My brother is a lot of things.
When I was still an infant, my big brother, Craig, or “Biggie” as I called him when I was small, left for the Army when my father pulled him out of high school and signed him up to “make a man out of him”.
My brother was a soldier. But not for long. It didn’t fit.
“Your brother is a no good bum. They kicked him out. Dishonorable discharge. He couldn’t hack it, he’s weak,” declared my father several times, usually while intoxicated, often after knocking our mother around. My older sister had her bags packed and left at 6am on her 18th birthday to escape, so she was no longer a target. My brother, the oldest of us, still was. My next oldest sister only caught his fists once or twice. “Your pa never really hit her much. Just the other two.”
My first clear memory of my brother, broad shouldered and just shy of six feet, was him standing tall, his blue/grey eyes expressionless and staring ahead while my father, perpetually drunk, angry, and several inches shorter than my brother, told him how worthless he was for not having a job, not being a soldier, not being who my father wanted him to be.
My brother was strong, I knew this when I was 3 years old as he’d grab me and hoist me over his head while running around the yard making airplane noises.
He was brave, I knew when I was 4 years old when he jumped on top of his friend’s moving car to “surf” while it slowly drove up the hill — while I screamed because I was sure he was going to die. My brother was kind because, as soon as he heard me screaming, he jumped off the car and ran down the hill to grab me and tell me how it was all ok and how funny that was and that Biggie was just playing.
My brother was funny, I knew this when I was 5 years old and I realized he was changing half of the words to the stories he’d read to me to make them more interesting. Or completely absurd.
My brother was fun. I knew this when I was 6 years old and he took me to see this new movie called Star Wars. He could make the Chewbacca sound frighteningly well.
My brother was talented. He painted and wrote poetry. He could also play pool better than most people and taught me to play left handed when I was 8 after I broke my right arm falling from the monkey bars. I was never very good…I’m still not.
My brother was patient, I knew this when I was 9 and he’d sometimes reluctantly take me with him to visit his friends who I thought were so fun and most of them tolerated me almost as well as he did. Most of the time. I played with their dogs and cats while they smoked something that smelled terrible out on the back porch.
My brother was caring. I knew this when I was 10. My mother had left a camping trip early after my father had been horrible to her in some predictable fashion. I insisted on staying behind because I wasn’t done hunting for frogs — which ultimately left me stuck in our camper while my father had a massive seizure from the brain tumor he’d die from later that year. The camp host let me call my mom to come back, and my brother took me fishing to distract me. I caught a trout that wasn’t quite big enough to keep. My brother said I measured it wrong and we had it for dinner later that night.
My brother was a jerk. I knew this when I was I was 11 and he told me my new permed hair made me look like a chubby poodle with bunny teeth.
My brother was vain. I knew this when I was 12 and he danced around the living room replacing the word “You” with “Me” in Billy Squier’s “Everybody Wants You” while shirtless and kissing his hands and patting his muscles. I rolled my eyes and told him he was stupid and ugly. He looked a lot like the character Brad Pitt played in the British movie, “Snatch”.
My brother was charming. He always had admirers who did not think he was stupid and ugly. Mostly because he was neither.
My brother was an addict. I knew this when I was a bit older and realized he was stealing from both me and my mother on occasion so that he could pawn the things he stole to feed his habit. He had been in and out of jail my whole life but I didn’t even really know why — it wasn’t really discussed until I had to call the police on him after finding several neighbors’ power tools in our garage…and after my mother mentioning that her camera went missing. He went away for a while.
Our mother missed him. I shrugged.
My brother was very strong. He was an impressive fighter. I learned this after hearing how his smart mouth had pissed off three burly longshoremen at the bar he frequented once he was released from jail. They joined forces to shut him up after he mocked them for one reason or another, and, as the story goes, he literally skipped away from three broken, bleeding drunk bodies on the ground while laughing and singing a nonsense song. I always liked that story. I used to wonder where he learned to fight, but then I remembered that my father was a boxer and my brother had no choice but to learn.
“Your brother is one of the strongest guys I know,” I’d have people tell me from time to time. I didn’t doubt it.
My brother was resilient. I was told another story about how he had survived a bad batch of drugs that killed the people at the party who had taken them. Except for my brother. It didn’t quite kill him.
“He’s a strong son of a bitch.” My brother was different after that.
My brother was an addict. I was constantly reminded of this, including a time that I had to fly back from out of state to have him legally removed from my mother’s house after I heard his behavior had gotten erratic and I heard my mother cry for the second time (the first being the day my father had died).
My brother was remorseful. He reluctantly looked me in the eye when I stood alongside the police officers while he grabbed his belongings before he left that day. He didn’t say much, but his face told enough to let me know he knew he had screwed up.
My brother was hurting. We had a very out-of-character evening where we went out to celebrate our birthdays as adult siblings who, due to our age difference, had not really grown up together as peers. In a rare, vulnerable moment, he told me how he had always wanted our dad’s approval – for anything – but seemed to fall short on every level. I found that ironic considering my father’s shortcomings. I could see the pain on my brother’s face. And then he bought another round. My brother proceeded to win $50 playing pool with tourists. It was a good night.
My brother was strong. I knew this after he, as a pedestrian, was hit by a car that was traveling upwards of around fifty miles per hour and then flown to a hospital out of town to almost certainly die. He didn’t.
“Your brother is ridiculously strong,” they said. “He’s got zero business being alive and he’s making liars out of all of us. We didn’t expect him to pull through.” I was unsurprised. I named him “The Cockroach”. We would have a nuclear holocaust and the only survivors would be cockroaches…and my brother.
My brother is forgiving. He held no malice towards the man who hit him because he knew the man was on his way to a hospital to see his first grandchild be born and that it was an accident. My brother would have preferred it was someone with a Cadillac that hit him and not a mid-80s Chevrolet.
My brother was a veteran. And he had an honorable discharge from the Army. I know this because, while trying to establish benefits for him, I located a copy of his discharge papers. I cried because I was so goddamn angry that our father had felt it necessary to lie about this.
My brother is stubborn. I dealt with this after he refused to stay in an Adult Foster Home because he wanted to be home near our mother. He was broken from head to toe from the accident and could no longer move about without the aid of a walker, but he insisted that he had to be there to look over our mother. I humored him. And I realized my humoring him was insulting because his presence made my mother feel safer. Or at least comforted.
My brother is dying. I knew this when he started complaining of chest pains and ultimately was diagnosed with cancer. I heard my mother cry for the third time when we got this news.
My brother continued to be funny. Any time I’d call to check in on him at the hospital, they’d tell me something else outrageous he had said. One time it involved strippers. Another time he refused to eat his jello because he didn’t like John, his nurse. He told John to go to hell and take the jello with him.
My brother was still caring. He was nearing the final stages of cancer and he still bugged the hospice personnel on a daily basis to check on our mother. He could barely speak, but he struggled to communicate that to them until he could no longer vocalize full sentences, they told me this when they phoned me with reports on his deterioration.
My brother is strong. His hospice nurse tells me earlier today, “Your brother has got to be one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen.” For all intents and purposes, my brother should have been dead weeks ago for how far the disease has progressed and what it’s done to his once sturdy frame. He can’t weigh more than 70 pounds. But he refuses to go. Yet.
My brother is strong. I sat with him the other day and watched what I thought was him trembling. But it was his heartbeat shaking his now skeletal frame with each beat. It was hypnotic.
My brother is strong. He can no longer speak beyond a mumble, but he mustered the energy to slowly but loudly say, “…..SHUT…..UP” to the nurse that came in and interrupted our visit with questions about whether he wanted to eat the crappy, now cold meal they had brought in for him an hour prior my arrival. I had to laugh. Fortunately the nurse did, too. “Well, that was clear enough.”
My brother is strong. “We’re not sure how he’s hanging on, but he is. He’s something else.”
My brother is something else. He’s a lot of things.
He’s charming. He’s kind. He’s a jerk. He’s an addict. He’s caring. He’s remorseful. He’s funny. He’s strong. He’s dying.
My brother will be missed.
In memory of Craig T. Myers: June 7, 1954 – May 5, 2016