Between a Memory or Two
It's crazily storming and windy outside. I cued up a playlist on my computer earlier while cleaning my house. Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson's "Friends and Lovers" is playing right now. As in the love song of Kimberly Brady and Shane Donovan circa 1986. It takes me back to watching Days of Our Lives with my older brother and younger sister every day for years upon years.
I've written a bit about my sister in this space as well as my little brother, but I've never written that much about my older brother. And it's not because he matters any less to me or because I love him any less or that he's less a part of me.
My older brother fell off of his bike down the street from our house once, and he cut up his leg and smashed his two front teeth. They were capped but he never really liked them because he thought it was obvious that they were capped. He always had a terrific smile, though, and I surely could not tell. Recently he got his teeth fixed and I hope he likes his smile better.
My older brother is one of the sappiest human beings ever to live. He loves cheesy movies and cheesy songs. I remember sitting in his old white mustang that eventually became my old white mustang listening to the love theme from Stealing Home on his ridiculously loud sound system that he had in high school. I guess other guys would blare rock and roll ... he blared wailing David Foster saxophones and synthesizers and lamented that when Katie danced, she lost her innocence. He is a diehard romantic. He loved Jerry Maguire so much, a movie full of things that matter most to him, sports and inspirational mottoes and a love story, that he taped it on a little mini-tape recorder in the theater and would listen to it in his car.
He can memorize things like a crazy person. He can recite dialogue and ads and speeches. He is a great athlete and his legs are still muscular from the endless afternoons he spent and still spends on the basketball court with friends. He can hold the attention of a room full of people who become quickly spellbound by whatever story or joke he is telling, and he has perfect delivery and timing. I think this is something that he got from my dad. He has a beautiful singing voice and I've often wished he would try out for community theater, especially if there's ever a show of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, because he would do an amazing job of "Any Dream Will Do." He would also know just how to deliver the line "I look handsome, I look smart, I am a walking work of art..."
Before the white mustang was the 1978 Chevy Caprice station wagon, brown and red and huge. He put a neon blue and yellow "Chill Out" bumper sticker on it when this expression first came into use. It became known as the Chill Out Wagon. It was my first car, and it chugged into the school parking lot, and I felt that it was just a tiny bit less atrocious because he'd driven it first, after all, and with the sticker it couldn't be all that bad.
My older brother always wants me to play the piano for him. Sometimes it's so he can sing a song, like "Bring Him Home" or "Who Am I" from Les Misérables because have I mentioned that we can be cheesy sometimes? Sometimes it's just because he likes to hear me play.
My older brother is a Christian and a Republican. He cannot abide anyone saying anything bad about America. He is just one of those people who loves his country so ferociously that it's like it personally hurts his soul for it to be criticized.
My older brother and I don't talk about politics.
My older brother was pretty mean to me sometimes when we were little. He was never physically rough with me other than the occasional holding me down and farting on me or putting me in the figure (my sister and I were much more evil to each other physically -- biting, kicking, scratching) but he made fun of me a lot and made faces at me when I said or did something that made me feel like the stupidest person in the world. There was a time when we fought so much as young teenagers that my parents had to get two separate rooms when we were on vacation so we'd have a wall between us. He and my sister always got along ... they had sports and ball games in common, and she'd join him and the neighborhood boys in mud football while I'd sit in my room with a book and watch them out of the window. I felt left out a lot, but my mom would tell me that it was easier for him to be nicer to her because she was littler and I was more like his peer. Whatever that meant. It made me feel better but it didn't make me feel any less like an odd duck caught in the middle of them. The episode of The Brady Bunch when Alice wrote Jan the secret notes because she knew it was hard to feel special sometimes as the middle child made me weep. I thought it had been written just for me. I am dead serious.
When my little brother came along when my older brother was eleven, it mellowed him out a lot. I still remember the look on his face when he found out in that little hospital room that the baby was a boy. I mean, I really think he seriously might have lost his mind had he been faced with another little sister. He treated the baby like a king, and my sister and I followed his example at nine and seven and pretty much thought he was never anything but perfect. We all still feel this way to a sickening degree.
When I was in the eleventh grade, my girlfriends and I went out drinking on Valentine's Day and it was to his house that we showed up in the rain with two of us barfing our brains out and the rest of us trying to clean up the puke in the backseat and keep them from dying of alcohol poisoning. He just opened the door and shook his head, but he let us in.
When I first moved back here from Florida, I was out one night with some friends and suddenly was stricken with feeling so out of place and miserable. I called him and he was there in five minutes to pick me up and drive me home.
I was recently busy trying to work and get ready for Vegas, and I decided I needed a hat to block the sun. I asked him to go to the campus gift shop to buy me one. I ended up getting off of work early enough to go, so I called him and said I'd go so I could try it on. As I browsed through the hats a few minutes later, in walked my brother. "I just wanted to come and make sure you got what you needed," he said, greeting the dorky guy who works there, whom of course he knows. He just wanted to make sure I got what I needed. I never ended up actually wearing this hat in Vegas, but I'm still glad to have it.
On the Sunday evening that my wedding was called off, it was my older brother who showed up at my house and filled his SUV with wedding gifts from the shower my co-workers had just thrown me that Friday that were piled on my dining room table and drove me to the empty office to leave the presents on the conference table. I didn't know what else to do with them and I don't even remember how he ended up coming over. I think I just called him and asked him to and he did. I don't think I could deal with facing my parents at that point. He just said "uh huh, uh huh," as I babbled and blubbered and wordlessly unloaded them and waited patiently for me to leave little thank you notes of explanation in everyone's mail baskets. I will always remember how he did that for me that night. I was so embarrassed, so out of my mind. He was the first person who came over, the first person I felt like I could actually see.
In his eternal quest for true love, he has been through a lot of relationships in his life, both serious and not. He was engaged once and it was called off a few months before ... I think it was a mutual decision ... we were all sad; it was like we lost a sister. His high school girlfriend basically lived at our house. As did several of them, actually. We always vowed never to get close to them but we usually did anyway unless they were idiots which some of them surely were. One of them became basically my best friend in town for the time she lived here ... she recently married someone else, and I am happy for her, even though I'll probably always wish she'd stayed a part of our family forever. I don't know what will happen with his current girlfriend ... in spite of ourselves, we are attached to her and love her and want them to work it out, want him to settle down, want him to make a family and let himself realize that what he's been looking for all this time has been found, that no relationship is without hurts, that no one is perfect, that no real partnership is like floating on a cloud 24/7/365 and that this is a good woman who loves him. But that's for no one to realize but him, and maybe he won't, and maybe we'll have to tell her goodbye through tears like we've done with all the rest.
I have seen my brother be a sap many times in my life, but perhaps never more than he is with his girlfriend's dog. He takes that dog with him everywhere, holds him in his arms and babytalks to him. He has brought out a side of him I have really never seen. I see him with that dog and it's like I'm seeing him with a child. It kills me. Granted, he's one cute damn dog. He might not be so doting with, say, an asshole like Zuko.
People are drawn to my brother. They want to be his friend. He always gets himself into the strangest, most random situations that lead to adventures that normal people just do not have. He truly can charm anything out of anyone, but it's not in a malevolent, devious way. It's just who he is. People give him what he wants because they just want to. He brings out that side of people that makes them say, "What the hell? For you, my friend? But of course! For you, anything!" And everyone slaps everyone on the back and a good time is had by all.
I used to wonder when I was young if my older brother loved me. I would secretly pray that God would not send him to hell for being so mean. He taunted me with cries of "Unbalanced Boobie!" the summer that one of my breasts had started to grow but the other hadn't. (Ladies, you remember what this was like. You are convinced at first that this strange painful lump not unlike a bean is really a dreaded disease. When you realize it's not, you're still like, why isn't puberty smart enough to send the message for them to both start growing at once? The horror.) I realize now that he was 13 or 14 and probably couldn't deal with seeing boobies of any kind on his baby sister. My mom would remind me regularly of when I was in second grade and was terrified to go back to school while my chicken pox marks were still visible and my brother assured her that he'd beat up anyone who made fun of me on the bus. I don't know if he ever knew that I knew he'd said that, but I reminded myself of it time and time again when I felt like he wished I'd never been born.
I've been thinking about him a lot lately. I don't know why. Maybe it's because the other two are gone, and I'm thinking that we should be seeing or talking to each other more. He did try to convince me recently to take in a stray dog he'd found, introducing me to it by saying, "Here, meet your new mommy, she's going to take you home!" But we haven't really talked other than that and his attempt at a Vegas hotel intervention. I'm not sure how or what he's doing.
I love my older brother fiercely. I worry about him sometimes and wonder what he thinks about when he's all alone, what he wants out of his life, what he regrets, what he's afraid of. These are things I wish I knew. I do not know these things. I do know, though, that there is much in him that I admire. That I appreciate how deeply he feels things and how he's searching still for what will fill him up inside even though sometimes that search seems a little on the floundering side to me. That I cannot imagine a world without him in it or who I would be as a person without watching who he is as a person my whole entire life.
Before I had a sister, I had a brother. For a time that neither of us really remembers, it was just the two of us. Sometimes I wish I remember what that time was like. Did we play? Did he get upset when my parents paid attention to the baby and not to him? Did he show me how to use his toys? Did he teach me how to say Tiger cheers? Did he like to hold me or was he utterly bored by me? In the two years before my sister came along, was I his favorite person? Was he mine?
I will always reach for my phone and call him when I hear George Strait singing about how if he hurries he can still make Cheyenne. There is something about that fiddle and the longing of lost souls conveyed in the song that always makes me have somewhat of a meltdown. I will be in tears and he will understand and assure me that it's a beautiful song, a beautiful song.
About this time in ...
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