My brother died today. He was fifty-five years old, the same age our father was when he died.
I hadn’t spoken to him in twelve years, for a number of reasons on both sides. Family can be complicated.
But I haven’t forgotten when we were young. He was eleven years old when I was born, and for all the frustrations he had in life, apparently he thought I was pretty cool.
When he babysat me, he’d always cook me Kraft macaroni and cheese with Spam, because he knew it was my favorite.
When we moved to California when I was four and he was in high school, he’d walk down to Jack in the Box with me and buy me lunch. A date, he said. I loved it.
He went into the military for a while when I was finishing up kindergarten. He returned when I was in third grade. He was different, quieter. But he still liked me. He taught me how to bowl. He once took me to a laser-light show, just because he thought I’d think it was cool. Sometimes he’d take me along when he’d go on dates with the woman he eventually married. We’d go bowling or out to lunch somewhere new. Once they took me to the county fair, and I stared at the prize-winning pigs in awe. “What’s hanging off the back of their butts?” I asked, with the innocence of nine years old.
My brother laughed out loud and said, “Hemorrhoids.” And I went home and told my parents all about the pigs with the giant hemorrhoids.
He had a great sense of humor when we were young. Our dad was always serious, and my brother knew how to push his buttons. One time he set all the radio presets in our dad’s car to rock stations and turned the volume up loud so my dad would be greeted with rock music for his morning commute. My dad, a diehard country fan, reportedly sputtered and fumed as he jabbed at the buttons, trying to find his beloved country stations.
My dad was also famous for serving hearty bowls of salad to all of us at dinner—except himself. Our bowls would be full of iceberg lettuce and maybe some tomatoes or celery or carrots, and his bowl would contain about three leafs of lettuce. Our family had a rule that you had to finish your dinner to get dessert, so we would slog through our bowls of salad, looking enviously at my dad’s small bowl of three leaves.
One day, my brother dished up the salad while my dad was outside grilling the steaks. My brother placed three leaves in my bowl, his bowl, my mom’s bowl, and my sister’s bowl. In my dad’s bowl, he placed a heaping mound of salad. So much it towered over the top of the bowl and spilled over the sides. Giggling, we sat around the table waiting for my dad to come in with the steaks.
My dad put down the steaks, took one look at his towering bowl of salad, and began grabbing handfuls of lettuce out of it and throwing it in the rest of our bowls. Nary a word was spoken, and we tried to stifle our giggles. I’m pretty sure I didn’t succeed, but as the youngest I got a little slack.
I didn’t see my brother before he died. We didn’t speak. But he did send me a friend request on social media, and I accepted it. I hope that was enough to let him know that I remember the good times.
Rest in peace, Jeffrey. I cared. I always did. Even when it was hard.