I came along when he was only 13 months old. When he first laid eyes on me he hurled his cup across the room and screamed, as the story goes. I don’t remember what my first impression of him was, but I would imagine I found him loud and indelicate.
The first decade of our existence together was so frightfully uneventful that I remember very little of it. He was part of the crowd; fellow toy-wrangler and vyer-for-mom’s-attention with a bit of comaradarie thrown in. I admired him and was enamored. He endured me and was tolerant.
When I was ten years old he taught me to ride a bike. I like to think it was brotherly love but I suspect embarassment that he had the only sister on the block with training wheels had something to do with?it as well. No matter; I appreciated it regardless of the motive. It was in these years that he begins to factor largely into my memories.
My father was building a house on some acreage he bought, and he employed his children regularly in what would most kindly be called “gruntwork” (I won’t say what it would unkindly be called). When my brothers and I (brother #2 came along when I was a toddler) weren’t needed to hold, sand, paint, weed, dig, sand, file, scrub, paint, sand, hand, weed, carry, tote, retrieve, fetch, sand, weed….repeat….we were castaways in the middle of a 160-acre island of prairie with not so much as an outhouse to carry us through the day. In these dire circumstances we were forced to use our imaginations or perish. In desperation we found a volleyball, plastered it with a bloody handprint, and named it “Wilson”.
No, wait. That wasn’t us.
We didn’t need the volleyball, we had each other. Together we were sorcerers concocting brews of weeds, mud, grass, and wildflowers in the giant discarded paint buckets that the construction work provided us. We were Israelites in the blazing sun, trying to create the perfect recipe for bricks that didn’t crumble once dried (we came close…this is Oklahoma, after all). We were rebel soldiers hammering together the ultimate weapon out of wood scraps and empty caulk tubes. We tore around the property on our 3-wheeler, frequently executing moves that by all rights should have ended our existence on this plane (hey…he ran right over me once).
We even built a swimming pool on one particularly fiendishly hot day. It was an impressive hole, dug with determination through the red Oklahoma clay to a depth of 2 ft, and a width/length of 4. It was all we could manage before the sweat dripping into our faces burnt our eyeballs clean out of their sockets. Then we lined it with a tarp and filled that sucker up. I think we managed to “swim” for about 15 minutes before the bugs falling in from the prairie-grass-lined sides took over. Good times.
He hit puberty and started to grow muscles (a phenomenon I was impressed with) and also served in that most useful of older-brother capacities: providing a steady stream of male visitors into the house for my friends and I to giggle over behind closed doors. Having a popular older brother never hurts a girl when making her own friendships, not that I would have dreamt of accusing my posse of such ulterior motives (don’t ask/don’t tell” works in a lot of situations). In high school we were in the same creative writing class together and when he used the word “enui” in a poem, I began to have the sneaking suspicion that he was the superior writer.
If he wanted to do something, he just…did it. In Norway he learned to ski (I chose the hearth and hot chocolate). He didn’t waste time on the green or blue slopes; where’s the adventure in that? I mean, how hard could it be? Get to top of mountain, point skis downward, go. And so he went. With style. Oh sure, there was that eensy weensy incident in France on a Spring Break vacation with some Canadian friends. They said hey I think I’ll take that jump over there. And my brother said oh sure me too why not? He snapped his leg like a green tree branch and had to have a plate put in it while enduring ten days in a French hospital, unable to speak a word of the language. But hey…nothing ventured, nothing gained. His celebrity status upon arriving back at school more than made up for the inconvenience of setting off every security check point at the airport from then on, I’m sure.
When I found myself in need of someone to walk me down the aisle for a certain momentous occasion in my life to which my parents, being 7000 miles away, were unable to attend, my brother took my arm, guided me along, and handed me over to My Beloved (I believe his own words were that we vibrated down the aisle due to my violent nervousness, but one way or the other he got me there, and I am deeply appreciative of that fact).
My brother is a funny guy. He can make me laugh harder than anyone on this earth I have yet to meet. What’s more, he can make My Beloved laugh harder than I have ever witnessed him laugh at anyone or anything. This in itself is enough to earn him my undying love and affection, and yet there is more. He loves my children and thinks they are amazing. He’s the quintessential bachelor uncle who generates giddy derangement amongst his neices and nephews whenever he comes around, which isn’t often enough (ahem!).
He tells me that he reads my blog, and he gives me encouragement that is neither constant nor casual, but means all the more because of that. He is kind to my dreams. I hope he reads this today and knows how much I love him. Happy Birthday, Matt.
And come visit, dammit.