Christmas Eve makes me think of my brother.
We didn’t get along very well when we were growing up - - mostly because I was selfish and greedy for my parent’s attention and pushed the sibling rivalry thing much too far.
I was the first born child and I learned early and well how to gain their approval and attention.
My parents met acting in a neighborhood theater and shared a love for the performing arts.
Both avid readers, they also shared a love of books.
I liked what they liked.
I performed well academically and on stage.
My brother was different.
He was never particularly interested in school and was always a bit shy.
As I reflect on who he was then, and who he has become, I recognize that he was always a builder, an artist and a dreamer.
He was motivated by creating things and excelled in woodshop.
He loved to tear things apart to see how they worked (including my beloved panda-shaped transistor radio which he smashed to bits with a hammer just to see the inside.)
He would rock himself back and forth to music for hours and hours, thinking his own thoughts.
Until he was big enough to fight back, I sat on him, pinned his arms to his sides and ridiculed him.
I remember saying awful things to him.
Finally one day he chased me around the house with a baseball bat. I escaped into my room and slammed the door in his face and my brother smacked a hole through it with the bat.
I didn’t mess with him in a physical way after that.
In high school, I was an over-achieving academic and drama club geek. He briefly played football and then vanished into the shadows at the back of the school with the “burn-outs” and let his inky black locks grow down his back.
I’m sure he didn’t feel like he fit in at high school any more than I did.
Today, my brother owns a business framing houses in an affluent community between New York and Philadelphia.
He lives in a house he built himself with his two sons and his wife who is pregnant with their baby girl due in five days.
His black hair is now flecked with silver and his hands are giant, calloused paws.
He still doesn’t like to read much.
He’d rather watch an Eagles game.
You might meet him having a few beers after work, shooting darts with his buddies and smoking a Marlboro Red.
His limbs would likely be sore from the physical demands of his job and, if you talked with him long enough, he might tell you how he doesn’t want his own children to follow him in his line of work because he feels like it takes too great a toll on his body.
If you met my brother, he would seem tough and rugged at first.
You would have to really get to know him to understand that though he has a tough veneer, he is actually quite sentimental and the most loyal friend you could ever find.
After I went away to a midwestern college, my parents moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania.
I didn’t know anyone there and when I came home for the holidays my brother was my only companion.
Luckily, college had taught me to appreciate… certain recreational activities that he enjoyed… and Led Zeppelin too.
It was during these times, my visits home from college, that my brother and I got to know each other and learned how to be friends. I began to appreciate my brother and to regret the years I wasted antagonizing him.
I remember one of the last Christmas holidays I spent at my parent's house and specifically how I spent that Christmas Eve with my brother.
My brother had been working on his first construction job and the contractor had given him a bottle of vodka as a Christmas bonus.
As pathetic a “bonus” as it was, we weren’t about to let it go to waste and we snuck off to his room.
I guess my brother must have wanted to drink the vodka cold because he tied a string around the bottle neck, opened the bedroom window and hung the vodka outside in the winter cold.
Meanwhile, we drank beer that had already chilled on his other windowsill.
Oh, the drunken brother and sister...
At some point we decided it would be a good idea to dress up in costumes.
As I recall, my brother put on an afro wig in rainbow colors and the rest of a clown get up. I think I ended up dressed as some kind of hippie throwback, dead-show stalking, fabulous fury freak brother.
We danced around his room in our wild outfits and at exactly the moment when we really should’ve STOPPED drinking, remembered the vodka hanging out the window.
My brother threw the window open, but fumbled catching the string and his bottled Christmas bonus fell from his second story bedroom window and exploded into a million shards of glass on the icy steps leading to the front door of my parent’s house. Not a drop of it had been tasted.
Disbelief, then laughter, then intelligent thoughts like, "Heh, heh. More beer!"
As our speech and motion slowed, we started looking at old family photo albums.
Tears came to my brother’s eyes.
I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing will ever be the same again. These times are gone and they will never come back to us.”
I remember being surprised by his thoughts, but he was right.
That was probably one of the last times my family spent Christmas together.
I became serious with a boyfriend; my parents divorced… things changed. Nothing ever was the same again.
My brother somehow recognized or knew that we were at a crossroads, a point in our lives where our paths would diverge.
Though our separate paths would lead each of us to our futures – our spouses, our own children, and our "grown up" lives, he and I would never live under the same roof again.
“Immediate family” would come to be defined differently. It would refer to other people.
We both ended up passed out in his room that night.
In the morning, my young cousins waited anxiously for the family to rise, for Christmas to start, for Santa’s bounty to be revealed.
For some reason, my Mother opened the front door and discovered the broken vodka bottle.
She assumed the worst.
She marched upstairs and threw open my brother’s bedroom door only to find her children, one dressed as a clown with a rainbow afro and one dressed vaguely as an acid trip, passed out willy nilly on the bed.
Her face twisted in anger and in the shrillest of tones she yelled, “YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS!!!!!”
As the child most likely to routinely call home from many states away to ask for money, I roused myself and got my “cheer” on.
I think my brother stayed in bed for awhile longer.
I don’t think my mother has ever forgiven us for that night, but that is counter balanced by the importance of the evening for my brother and I.
It represents the moment in time when we were the closest we had ever been to one another and it was right at the very end, right at the last minute of our childhoods.
To this day, my brother can screw up his face and yell, “YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS!!!!!” and get a laugh out of me every time.
Tonight he is far away from here.
He is most likely putting complicated toys together for his boys and hoping his wife doesn’t go into labor early.
I am missing him.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Christmas Eve makes me think of my brother.