Friday, November 07, 2003

Sibling Idolatry

My mother phoned (from California) last night and mentioned she'd spoken to my brother recently. Then she said, "You do know they (my brother and sister-in-law) are in Puerto Vallarta, right?" Not only that, it turns out my 13-year-old niece (my brother's oldest) is in Cancun with her mother (wife #2) and mother's new beau. The only exciting news I had to report was that we'd just returned from a K-Mart shopping spree. All I could think was: what a life my brother leads. I mean, really...for someone who's not famous, my brother has a pretty damn good (and crazy fun!) life. He's constantly on the go; it's hard to keep track exactly where he is at any given time.

My younger brother is my only sibling (although we do have two stepsisters and two stepbrothers). We couldn't be more yin and yang and yet, oddly, we're very much alike in certain ways. But I think the similarities are on a deeper emotional level, because our lifestyles (and interests) are quite dissimilar for the most part. I don't envy my brother's life (after all, I'm the introvert in the family so I crave peace and quiet and time alone to recharge), but I get enormous pleasure from hearing about his adventures and, often, mis-adventures.

I've crossed paths with a lot of different types of people in my life and never met anyone who's like my brother. He's still one of the funniest people I know. I think I can speak for him when I say that we genuinely love each other...even though we (literally) tried to kill each other when we were kids.

As kids, he chased me through the streets of our neighborhood with a butcher knife, a golf club, a baseball bat and a dead garter snake (all at different times, thank god). I'm not a particularly fast person, but I didn't want to know what was percolating in his little devil-mind should he have caught me. I, in turn, used to club him with all my might in the middle of his back with my closed fist, run like hell to my bedroom at the end of the hallway (sliding the last few feet in my socks on the hardwood floor) and slam the bedroom door just as his grimy little hand would reach for me. Needless to say, this activity didn't do much for my mother's nerves.

I enjoyed being a single child...until my brother showed up five years later to ruin everything. He was cute at first...I even sort of liked him. But by the time he was three or four, I began taking a sadistic pleasure in telling him that he was adopted. My parents kept all of their important documents in a locked metal box. I would tell him he was adopted...adding, "Look at don't look like any of us." He would deny that he was and I would point out as "proof" that his adoption papers were in the metal box (a safe assertion since I knew it was locked). Picture a cute toddler sitting on the floor, bawling his eyes out and madly trying to open a metal box that's almost as big as he is. Is it any wonder he became the demon little brother from hell? I guess I have only myself to "thank" for the torture that followed.

My brother's life has never been dull...never. As a young boy, he could be found on the mornings after my folks had hosted faculty cocktail parties sitting in the living room, sucking up the melted-ice highball residue and trying to smoke the cigarette butts filling the ashtrays. There was the time he set fire to a spare mattress stored in the garage before he calmly came in to join us for dinner...a quiet meal until my father wondered, "What's that smell?..." He was a gambler from the time he could hold a pair of dice or a deck of cards in his little hands, once winning the entire contents of my piggy bank in a poker game...until I bawled my eyes out and my father made him give it all back. (He still resents that one.) Once, after school, he felt compelled to remove every stitch of clothing, fill his baby bathtub (which he found atop the freezer in the garage) with ice cold water from the backyard hose and run the length of the backyard, screaming like a banshee, to repeatedly jump into his frigid "pool" with glee. There was the time he stuck Q-Tips in each nostril and ear, walked into the kitchen and asked my mother and me, "What am I?" "Um, a Martian?" "No (said with disdain), a washing machine."

And those are just a very few highlights from when he was a young boy. His later adventures as a teenager, young man and now middle-aged guy are WAY too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that you probably don't know too many people who would open their suitcase in John Day, Oregon en route to a hunting trip in Idaho and discover it mostly filled with his wife's clothing...and one week later get a call on your cell phone as you're lounging at home on a Sunday morning, inviting you to do the radar gun at Wrigley for game 7 of the Cubs-Marlins series. My brother's life: unpredictable, unexpected, wacky...never dull.

So consider this an homage to my little brother, who's much bigger than many ways. I'm sure he thinks my life is incredibly dull in comparison. I'm just glad he lives the BIG life he does. I get to giggle with enjoyment vicariously...and still get some peace and quiet.


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