My relationship with my brother has never been typical. I didn’t even know I had an older brother until I was 5 years old.
My parents and I had been traveling to watch high school football games. I didn’t understand football, but I had a lot of fun playing with the cheerleaders and rooting for the team my parents rooted for. Over time I gained a friendship with a particular player who always spoke to my parents before and after the games. The interactions never lasted very long but it didn’t change the fondness displayed between everyone.
Eventually, after a big game in which the friendly player’s team won and there was lots of celebrating ( where in his excitement he picked me up and put me on his shoulder while in the middle of the huge crowd cheering,) I confessed something to my parents. I sprawled out in the backseat of our Pontiac Sunbird, ready to blissfully fall asleep on the 45 minute drive home. Groggily, I announced “I wish I had a brother just like Micheal.”
My parents looked at one another stunned, their silhouettes in profile filled with uncertainty, joy, and acknowledgement. My father nodded and began to drive the car home while my mother simply stated “That’s good, because he is your brother.”
I sat up. “Really?”
My father looked at me through the rearview mirror, “Yes, he’s my son from when I was married before I met your mother.”
I laid back down, “Oh, that’s good then. I do have a brother,” and fell asleep.
It wasn’t until three years later, after Michael’s senior prom, that life spun us all around and gave us each a different life. He was in a car accident driving home after the dance. No drugs or alcohol were involved; just a big antique Pontiac Grand Prix on old country roads. The accident was bad, but no one was mortally injured.
That particular night was such a blur. My memory is a haze of childhood innocence, so most of what I saw or heard I didn’t really understand, so now I don’t remember. What I do remember is how excited my parents were about Michael going to prom. My mom was letting him borrow her beautiful golden car, we were all going up to see him at his job before he went to pick up his date, and he could drive the Grand Prix from there.
(Please understand; we weren’t “allowed” to see Michael. His biological mother hated all three of us - my mother and I in particular. She had spent years building lies and fantasies to convince Michael my farther, mother, and I were terrible people. It took a long time for my father to work past those barriers and form a loving and healthy relationship with Michael without his bio-mother ever finding out.
He wasn’t supposed to be in contact with any of us - even less so borrowing my Mother’s car for Prom.)
My parent’s and I spent the evening watching movies in our R.V. parked in the lot of the grocery store Michael worked at in High School. I remember loud knocking scaring me awake. Police were there. My father thought they were upset we had been sitting there for so long, but the policeman interrupted him and asked if he was Michael’s father. He stepped outside, my mother listening at the door. I remember she inhaled sharply and began gathering things up, arranging her hair haphazardly, and telling me to put on my regular clothes. Cranky in my confused half-conscious state, I began to argue.
She simply stated sharply “Fine, stay in your pajamas. Michael is in the hospital and we have to go there now.”
I sat there. I don’t remember the transition between parking lot and hospital.
I do remember my dad carrying me into the E.R. area. So many people were there. I recognized cheerleaders, football players, other adults from the games, Michael’s friends ... and then my dad and I went into the room where he was lying on the bed. He had a huge gash in his forehead. IVs were strung out leading into cut arms already bruising. He was in a hospital gown, I wondered what happened to his wonderful suit. His legs were too stiff and bulky under the layers of blankets on the bed.
He and my father spoke. He was okay. He needed an operation on his knee and stitches in his forehead. I remember staring at the spot. It was a clean cut, deep enough to be at the bone, but inflamed enough to not display the layers of skin. It was a little bloody but coagulated nonetheless.
“Are you sure you’re okay Bubba?”
My father looked at me as if he finally realized I was there. I began to tear up... I didn’t want to lose the brother I finally had in my life. I leaned out of my father’s arm only wanting to hug Michael. I didn’t know his shoulder was hurt too, but he still reached up and hugged me with his good arm. My dad kissed him on top of his head as I hugged his neck as fiercely as my too-tiny-for-my-age body would allow.
We left the room.
I don’t know how much time passed. I suppose exhaustion, boredom, and lack of knowledge to the situation contributes to the patches of memories. What I remember next in being back in the waiting area. So many people still waiting for news about the occupants of the Golden Grand Prix. A passenger seated in the back came out, his only injury being to the top of his head where it collided with the ceiling light, scraping away the center of hair and scalp. People laughed and joked, clapping him on the back.
My mother was seated in a chair near me, holding my hand as I watched the scene. I recognized Michael’s friend and wanted to say hello. Before I took a step a woman on the other side of the room, behind the friend, raised an angry voice. My Father and Mother stood, reflexively and defensively. Cue Charlie Brown adult voices.... I don’t remember what all was verbally hurled at my parents or what they were saying back... I do know that we had been caught. The woman was Michael’s biological mother and she was trying to kick us out. I got the feeling at the time it was the room full of people who stopped her ranting and allowed the three of us to stay.
Later, when Michael and the others were out of surgery, my parents and I were standing in Michael’s hospital room with a smaller group of people who I believe were all family members in some way. There was a lot of talking, some raised voices, and Michael just listening to it all. His mother was arguing with someone across the room when Michael suddenly spoke up briskly. “I want to move in with Dad.”
My eyes went wide.
My mom hugged me tight.
I was going to be able to live with my brother?
His mother began to argue.
“I don’t care. I’m 18. I can make this choice for myself. He’s already said its okay and I want to live with him.”
And that was that.
Michael didn’t live with us for very long; less than four years. But in that time he and I had our own adventures and bonded. We sparred, wrestled, battled it out in the swimming pool, went on family vacations, and became friends as well as siblings.
He was the big brother I always wanted when I was very young.
He is still the brother I needed while growing up.
As adults, things seem very different. He and I have made drastically different choices in life and walked extremely different paths.
We have gone moths and years without really communicating or seeing each other. However; when we are finally in the same room together it’s as if time hasn’t passed. We rag on each other, poke fun, and rough house as much as two adults can while not breaking everything thing or pieces of ourselves.
I may not understand my bother or his actions all of the time, but I admire how he has charged through life, carving out his own happiness and overcoming so many obstacles and burdens.
When I went to him while working on my thesis and asked him my thematic question, his response - after huffing, pondering, and leaning into his kitchen counter while rubbing his goatee - was
“Wonder Woman in a Daisy Mae costume.”
Needless to say, I was shocked and extremely confused. My father about fell over laughing. Michael’s explanation of the description almost put me in tears.
“You are strong like Wonder Woman. I don’t know where or how you have that strength, but you do. You are going to kick anyone’s ass that tries to mess with you or, god-forbid, people you care about. I don’t want to see that wrath. But you are still small, sweet, and delicate; like Daisies. So; Wonder Woman in a Daisy Mae outfit.”
I was a bit overwhelmed. I sat down at his kitchen table collecting myself. I didn’t know he understood me in such a way. But it made sense at the same time. I know he has been a silent and invisible guardian all my life. He has always been at the ready to be my shield. He is my big brother.
I looked at him and replied, “Fine. It’s just ironic that you’re the one who is getting me into one of my cosplay outfits.”
He laughed, full body as he does, and said “Really, no one else has?”
“No one else said they saw me as Wonder Woman.”