The day I was born, my older brother stayed at home with my grandfather. Bruce was only twenty months old then, and he still needed adult supervision. He tore up the place and locked Grandpa outside in protest of my imminent arrival. Bruce did not want a younger brother.
He spent the next fifty-four years reminding me not only of how much he despised me, but the extent to which the world did not require my presence. He accomplished this through physical and emotional abuse, and, at times, simply ignoring me or running away. I was very keen on the idea of having an older brother from the get-go. I figured that if I kept at it long enough and hard enough, I would one day ignite his love for me–or at least his acceptance of my existence in his life. Bruce didn’t know it, but he was my hero. We went skim boarding together at the beach, and snorkeling too. One day he decided to become a real live scuba diver, and he made a diver’s belt from a plastic strap and “weights” he formed out of plaster poured into the bottoms of empty milk cartons from his sixth-grade lunch period. We went back to the beach to try it out. He waded into the shallow salt water and his homemade plaster weights dissolved in a psychedelic fusion of turquoise water and milky powder, and I didn’t even laugh at him. After all, he was my big brother.
I tried to do everything he did, when he let me. And I tried to go everywhere with him, when he and his friends didn’t run away from me, laughing, pointing. Shouting until their voices trailed away and I stood alone in awful silence. After all, he was my big brother. Every little kid needs a big brother. Even I knew that.
We got snow skis one Christmas when we lived in Baltimore. I followed him to a small hill and he showed me how to go all the way down–all forty feet or so–and not fall down. I loved my big brother. When he joined the Boy Scouts, so did I. But then he quit and left me there all alone. He taught me how to take pictures, so I bugged Mom until she got me my very own camera. That’s when Bruce stopped taking pictures. I stayed in Boy Scouts for six years and assumed a leadership position. I did things and went places that took me far away from my family, and I took lots of pictures. I learned how to ski the slalom runs and jump the moguls. Snow skiing gave me the freedom I didn’t know I needed and the fear that would fuel my independence. I hadn’t known how liberating and self-defining it could be to overcome one’s fears.
The years passed and we both grew older. Bruce started spending a lot of time working on cars because he knew I didn’t care too much about that kind of stuff. He drank a little, smoked some weed, and stole eight-track tape players from the cars that were parked on our block. He called it Midnight Auto. I didn’t like that, either.
And so it goes. The years I spent trying to get closer to Bruce were swallowed up by the years he spent trying to escape my grasp–the insecure clutches of a younger brother he had never wanted in the first place. We grew apart, not like normal siblings do, but like a tremulous patch of earth that had been violated by some violent force of nature, and then separated into two distinct sides of a deep, wide abyss.
Bruce did a lot of scuba diving while I was scrambling up and down mountain sides. He became an auto mechanic while I went off to college and became a teacher a thousand miles away. The last time we talked was right after our mother died. (Dad had been dead for about twenty years by then.) Without Mom as a referee, Bruce’s true feelings toward the little brother he never wanted came out in full force. And he took off his gloves.
He died about a year or so ago, I think. Give or take a month. I heard it was a nice funeral.
When I finally stop hating my brother, if I can ever get to that place, I’d like to revisit whatever good memories of him that still exist in my mind. I think I’d like to picture him standing on top of that tiny, snow-covered hill that seemed as tall as Mt. Everest at the time. It was interminably cold that day and the sky was flawlessly blue. The sun was shining brightly on the icy waters of Dark Head Creek. He looked majestic and important standing on top of that hill, all forty feet of it. I remember looking at him just before I put my skis together and slid down to the bottom of the icy slope. I was so happy and proud–not proud of what I had done, but proud of my big brother for having taught me so well.
Once I finally stopped sliding, I looked back at him. I was beaming with happiness–a huge smile and bright red cheeks. But he was no longer standing up on the hill; he had already left.
I was alone.