We used to play pickle

I think I miss my brother.  In my last post I talked about the “idea” of my dad.  In this post, I’ll say “I think” because I’m not sure.  When I was young, I was sure of so much.  I was sure of everything I knew.  I was sure of everything I didn’t know and I was sure there was nothing I didn’t already know.  I didn’t know much.  Now, I know much less.

Sometimes it was in Madrid that I thought of my brother.  Sometimes it was on the metro.  Sometimes it was in the middle of having coffee…with a friend.  Most times, it was without a word of warning.  He just crept up on me.  Brothers do that.  They creep up on each other.

One memory I have, and it’s probably the most terrifying, is playing a version of hide and go seek.  I was small boy.  My brother wasn’t much older.  I was in my bedroom closet.  He was lying on my bed pretending to be an ogre fast asleep.   I was supposed to try to sneak by without “waking” him and he would try to catch me before I made it past the bed and out the bedroom door.  I didn’t make it past the closet door because I was afraid to play the game.  As soon as I envisioned being chased by an ogre, imaginary or otherwise, I didn’t want to play.  I didn’t know how to say “no thank you”.  I wasn’t old enough to say that.  I was only old enough to cry…so I did.  I broke down…in the closet…crying.  I was a little boy crying in the closet afraid to get caught by his ogre brother.

My brother never was an ogre, certainly not the ogre my dad was.  Instead, he took me under his wing and learned to play games with me that wouldn’t frighten me so much; holding me down and dangling spit over my face  (a rite of passage for any sibling with an older brother) and being tickled half to death (I was incredibly ticklish.  I still am but I’d never admit that in public) weren’t terrifying as much as they were horrifying in a whole new host of wonderful tormentingly fun (for him) ways.  To be honest, my brother did the best he could.  My brother didn’t do half bad.

Eventually, he stopped pinning me down and picked better games to play altogether, games that were fun for the both of us.  He, my sister and I would play “pickle” in the front yard.  Rather than a mound, the front yard had an indentation.  That was where one of them stood while the other stood at the end of the hydrangea (I can still hear my mom saying that) bush.  The safe bases were the water meter (near the indentation) and a brick or a rock or an area “over there” at the edge of the bush near where the other one stood.  I seldom reached “over there” by the way.  They often threw me out before I ever arrived.  As a result, I did a lot more standing and “getting ready to run” than I ever did running.  I didn’t like getting thrown out.  I thought there was something “wrong” with that.

As the years went by and after my dad moved to Arizona (my parents separated although they never called it that.  Dad just “moved” is all), my brother made a point of providing for me. By this time he was working and whenever he bought lunch, be bought me lunch too, usually from “Angie’s” (a Mexican joint down the street).  He’d even let me eat his last melted-grated-cheese-covered-chip (back when they were called “chips with cheese” before we ever heard the term “nachos”).   On Sundays, he and my sister would take me to church and when the group wanted to go out to lunch after, my brother was always willing to hand me a $20 bill.  I was grateful, although I doubt I showed it.  I always made a point of giving him the change.  I didn’t want to him stop being so generous.  He never did.

It was only at about the time that my mother was dying that our relationship really strained.  We used to be so close.  We weren’t anymore.  I think all of our (the siblings) relationships strained.  My mother was the glue that bound us together and as she was dying the bond was straining and breaking.  I’m told that’s normal, but I wouldn’t know what “normal” is.  My family was never normal.  It was always more like “Married With Children” or “The Simpsons”.    I liked “The Brady Bunch” and later “The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties” but I never identified or related with those families.  I always wished I had.

One afternoon, my brother and I discussed some of our differences.  He admitted he admired that I was never afraid of conflict.  I admitted I admired that he avoided conflict.  When we were kids and dad was on a rampage, my brother learned how to be invisible.  To this day, I can’t think of one single time I saw him during a beating.  My sister would stick around and cry and plead with my dad while he whaled.  My brother wouldn’t.  He vanished and for good reason.  Maybe going at so much alone is what gave me some of my moxy.  Maybe defiance, ego, willfulness, alcoholism (symptoms of it were evident long before I ever picked up my first drink) and stupidity gave me the rest.  Like I said, I don’t know.

Two days ago, I sent my sister a message on Facebook.  I told her about my most recent post.  We talked a bit about my dad.  She forwarded a letter he sent her (that’s a whole other topic) and she mentioned a movie, “Stranger than Fiction.”  Quirky.  Cool.  I’m glad I watched it. I just finished it, in fact.  It’s when I went back to her page to thank her for the suggestion that I noticed it.  I noticed a picture.  I had seen it before without really seeing it (funny how that happens).  This time I clicked on it.  This time I saw it and this time I stared at it.  I was staring at a very familiar face.  It’s one of the most familiar faces I’ve ever seen.  It’s more familiar than my own as I spent my entire childhood looking at it.  It’s my brother’s.  Before I realized it, tears were streaming down my face.  I was crying.

At the same time those tears fell from my cheeks into my beard, words –these words, waiting to be written– fell into my fingertips.  I needed to process.  I needed to feel.  I needed to write.  And so I did.  I wrote this note.  This simple, innocent, unknowing note is now anything but “I don’t know.”  I’m 41 years old.  I haven’t talked to my brother in six years and I don’t “think,” I know.  I miss my brother.

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