Admittedly, my first novel is called Brothers in Arms, and I’ve recently given it a read-through and liked it, but that’s not what this post is about. I have quite a lot of disparate experience with brothers, and it’s been on my mind a lot.
So that’s what I want to write about today. Brothers.
From the time I was born until I was about 13, I had two older brothers. We shared a mother, but each had different fathers. I always knew they were my brothers; in other words, I can’t remember wondering about siblings the way I once wondered about my father.
My oldest brother was Daniel. He was about 9 years older than me, or so. I think. If my memory is right, he turned sixteen when I was seven. My next brother is about 3 years older than me and his name is Matthias.
I speak (okay, write) of Daniel in the past tense because he died violently when I was 13. There was a drug and crime connection. At least, that’s what I heard and I have had no reason to question that.
Matthias married a lovely Indian woman a couple years ago and they now have a sickeningly cute baby boy. They live and work in Oxford, England.
Now, I have always known I had brothers. Additionally, I spent more time with my brothers than with the other kids in the cult, for the most part. I recall seeing Daniel as a hero. I looked up to him physically and in every other way. He was not a great example, however. He led the kids on all kinds of wickedness, some of it criminal, some of it just mischievous fun.
I would do anything he asked of me. I very nearly worshipped him.
We were living in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, when he left the cult. I believe he was 16 or 17, so he was old enough to be on his own… at the time. He had been working at a Dunkin’ Donuts in town for a little while then and we had been enjoying the ‘fruits’ of his labor. These fruits came in large black trash bags and we could not detect any staleness.
So apparently he moved in with a friend, got into some chemicals etc. and essentially lost his way. I never saw him again, except for in a hallucination soon after he left, and spoke to him one time, when he called me out of the blue a few years later. I was 10 and living in Denver and he called me from the Bay area in CA. He talked about trying to get into college, getting help from his dad (whom I never met), and so on. We had a nice conversation.
Two years later, the tyrannical ruler of the Dallas branch of the cult sat me down and informed me that she had received word that Daniel had been killed. Over the next few years, I heard that Daniel had been selling drugs and was trying to get a rather imbalanced kid to take some when the kid pulled out a shotgun. Death was probably pretty fast.
We had a memorial for Daniel at the Dallas branch. Maybe half of the kids had known him, and maybe half of those had cared about him. I would guess that 20-30% of the adults there had never even heard of the kid who had left the cult and scorned and spurned it. Almost everyone was in tears with the collective grief elicited by manipulative eulogies and piano music.
I wanted to barf. The faux mourning and comfort being offered on the clear-glass altar made my blood boil. I was 13, so I was good at letting my blood boil. Each of us had a rose that we could go lay on the altar one by one. At the altar, we were expected to offer a prayer, I suppose, and cry some more. When I figured it was my turn to go up, I put the rose on the pile, raised my head, and said, “I’m not going to cry. You don’t want that.”
I then spent some time telling Daniel exactly what I thought of him getting himself killed over drugs. I also explained how I would show him what life was supposed to be like. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the sentiment. My idea was that I would honor him and somehow lift him up by living an exemplary, wildly dream-achieving life.
And that was that.
Except that I think about him a lot. I wonder what drove him to do what he did. I wonder what life would have been like if he hadn’t been so stupid. I wish he weren’t dead. I freely admit I’ve got an issue or two in relation to my oldest brother. I don’t really understand that issue, because the truth is that I never really knew him at all. I wasn’t old enough to be his confidante. I have very image-filled memories of times with him, but don’t remember conversations at all.
He sometimes caught flies out of the air and fed them to his dog, Amy.
He organized a kids’ boxing tournament when I was four or five. I beat my opponent handily.
Anyway, Daniel is not much of a measuring stick when it comes to brotherly relationships, but he’s a large part of my frame of reference.
Matthias has been almost completely opposite of Daniel. I spent a lot of years wondering why Matthias stayed with the cult, maintained his close relationships with the people in the cult, visited so often when he was off at school and pursuing his own life.
I realize now that it was not out of devotion to that group. He was devoted to people. He doted on our mother, formed an inspiring relationship with her final husband, stayed close to our mother’s relations, and continues to maintain strong bonds with his father (still in the group) and the rest of the people there. He seemed to be able to see the value of the group and the people he grew up with and around and was able to act out of love rather than anger. He certainly wasn’t blind to the crap that went on, and seems to have a remarkably complete understanding of the history of the cult and group, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.
I admire Matthias very much. He’s been cool-headed but loving. Solicitous of me and my family and a great brother and friend.
We aren’t terribly close. That’s probably mostly my fault, as everything I’ve done has essentially kept me very distant from the group. Some of that has been quite deliberate. I traveled a lot, joined a church that most of the former cult members probably laugh at, got married young and started having kids fast, and essentially formed priorities that didn’t include the old group.
To my detriment, I now believe. Those folks are, at heart and by and large, good people. Very flawed. With numerous, myriad mistakes in their past. But good people. I think I could have come to terms with forgiveness and thus fostered real friendships with people who really understand what my life was like growing up– if I hadn’t cut and run so thoroughly.
Back to Matthias. He is very smart– brilliant really– and driven. His PhD is in a field that will likely make a beautiful difference in this planet’s future. His wife, Kamal, is also very smart and equally driven. She’s a marvelous complement to him and I love their relationship.
If we lived closer, I think we would spend more time together. Oxford, England, and Provo, Utah, are far apart, however.
So my frame of reference for brothers, as you have gathered (if you’re still with me… if you’re asleep, dream of pink Peeps), is not really the usual. But my brothers have had a huge effect on my life. Daniel is a cautionary tale. Matthias is a tempering influence.
But there’s not a lot of emotional connection, which I think is fostered by close physical proximity over many years.
My two oldest boys show me what I’m missing. They are best friends. They don’t always get along and can get mightily peeved at each other, but it NEVER lasts more than an hour- less even. There is a total lack of doubt about mutual love there. Each knows, not consciously but in their bones, that the other loves him and would do anything for him. They are each other’s most dependable playmates. They are family and there exists in that brother relationship something that I think is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever witnessed, but can’t really put words to.
An unshakeable certainty that each loves the other?
An expectation of companionship for the rest of eternity?
Certainly neither of them can imagine, or would imagine, a world without the other.
I have to stop now because.. yeah.
Thanks for bearing with me. If you can help me verbalize that sibling/brotherly relationship, I’d love it.