My baby brother turned thirty this morning.
As long as I can clearly remember he has been my companion, my playmate, my competition, my partner in crime, my cheerleader, my co-conspirator, my brother.
We’ve given each other bruises and blood-blisters. Burns and scrapes and scars. He once shoved me into the wood stove.
One year we got coal for Christmas, real coal, after spending Christmas Eve locked in the throws of the rivalry only very close siblings know. We, being mischievous children, refused to allow or special Christmas Coal to be burned in the furnace and saved it in disintegrating Ziploc bags for years.
We’ve seen each other broken and desperate and returning from our earliest forays from the safety of family into the great loneliness of the wide world. We’ve defended each other and offended each other more times than I can count.
He almost learned to ride his bike before I mastered mine. There was nothing like the threat of my baby brother getting there first to motivate me to get back up and try again. The day we learned we peddled up and down the long dirt driveway all day and at the end were so tired we fell asleep in our spaghetti and had to be carried to bed.
I remember our first church potluck. I think we were seven and five. We had never, ever, seen to much food. Two kids who were always hungry and often cold and felt like we never had quite enough. We ate and ate and ate. Then went back for more dessert. When it was time to go mom couldn’t find us. We had crawled off to a dark, empty Sunday School room so stuffed we couldn’t move.
Mom used to drive an hour to take us to see fireworks for the Fourth of July. We’d put our pajamas on in a public park and watch the show on an old picnic blanket on the hood of the station wagon. (Station wagons had miles-long hoods back then!) It was guaranteed we’d fall asleep on the way home. He was perhaps 2 or 3 one year and we had the best spot in town–right under the hill they were launched from–and they were so close and loud he slipped off the car and started running home.
I have a picture of him, 18 years-old and snuggling a kitten. By 18 he was 6 feet tall and had the muscles of a young man who made his living hauling roofing tiles up ladders and swinging 20 pound hammers. He had a beard and hair tied back in a messy, short pony-tail. And a long-haired adolescent cat in his arms.
But today, today he is 30.
He’s still a free-spirit. And I couldn’t be prouder of my baby brother. I don’t understand him like I used to. The last ten years have forced us to grow up and grow apart. We don’t get to spend long afternoons smoking pot in a rusted out Tercel on the edge of town or weekends playing backgammon by the peculiar set of sibling-rules we invented anymore. We don’t take weekend road trips to visit our cousin or stay up all night in Denny’s doing our homework and chain smoking Camels these days. We don’t mop up each others’ vomit when the party has gone on too long or wake up hungover and cure it with pots of coffee and bong-hits while watching This Old House and VHS recordings of re-runs of The Simpsons anymore.
Our bond isn’t what it was. Now we talk about our aching knees (bad genes on that one) and the mischief our pets have gotten into. We talk about organic bug-control methods for house plants and joke about dodging guilt-trips from a parent I won’t specify.
That sibling-bond may be the strongest known to human-kind. As long as he has been alive he has had me poking his soft spots and as long as I can remember I have had him chewing on my toys. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy Birthday, Little Bro!