I have–had–two brothers, both older than I. It’s the oldest brother to whom I refer. I have rarely if ever mentioned the one closer in age to me, because while he’s a fine fellow – reliable, honest, hardworking, a good son, brother, husband, and father – there’s just no good stories about him.
But our oldest brother is another matter. Him I have mentioned often, usually to vent, and generally referring to him as my hated older brother. Which is an exaggeration. Oh, I didn’t like him; we haven’t been friends in something like a quarter of a century. But I didn’t really hate him. I didn’t want him dead or arrested or deported; I just didn’t care whether I ever saw him again. There’s a ton of reasons. He was a bully who enjoyed sadistically tickling people, including our younger sisters; he was as self-righteous evangelical Christian who took every opportunity to lecture persons less holy than he; he lectured me on the state of my marriage when his own had lasted less than two years. Most importantly he spent fifteen years breaking our mother’s heart a little bit at a time, because he could never be arsed to visit and rarely to call. She spent the last years of her life in and out of the hospital, and yet he, so proud of his adherence to the Ten Commandments, could never be arsed to take the one hour plane ride home to visit her (even when his siblings would offer to pay for his ticket), except on the one occasion when I decided to spend my day off calling him at work every hour on the hour to shame him into coming. A month after her death, he finally came home for Christmas. Trying to make peace with him I engaged him in conversation, whereupon he repeated something he’d been saying for years: that, as a righteous servant of God, he was guaranteed to live 120 years. And then he acted surprised that I was offended by this, as our mother had just died at 68.
Okay. Got some anger there.
Anyway, my brother died over the weekend. I do not yet know the details of how or why he died, though I have my suspicions. What I do know is that his landlady got concerned about him because mail was piling up in his box, so she called the police to do a welfare check and they found him dead in his bed. She got one of our cousin’s phone numbers off his facebook page, informed him, and that cousin called me.
If you had asked me a month ago – hell, a week ago – what reaction I would have to news of my brother’s sudden death, I would have predicted that I would shrug and say “Well, damn, I hope the funeral’s on a Saturday so I don’t have to take any time off work.” But I surprised myself. Apparently there’s some remnant of the six-year-old me in my heart, because when my family started assembling, my little sister, already crying, came to me for a hug, and when I returned it I burst into tears. Intellectually I know he was a fucking jackass whom I not only wished never to see again but also wanted to keep away from my wife and kids. But for that moment I was that six-year-old who worshipped his older brother, and I missed him and I was miserable.
I am not sure how I feel now. This very moment, the six-year-old me is quiescent, as if that crying jag exhausted all the grief. But I’m not sure. I had grown to hate the sight of his face, but I keep imagining what it will be like to see him that one last time before we close the coffin on him. I know he was a pernicious influence on me whom I consciously chose as a negative role model, but part of me still remembers playing chess with him, going bow-hunting with him, watching Star Trek with him, reading comics with him, and those are good memories.
I never wanted to see my brother again, and yet I’m upset that I will never get to see him again.
Apparently you can love and hate someone at the same time. Design flaw of the heart, I guess.