, because she loved the mystery of humanity. Saint Nick, because I was too giving.

Once, we shared popcorn and constrained spaces. Shut out 90’s suburbia and neatness and the tech boom. We saw comedies. We loved There’s Something About Mary, The Wedding Singer, Billy Madison. We relished toilet humor and stuck zippers and swans that looked at Adam Sandler. But they were nothing compared to The Big Lebowski, which we saw six times, quoting lines, voices mingling. We yearned to point out the world’s travesties like Walter, say “fuck it” like the Dude. We wanted to drift in a perpetually high state, slap the roof, smoke and drink beer. We yelled about Chinamen not being the preferred nomenclature and wanting to be called His Dudeness.

Now, I’m 40, Nancy 44. Nancy’s a high school English teacher trying to convince students that A Farewell to Arms isn’t about a quadriplegic. But at least she dissects books already written, their authors long fertilizing daffodils and lamenting how their works have been appropriated.

I’m a writer of a series of novels called Drunk Mothers about three drunk mothers. Readers demanded I kept going after the first book. But it’s so monastic, having only tenuous communion with characters you’ve revisited five times, characters who once seemed bold and sympathetic in their decisions to drink while loving children and trying to love the world. I was so young when I started writing them, the millennium new and full of fright. Now I’ve spent 15 years with these mothers, a Merlot-guzzling bishop, a Pinot-drinking rabbi, and a Pabst-loving bartender. Talk about cliché. Nancy used to say I could strive for higher literary ground and she’s right.

How I need the rush of a theater, the thrill of neon lights bursting through darkness, seducing me in pink and purple, along with $7 boxes of Skittles. I want to walk into the theater with Nancy. I yearn to enter a world where others rediscover personal communion among lounge seats and popcorn. I want to be a part of that, sharing an experience, and not the asshole who sits alone and laughs on cue with everyone else. I want to whisper new secrets to Nancy in the dark, tell stories about fans of my books who write obsequious letters. I want to tell her how lonely adulthood is in a dark, vast home. I want to ask her if she’s lonely. Ask her if there’s something I can do.

She keeps watching Netflix.

I finally get Netflix after who knows how long. A year, perhaps. I convince myself it’s an act of love, inserting credit card information into the box with the most methodical procrastination. I conjure Nancy and me once again yelling out lines, sharing spaces. I conjure laughter, awkward and aged, yet replete with hints of young adulthood. I try to reimagine Netflix as a theater of sorts, except we can pause and rewind as needed. We can play moments over and over.

She comes over to celebrate. We plop down on the old green couch I bought at a thrift store, something that seems so wide now. I pop out the Skittles and the Cokes. I even throw Skittles at the wall, like the old days, but Nancy just laughs, a weary laugh.

Nancy watches You on her computer. She insists on it. I absorb The Ranch on mine, inhaling the sweet sound of the country and Sam Elliott’s F-bombs. His gravelly voice conjures Lebowski and the old days when he was the Stranger, wearing a cowboy hat and the same spruce mustache.

“Why don’t we watch Lebowski?” I suggest.

Nancy laughs again.

“I think I’m too old for all that,” she says. “Besides, the Dude is too passive, don’t you think? Just saying ‘fuck it.’ Why doesn’t he do something even more decisive? Lash out?”

“Sometimes, you have to abide,” I say. “Besides, he steals another man’s rug. How isn’t that delightfully dumb? What do you want him to do? Hold the other Lebowski in a basement and torture him?”

“Come on, Nick,” she says. “Things just look a little different after 20 years. I admit, he was funny once. But he just looks pathetic now. You can watch Lebowski if you want to, though. You’re the big writer. You can afford it.”

“Come off it, Nan.”

“I don’t want to argue, Nicky. I like the dark side of things. This is real and true. At some point, we have to put the fantasies aside.”

“What’s this?” I say, motioning to the screens. “Is Netflix the apotheosis of reality?”

“This has verisimilitude at least,” she says. “Do you think people go around pissing on rugs in real life?”

“I don’t want to argue,” I say. But I want to. I want to tell her how contrived each Netflix show is, the darkness prepackaged. Destruction doesn’t take on as neat a form as it appears. It’s slow, and festers. You’re too far gone to save yourself before long.

I wish I could go full Walter Sobchak. Bellow about the travesties of separate screens, about change. Retreat. But I don’t want to lose Nancy; what’s left of her, anyway. At least there’s a part of her here, even if she smells of Ivory soap and mint gum, not pot and sweat like the old days. This is my sister. We’re sharing this couch, both engrossed in screens. I try to repeat this to myself, will myself to marvel at this small experience. But it’s something small, pathetic. I almost wish she hadn’t come over.

We’re consumed by space.