Monday, January 5, 2009

1,200 miles

My brother is coming home for a couple of days next month.

Five months ago Friday, I took him to a concert in Camden. It was his birthday. I bought him a T-shirt and a beer, and I watched as he grinned while I bopped around to the Counting Crows, Maroon 5 and Sara Bareilles. He was so unsure of himself, so uncomfortable in his own skin... He's never been an outgoing person and he's always been so cautious in public, around strangers.

I wonder if that's different now.

I imagine he's changed in a lot of ways, but part of me knows he's just the same, too. I like to think he's overcome, grown, moved forward. I worry, though, from how he sounds when I talk to him. Sometimes, it sounds exactly like before. Other times, it sounds just like after.

You don't realize how much you can miss a person until they're gone. I've drifted from him in the past few years - maybe since I've gone to college - and although I tried, we haven't gotten along terribly well in the recent past. Maybe I should have tried harder. In any case, I hardly spoke to him and saw him even less.

Now that he's more than 1,200 miles away, there's an emptiness that just hangs there, this little void that was full of a vibrant person not so long ago. It doesn't matter that we've drifted now. He's done stupid, stupid things. He's had a rough go of it. For better or worse, though, he's my little brother.

He's the same kid who waited for my bus in middle school, and then early high school, so we could watch the Disney Channel together every afternoon. The same little guy I'd have footsie wars on the couch with. He's the one I'd build extravagant blanket forts with. The one I'd teach crafts to.

When he was very small - probably about three years old - he loved the ladybug ride at Wonderland Pier. I remember the last time I rode with him. I was just too tall, and I had to cram myself in, folding my knees up to my chin to get into that little red polka-dotted cart. I had a hell of a time getting out, too, and I refused after that to ride it again.

If I could do it over, I'd keep shoving myself in that little car until I was asked to stop.

Even before that, maybe when he was about two, Mema and Poppy had this radio they'd play in the kitchen. At Christmas time, Mema took to playing "Up on the Housetop" for him. He would hop up and down through that entire song with this huge smile on his face singing along. When it would get to the line, "Up on the housetop, click, click, click," right at the end, I can still see him hop - one, two, three - with those clicks, his diaper rustling and his feet smacking the linoleum floor.

When he was in the third or fourth grade, he had to make a diorama for history class, and he wanted to do his on Eskimos. We sat and went over his textbook and he told me about how they lived, and I sculpted little figures for him out of clay - eskimos and sled dogs and bears. He wanted to try, and I showed him how to make simple little birds, which he proudly pinned to the sky of his project.

He played sports since he could walk, and he was a standout in baseball in particular. I used to go to his games sometimes and watch him pitch. I went to some of his soccer, basketball and hockey games, too.

Now, though, I wish I had gone to more of them.

He's coming to visit for a couple of days next month, but he's not coming home. I worry how he's going to make it on his own.

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