Aw. A brother and sister holding hands by the beach. Isn't that adorable?
It was never like that picture with you and me, Bro.
We didn't have the kind of brother-sister relationship you see on TV. We didn't borrow our script from the Brady Bunch or Eight is Enough or Family Ties or The Waltons. I've never seen our kind of sibling relationship depicted on any screen, big or small.
You, eighteen months younger than I, nevertheless were the dominant one, from the moment you arrived. And you dominated the hell out of me.
You started physically overpowering me early. Like, say, when I was 5 and you were 3. You--Mom and Dad's strong, tough, sinewy, athletic biological offspring--were impervious to pain, just like them, and I was...the opposite.
Games of tag? You chased and caught me. You wrestled me to the ground and made me beg for mercy. You punched me, right in that bony spot on the upper arm where the tricep ends, where it hurts most. You picked me up and threw me down on the ground. And you laughed.
I spent most of my childhood sporting bruises you'd given me.
I could never compete with you physically, and I learned early to stop trying. (In a lot of ways, Bro, I blame you for the way I react to threats of all kinds...crumpling into a ball, trying to protect myself as best I can from the inevitable beatdown; resisting only makes it worse. Fighting back? Madness. Prolongs the pain. Give up. Get it over with. It'll eventually end.)
Later, when we were older, taking a cue from Dad, you added verbal abuse to your roster. At first it was sort of amusing hearing those words coming from a ten-year-old. By the time you were fifteen, though, and broody and dark and perpetually angry and still inclined to lash out physically as well, it wasn't cute anymore. It was scary.
You were scary.
I was afraid of you, Bro.
When Mom left town and you moved in with Dad and me, I did my best to steer clear of you and your raging, seething, adolescent anger. You and your friends did your thing. I and my friends did my thing. We went to the same High School, but we didn't hang out with the same kinds of people.
You and your friends were C-minus students who focused your energies around the cars and motorcycles you were going to own someday. I belonged to Theatre and Speech Team and Honor Society and Future Farmers of America; you belonged to...well, nothing that I can recall, other than German Club, and that was only because you kind of had to join if you were taking the language.
You and your friends called me and my friends "Losers" and "Fags."
Turns out a few of us actually were.
But you never got to know that.
After Dad died and we spent that next couple of months dodging the State until I turned 18 (at which point there was finally a legal adult in the house again), you and your girlfriend Jackie spent a lot of time in your bedroom with your door closed. I didn't care what you were doing as long as she didn't get pregnant; I hope you both had a good time. Really, I do.
After I graduated and you had to move out here, with Mom, you got even angrier. I couldn't deal with you. I couldn't stand the way you treated her. The wrestling-to-the-floor techniques you'd practiced and perfected on me, you now used on her.
I loved you, Bro, but I didn't like you much.
And yet, a week or so after you died, Mom and I were both shocked when she got your report card in the mail. Straight A's. Straight Fucking A's. You? Really?
Who were you becoming?
Your friends at the new school out here--and good heavens, there were a lot of them, we found out as the awkward sympathy cards rolled in--said you were fun, funny, and happy.
We didn't see that at home--that was another behavior you picked up from dad. The Two Faces thing. One for home, one for public consumption. But still...
Who were you becoming?
So. You got straight A's your Junior year in High School. You'd never cared about grades, ever.
You were becoming somebody different. Mom and I--we just didn't know. Because you didn't tell us.
You left without saying "Goodbye" at the airport. You bastard. After we told you to wait while we parked the car. You just went inside and got swallowed up in the crowd.
You didn't bother to call that night when you arrived safely back home to visit with your friends, either. Just went out the next night, heading for the "Welcome Back, David" party in the woods by the river. The party you never made it to.
You were four months away from 18.
Today is your fortieth birthday.
We don't talk about it much.
Mom and Grandma and I made Christmas cookies all day yesterday. We all knew what today is.
We just didn't talk about it.
"Do you remember when you were little and we used to make Christmas cookies?" Mom asked. Of course I do. The three of us.
You always looked ridiculous in an apron.
Who were you becoming?
Who would you be today?
Would you still be a guy who'd call my friends "Fags" and "Assholes" and "Fuckheads" and "Losers," or would you have outgrown that?
What would you be doing for a living? Engine repair? Construction?
Would you have shocked me and gone to college and decided to do something with that straight-A brain you didn't show us for the first sixteen years of your life?
Would you have married, had children?
Would you have stayed in touch with Mom and me at all, or would you have slipped away as soon as you could manage, out on your own, turning our relationship into a Christmas-Cards-If-You're-Lucky kind of thing?
I wonder about this from time to time.
Because you were on the cusp. Balancing. Dark/Light. Ready to tip, one way or the other.
I like to think you'd have tipped into the light, but we'll never know.
You left a lot of unfinished business behind, Bro.
Happy fortieth, wherever you are.