Yes, we tossed him like a football when he was two years old. We did. And yes, we folded him like a smiling gangly awkward puppet into a kitchen cabinet. We did that. Yes, we painted his face blue once, and sent him roaring into our teenage sister’s room to wake her up on a Saturday. We did that, too. Yes, we stood in the hospital parking lot with our dad and waved up at the room where our mom stood in the window brandishing our new kid brother who looked from where we stood like a bundle of laundry more than a kid brother. Yes, we gawped at him with disappointment when he came home and was placed proudly on the couch like a mewling prize and we muttered later quietly in our room that he seemed totally useless, brotherwise. We kept checking on him the rest of the day and he never did do anything interesting that we noticed, not even wail or bellow like babies did in the movies and on television, even when you poked him with a surreptitious finger. He just sprawled there looking perfect, and after a while we lost interest and we went upstairs to plot against our sister.
As he grew, he remained the most cheerful compliant complaisant child you ever saw, never complaining in the least when we tossed him or decked him or chose him last for football games or sent him in first as lonely assault force in conflicts of all sorts, and we were always half-forgetting him when we dashed off on adventures and expeditions, and we were always half-absorbed by and half-annoyed with his littlebrotherness, happy to defend him adamantly against the taunts and shoves of others but not at all averse to burling him around like a puppy ourselves. We buried him in the sand up to his jaw at the beach. We spoke to him curtly and cuttingly when we felt that he was the apple of the grandmotherly eye and we were the peach pits, the shriveled potato skins, the sad brown pelts of dead pears. We did that.
And never once that I remember did he hit back, or assault us, or issue snide and sneering remarks, or rat on us to the authorities, or shriek with rage, or abandon us exasperated for the refuge of his friends. Never once that I can remember, and I am ferociously memorious, can I remember him sad or angry or bitter or furious. When I think of him, I see his smile, and never any other look on his face, and isn’t that amazing? Of how many of our friends and family can that be said? Not many, not many; nor can I say it of myself.
But I can say it of my kid brother, and this morning I suggest that those of us with kid brothers are immensely lucky in life, and those of us without kid brothers missed a great gentle gift unlike any other; for older brothers are stern and heroic and parental, lodestars to steer by or steer against, but kid brothers, at least in their opening chapters, are open books, eager and trusting, innocent and gentle; in some deep subtle way they are the best of you, the way you were, the way you hope some part of you will always be; in some odd way, at least for a while, they were the best of your family, too, the essence of what was good and true and holy about the blood that bound you each to each.
Often, I remember, we would be halfway down the street before one of us realized we had forgotten our kid brother, and we would grudgingly wrench our bicycles to skidding halts, and wait impatiently for him to catch up; and it says something deep and true and holy about my kid brother, who grew up to be a wonderfully generous and stalwart and patient and trustworthy man, that often now I find myself feeling somehow that he is slightly ahead of me, waiting with a smile, and I am pedaling furiously, trying to catch up to him.
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