Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greetings from the Heavy One

The relationship between siblings is complex.  The level of complexity - in my experience - bears a relationship to the number of siblings in a particular family.  The more component parts, the more complex the machine.  Complexity has its advantages.  But is also has its potential pitfalls for the greater the number of component parts, the greater likelihood of a breakdown.

Of all of the intra-sibling relationships, in a family of six brothers/sisters where the span from oldest to youngest sibling is approximately fifteen years it is the relationship between the polar children that one could reasonably anticipate would be the most attenuated.  After all, at the birth of the youngest, the oldest is already in 8th or 9th grade.  By the time the youngest is preparing to shuffle off to kindergarten, the oldest is graduating from college.  It is a relationship that time suggests lends itself to little likelihood of overlap.  It is a relationship that appears to be fraternal and multi-generational simultaneously.

For reasons that have never been entirely clear to me (and seem less so the older I get and the less deserving of such interest that I become) my oldest brother Bill dispelled those notions and took an awfully keen interest in me, the last of the five younger brothers and sisters who intruded upon the peace of his sanctum as Mom/Dad's oldest child.  I never know what exactly to say to the person who took it upon himself to teach me how to read by the time I was two years old.  The person who not only allowed me to tag along behind him while he was an undergraduate student at Rutgers University but who made a point of permitting me to ride shotgun in the Pinto for extended sessions at the Rutgers Library. 

I was so deeply in the grips of epilepsy that I could not run from here to the end of this sentence without the risk of tripping over my own two feet - or my tongue - but I was one of the few pre-school kids in the United States who knew where Vietnam was and what the role of the United States was in Southeast Asia.  I remember along the way getting to meet Bill's friend Nat Clymer - who I seem to recall having a gig as both a writer and a photographer for the Somerset Messenger-Gazette - along with his friends Stu and Marcie Levy.  All of them were college-age as he was and none of them seemed put out at all by the presence of a moppet in their midst.  I realize now what i was astute enough to realize even then, which is that their tolerance of my presence had nothing to do with me an everything to do with him.  He wanted me to be there.  And that was good enough for them. 

One life-altering favor per sibling should be more than enough.  It is not even the half of it.  One day last week I remarked upon the fact that I have been occupying this particular space in the ether for slightly more than three years now.  Over the weekend, while it was raining or during some such time of distraction and limited productivity, I found myself browsing the landscape here - popping in and out of some of the things I have written over that time.  Some of them make me scratch my head now.  Some of them hold up better than others.  Many are utter and sheer nonsense.

Not all.  In late January 2009 I made a decision that I believed at the time was an excellent one.  I left the Firm to practice law somewhere else.  Almost immediately after one door closed behind me I realized that the grass was not only not greener where I was headed, it was not even grass.  It was painted cement.  What I had looked forward to as a decision that would impact my life did just that.  Unfortunately the effect it had upon me was not good.  The tighter I closed my fist around the grenade I was holding, the more substantial and far-reaching the damage was that it inflicted. 

On a Sunday morning in the middle of March, Bill did something that frankly neither he nor I do with any frequency:  he telephoned me.  Ours is a relationship heavy on written exchanges and (when we end up in the same place face-to-face ones) but very light on telephonic ones, which works for me for I hate the phone.  Bill telephoned me on that Sunday because something had read in this space alerted him to the fact that all was not well in my personal Denmark.  We spent a considerable amount of time talking about not only my problem, which was of the self-created variety, but a couple of possible avenues for remedying it. 

While my brother will undoubtedly shake his head "No" quite vigorously as he reads this, he might be among a group of the two or three smartest humans I have ever met or interacted with in the entirety of my life.  When one receives counsel from such a trusted source, one does what I did:  one follows it.  At first, it was uncertain whether the damage I had wrought onto my own life could be undone - even if a Mulligan had been declared by fraternal fiat.  But as time passed and March gave way to April and then April ceded the spotlight to May, a change had indeed come

A change that was made possible in no small part by me doing something at 42 that I had been doing at that point for at least 40 years:  learning the lessons taught to me by my brother.  Today Bill is celebrating his birthday.  Fifty-nine years young.  I know not what to say when neither "thank you" nor "love you" seem to quite cover the debt owed.  For today at least I hope Happy Birthday will do.....

....and we can worry about tomorrow on another day.



dweeb said...

I'm not sure I did you any favors putting you in the Pinto, bro.

Surprised I never heard from Nader's Raiders about that.-bill

Adam Kenny said...

Not only did I escape unscathed riding in your Pinto but when Mom, Kara, Jill and I got blasted by a drunk driver in North Carolina (while driving to Florida in March of 1981), we were in Mom's Pinto station wagon. Car got crushed. We all escaped (thankfully) relatively unharmed.