In honor of National Brothers Day I thought I’d write about my little brother, Brian.
Brian is two years younger than me, and two inches taller (which doesn’t seem right, but whatever) and is really one of the best guys I know. He’s always ready to help, and is cool under pressure which – if you had a childhood like ours – was a vital skill.
And by “childhood like ours” I don’t mean to imply our childhood wasn’t good, or healthy or loving. It was those things. But it was also dangerous, and daring, and exciting – mostly because we made it that way.
Here’s the sort of stuff I’m talking about:
Our parents were born in Ireland – and because they were they liked to go to Irish events to comingle with other Irish immigrants and do Irishy stuff.
One Saturday when I was about 12 and Brian 10, they piled us in the station wagon and took us to an Irish dancing competition at a local middle school (think Riverdance for 7th graders) so that we could watch the children of other Irish immigrants bounce up and down to really fast Celtic music.
Brian and I pretty much hated that stuff because, well, I guess because we wanted to be American, and outside, and running wild, and – you get the point.
So the minute our folks looked in one direction, we beat feet in the other. And to make sure we executed a clean – and dance spectating free – getaway we ran flat out. Right around a corner and into the parking lot. Where a car was coming. Pretty fast too. That Brian ran right in front of. And which hit him.
I was right behind my little brother and saw the whole thing. I saw him run in front of the big sedan – I saw him fly up into the air after it slammed into him, and I saw him land on its hood and then roll off one side as the terrified driver stomped on the brakes.
And then I watched Brian fall to the ground in a crumpled heap.
At which point he sprang to his feet, shot me an “oh crap” look, and took off running as fast as he could. I took off running too. After all he’d just been hit by a car – which we were pretty sure we’d get in trouble for – so there was no time to waste.
It was that sort of danger and excitement we were always on the lookout for.
On that day we’d got lucky and it fell in our laps – but most times we had to actually create the peril. Like the time we ran down a herd of deer in the field behind our house with homemade spears (kitchen knives lashed to broom sticks in case you were wondering).
Just a heads-up here to Greenpeace: Despite our best throws, no animals were harmed in the making of that adventure.
From there it pretty much ramped up to include stuff like BB gun battles, forest fires, and cliff climbing. But in consideration of those of you with weaker constitutions (and Mom, who sometimes reads my column) I’ll leave the more daring stuff to the imagination.
I will tell you this: You know how your memory of you from childhood seems sort of average, but there’s always one whose exploits seem larger than life? Well that was Brian.
And remember – he was my little brother.
But at a point he just seemed to get, well, bigger. I don’t mean in stature – he actually didn’t get tall until later – I mean the stuff he was doing started seeming bigger than the stuff the rest of us kids were doing.
Even though still kind of short, in about the 9th grade he started dunking basketballs during our neighborhood games. On regulation height baskets.
Up until that time he’d been my cohort, my partner in crime (I wish that was just a figure of speech, but one escapade actually landed us in a holding cell). He was my brother. He was the copilot on our go cart runs down ridiculously steep hills, the second to jump the bicycle ramp behind me, and Tonto to my Lone Ranger.
But then he got strong. And fast. And big.
And pretty soon we weren’t so much partners as independent contractors. We started going our own ways when stuff like girls and cars began to happen. Although there was that time I threw him the keys to my hot rod and told him to drive it home because I was gonna ride uptown with some friends.
He might have been 14 at the time.
But our paths started to diverge. As the little brother I used to sometimes look down on got harder to live up to I think I created distance between us.
It got to the point where I wouldn’t get on a basketball court with him anymore. And on a skateboard – which was not only transportation in our neighborhood, but a lifestyle – he started doing things I’d only seen in the skateboard magazines.
It wasn’t too much later that, following a chat with Uncle Sam, I headed off for a series of Air Force bases. After that I heard Brian got a basketball scholarship. And then broke some kind of state high jumping record. I think I heard he was lead singer for a punk band too. And one day I opened a magazine and saw him in an ad.
After I got out of the service I think Brian was living the life of a SoCal surfer. I went to college, got married, had some kids and got a mortgage. But Brian was always somewhere like Hawaii, or Bali – in my mind he was always still doing those things that seemed just a little larger than what others did. And what I did.
And for a long time there was more than just a physical distance between us.
Every couple of years we’d hook up at Christmas or Thanksgiving, and catch each other up on the latest. I’d tell him what my kids were doing and he’d tell me about some amazing adventure he’d had. And then we’d head off in our own direction again – until next Christmas. Or the one after that.
My little brother is now 51 – which makes me 53.
And while I can’t quite put my finger on when, something happened, quite a few years back now, that let me get back closer to the only brother I have. I’m not sure how it happened, or why, and don’t really care at this point, but somewhere along the line I got over myself.
I got over my perceived shortcomings, and whatever else it was that was causing me to do that crazy habit I have sometimes of being aloof – and I found my little brother again.
You know today is not really National Brothers Day – but it would be stupid to wait for a contrivance like that to say the things a brother needs to hear.
And what I want to tell Brian is I’m always right behind him – no matter what’s around the corner.