Monday, August 01, 2005

Little Big John

My brother and I have different mothers, but to us we are not half brothers; we don't feel the need to make the distinction like one does when introducing a step-mother. We are simply brothers, separated when I was ten and he was five -- doomed to only see each other on summer breaks -- with my unborn sister sleeping in my step-mothers' womb.

I didn't appreciate my brother when I was a boy. At five years his elder, I was the focus of his life. He was my shadow -- every aspect of living was dominated by the presence of this little kid that wanted to do everything I did, to be treated fairly, as an equal. My point of view however, changed one early summer, at a Cleveland airport terminal.

"This is your final boarding call for all passengers flying Continental non-stop service to Houston," the practiced voice over the terminal speakers announced. I was impatient to leave and quickly said my goodbyes to my step-mother and dad. I don't remember what advice they imparted, my memory fails me now. I turned away but my step-mother stopped me, "Aren't you going to say goodbye to your brother?"

Oh yeah, him. This vacation was a vacation from him, time to spend all by myself worrying about only myself. To be pampered by my mother who missed me and rigged the entire world to dance to my music for a summer. I hadn't forgotten to say goodbye, I just wanted to get away, and were I to say anything, it would have been good riddance.

Annoyed, I turned around slowly and looked down to say something, anything, only to be taken aback by the sight of a little boy with tears streaming down his face. I saw it then, who I really was, a shallow selfish boy. My perception of the world melted like ice cream in a blast furnace, and the dismissive words evaporated in my mouth, leaving me with nothing to say. I hugged him and he held me tight, as if I were teetering on a precipice. My eyes began to water, so I turned away before he could see me and ran through the gate.

With such a head start in life, I was substantially bigger and stronger than my brother, who we all called Little John, a title he was happy with until his late teens. He however wielded the power of his mother, and could invoke her like a warlock summons a demon whenever I pushed him too far, or sometimes out of pure spite. It was thus that we struck a balance.

As a little boy, John was fascinated with his naked ass, and it wasn't uncommon to walk around the corner to be greeted by his winking brown eye. Sometimes I would be outside with a group of friends playing tag or hide and seek, and John would be in the middle of it all with his pants around his ankles and palms down on the grass, frozen like a sculpture until somebody acknowledged it by kicking him over or yelling at him to pull his pants up, which was usually me. This drove his mother crazy, who decided enough was enough. One morning I was getting dressed for school and John did his trick, and mom walked into the room and slapped him on the rear so hard that it tumbled him over into a somersault. When he recovered he saw mom who had retreated to the doorway, and me in the corner trying desperately not to laugh.

"Mom, Scott hit me!"

I couldn't help it, and my laughter escaped in a loud report.

"Scott!" She looked at me in warning.

But that is the way it always was, one of us getting in trouble and the other one barely in control, which usually resulted in both of us in trouble.

Eventually, all little brothers keep growing after the big brother stops, and the old rules don't work anymore, and new ones have to replace them. We were working for dad on a rooftop when he made me mad and I told him how it was going to be. He looked me defiantly in the eyes.

"I'm not backing down to you anymore."

"Really." I stepped in front of him and tried to look mean. "All right, take your shot then." I gave him a shove, but he stared back at me, not a trace of fear in his eyes.

He didn't fight back, but we both stood there like Zaxes, the two Dr. Suess characters that traveled in only one direction each, opposite one another, refusing to move or even blink. I said something stupid like, "That's what I thought," then backed down after an intolerable wait.

Later that night, I apologized.

"John, listen, I'm sorry for treating you like that. You're grown up now, and I can't keep treating you like a kid."

"It doesn't need to be that way between us," he said.

"I guess I'm a little like dad sometimes, huh?"

He just smiled.

Every summer that John would come for a visit, we had an arm wrestling match. Unlike myself, John had a fire within, an urge to win that consumed him. I beat him every time, but he screamed and kicked like a mule on the way down. As I got older, I didn't care much about arm wrestling any more, and my career changed from carpenter to software engineer, and time spent at the gym was phased out for other less strenuous pursuits. My brother though, was in his prime, working as a home builder and getting bigger by the day.

He motioned me towards the table. "A little arm wrestling bro?"

"Sure, if you think you got what it takes," I said confidently.

We locked hands and his grip was surprisingly strong, and his skin was like sandpaper. He exhaled in short bursts like a steam powered train leaving the station, and when we started, he growled like a grizzly, pulling me over with ease.

And here we were, somewhere we had never been before. I was ashamed, and looked to the floor, trying to find something smart to say, something gracious and dignified. I reached out and shook his hand.

"Congratulations John, you beat me fair and square."

I could see the battle lust and elation swimming in his eyes, but he tried to hide it. All those years of being my little brother, of always being second best had come to an end, and now he had finally, finally, bested me. One of his lifetime goals had been achieved, and surely he wanted to celebrate, to rub it in and dance Mark Gastineau style around the room, but something in my eyes must have affected him like that tear soaked face in that airport terminal did so to me long ago. He hugged me and whispered in my ear. "You're still my big brother."


jenbeauty said...

I am smiling with tears in my eyes Scott. Wonderful story, I am glad you got to know your brother.

Scott said...

Thanks Jen!

mr. schprock said...

Nice, nice story. Good one, Scott!

mr. schprock said...

Although if my little brother ever beats me like that, I'll key his car!

Mr. T said...

I'm still waiting for my little brother to grow up. He's nearing his big 30 (two years my junior) and he's still striving to get his life in order. I use to father him but eventually realized he didn't need another one and just let him be my brother and make his own mistakes.

Another Great story Scott. Stories like these make me glad to know you, even if its through a blog ;)

Scott said...

Schprock, Classic, I never thought about doing that! Honestly it was a relief to have it over with. As I'm aging I like the whole concept less and less.
By the way, I'm really glad to hear that you asked your daughter to dinner, and I hope that went well. I hope you didn't think I was comparing you to Knitters husband. Never having anything to do with your son while he is growing, when a boy desperately needs his father, is a far cry from being estranged from your teenaged daughter. Still, I'm glad you took the initiative. I already miss my children when they are going to be gone from my house, and they are only five and two. I couldn't bear a cold war in the precious time that I have with them.

Scott said...

T - Wow, that was a nice thing to say. It seems that we have some commonality, it the way that we view life. Being a big brother is a tough job sometimes, and I think we are forced to watch them go through some really hard times while we are helpless, relegated to spectator status. Don't give up though. I'll post about my how my brother is doing nowadays, and you'll see that we have even more in common than you think.

Mrs.T said...

I don't have this experience, I grew up as an only child...

BUT I would have been hell on wheels as an older sister... VERY bossy... and I'd have kicked any ones ass for messing with my younger siblings, but I would probably kick their butts myself... Its just that I would feel it was only MY priveledge to do so..

Dixie Belle said...

Great story! I loved the part about him baring his butt all the time. So funny.

Scott said...

Mrs. T - Actually, I had to bang a few heads growing up with such a spirited little brother. Funny you should mention it. I felt just like you, that nobody messes with my brother -- except for me!

Dixie - I know, what a trip, huh?

mr. schprock said...

Thanks for the kind words, Scott. She's a good kid. She and I don't have a lot in common, but we love each other. She's pretty close to her mother, which is good.

Enjoy your kids as they are now. You can control them!

Diana said...

It's the little details you put in your stories, (like the butt flashing) that make them so enjoyable to read. Great work!

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

Another mix of delightful humor and touching memories. Wonderful!

Scott said...

S - I control who?

Diane and Joely - Thanks, I started going places with this one that I haven't before.