I’ll never know what it is that others might have thought about my feelings toward my only sibling. Perhaps that I was too harsh. Unforgiving. Maybe that I’m as much to blame as he for our relationship breakdown. I’ll never actually know.
What I know, is that I did try.
When we were kids, and most of my friends had an older brother around the same age, I watched how they interacted. I paid close attention to what they did to receive a positive reaction from their older brothers. Everything from Gordie Lachance in Stand By Me to Farmy calling out to his older brother as the High Schoolers crossed our playground to the cafeteria, “Danny, you’re stupid!”
Farmy would do this in a stage whisper, as if he were quietly trying to get Danny’s attention, hissing “Danny… Danny!” and then when he’d turn his head, “You’re stupid.” Danny would get a look of annoyance, then chase his little brother down and cuff him across the head, laughing as he’d get back in line on the way to lunch.
I did try.
But when I did it, he didn’t react. Not at all. Well, not until later, that is. Days later, when we’re both alone at home or the subject has come up of us at school and he’s looked at me coldly, as if deeply betrayed. Squints his face up as if he’s repeated the worst thing he’s ever heard. “Dave, you’re stupid? Don’t… ever, talk to me at school.” Nothing more said. And no, I didn’t ever talk to him at school again.
When I was a child, I did try.
He loved his Levi 501s. Button-fly and popular. They didn’t sell Levis in our town, only Wranglers. You had to go to Billings, where Mom lived at the time, to get Levis. When I asked for them too, Mom was quick to tell me that they didn’t have Levis in Child sizes, so that was that. I had blue jeans and corduroys for my only pants, so naturally I wore only the jeans. They weren’t Levi 501s, but they were blue jeans, and I wore them all the time, just like he did.
But I loved nature and playing outside, especially near water or up on the untamed hillside behind our house. And I got dirty. And I didn’t think anything of it. Hell, if I noted a patch of dirt on my jeans, I took it as a note of pride. Someone would look at that and clearly see a child that enjoys the outdoors, living and playing and being free as a bird out in the dirt, right?!
On one of the rare mornings I was ready at the exact instant he was and Dad was needed on some emergency or otherwise, I was lucky enough to get a ride in my brother’s car. He asked with derision, if that’s what I was wearing to school, and since I knew if I said “No, of course not!” in the way that he wanted, I’d get left at home while I changed. So I said “Yes.” because it was actually true, and I thought that rather obvious. He said nothing else.
Until later, that is. Another moment where it’s just the two of us, and he lectures me on how we’re “the Doctor’s kids and we have an image to uphold” and how I’m bringing shame on the family for wearing dirty clothes. I was asked who I thought I was, wearing the same jeans every day that week until they were covered in dirt, and didn’t I ever consider what that said about our family.
The answer was “No.” of course. I was 11 years old. I considered riding my bike, fishing and hiking the mountain hills behind our house with our giant Labrador dog. The washing machine was big enough to fit me inside of it, and I knew nothing more than that. I’d never considered the rest, and my brother was clearly disappointed that I hadn’t.
But I did try.
When I was in High School and he was in College, I went with my mother down to A&M to visit him once. He even brought me with him on his motorcycle to visit friends, zooming around College Station, Texas and feeling like the coolest little brother ever. With each stop and subsequent introductions, I felt more and more awesome. At one point, we’re at someone’s apartment and he and the guy are having a prolonged chat.
I’m a hick, fresh from the sticks, and every single thing is leaving me in awe. I’m in a Real College Kid’s Apartment, right near the campus and a bar and there’s a huge party building upstairs. It was all amazing, so I’m wandering around wide-eyed and excited. We’re back on the motorcycle and finish our tour as he drops me back with mom and we clean-up before dinner out with him. Which is the usual, where he and my mother circle each others’ planetary orbits and I simply try to be a moon here and there.
Later, when Mom’s otherwise occupied and the conversation has just been about my visit with him, I’m still feeling awesome. He addresses me directly for the first time all day by telling me that I can’t just wander in and out of rooms in someone else’s home. He tells me that now he’s going to have to uncomfortably approach those people, if he’s lucky enough to ever be invited to a party there again that is, and apologise for my behaviour. He asks if I’d never considered how it would reflect on him, skulking about like some sort of burglar, scoping out his next score.
The answer was “No.” again. I was 13 years old and had barely been out of our tiny Montana town of 700 people, plunked down in College Station, Texas, meeting and greeting real-live College Students at one of the biggest and best Universities in the Known Universe. I’d been standing outside Kyle Field thinking about how my entire town could fit inside the football stadium and how I’d never seen a structure that tall in person before. I was in utter awe at everything, so no, I hadn’t considered how that would reflect on my brother’s public image. He was clearly disappointed that I hadn’t.
But I did try.
When I was going off to college, I was elated. Nervous, anxious, but so excited to be getting on with living my life. Finally. He’d already made arrangements with our parents that I’d be living with him for at least my Freshman year. I couldn’t believe it. I’d finally arrived. We were finally going to be brothers.
My father, true to form, handed me an envelope full of US Treasury Bonds and wished me luck in my future University career. A short hug, and David and I piled into my truck and headed off to Texas A&M. Brothers. College Students. I was in his hands now. I trusted completely him with everything I owned, everything I was. If he told me to be a certain way in college, by dog I was going to be that way. If he’d said we were going to start a business of buying wrecked cars, fixing them up and flipping them for a mad profit, then that’s what was happening.
Ever the salesman, he pointed out that I had reasonable, and expected, options of course. I could just hang on to that money, pay for school and books and room and board for two semesters, sure. But at the end of it, all I’d have to show for it would be way less money than I had going in, and no real prospects of getting more. If I chose instead to invest that money in his idea, of buying cars from the salvage yard that he helped manage, paying friends of his to fix them up, and then selling them to Rich Texan College Kids, well then I could be making real money.
He spent the entire journey through the top-right corner of New Mexico outlining his plan. We could buy, fix and flip up to two cars a month. If I gave him $2000 for the cars and another $2000 to fix ’em, we could sell them for $3000 each and pocket two grand a month. He excitedly told me that after my first year of college was over, I could be sitting on $18K in profit, and what Freshman at A&M has ever run into that kind of deal?
Stars in my eyes was an understatement. Not only was I going to be his brother, live with him in an apartment, and be taken by the hand through this strange new world, but I had the opportunity to be the Chief Investor in a business idea that he’d had simmering. With my money, we could finally make this dream he had happen. I couldn’t have been more excited. I trusted him implicitly.
Sure, he’d ‘borrowed’ money off me my entire life, and maybe he’d never paid any of it back or even loaned me any when I needed, but that was the past. We were equals now. Both College Students. Real brothers. Finally.
We definitely weren’t kids anymore, like when I was 10 and got a shiny new Rossi .22LR pump-action walnut stock rifle for my birthday and he was 16 and took me aside to outline all the ways that his single-shot, bolt-action, pine stock 40-year old .22 rifle was a far better, more appropriate, rifle for me. And our trade wouldn’t be permanent, just until I was ready. A point in the future that he would determine after repeated shooting outings together. The prospect of being assessed by him while still owning my own rifle was wonderful to me, and I excitedly told Mom about how I thought that the rifle she’d given me was “too much gun” for me and that I was going to trade David for his old bolt-action “until I was ready”.
I hadn’t even finished the sentence before she exclaimed “Oh no you’re not!” and explained she got that rifle for me, and it wasn’t to be his, ever. I felt special. Loved. He was pissed. Hissing at me about how could I have gone straight to Mom and told her what we were doing, it being a deal between us and didn’t need to involve her.
But no, we weren’t those kids any more. He was a man, 24 and established there in the area. He had many friends and so many connections. This was a mother lode just waiting to be mined. He’d put on the hard sale, but he hadn’t needed to tell me how smart it would be to trust him with my money, I was in.
Besides, I told him from the passenger seat, I’d heard from mom about how it made him feel when our father had cut off financial support when he’d gotten bad grades and how I really didn’t agree with that decision. I took a hold of the moment, making sure I had his attention, and I took out the envelope of Savings Bonds. I held it up in front of him and said that I believed I probably got preferential treatment by being Dad’s biological child and that I thought that was shit. The truth was that had never, ever, occurred to me until Mom had suggested it, but it made such sense that I was infuriated. I showed him the envelope and told him in all sincerity that I considered what was in it to be half his. That I’d planned on sharing what Dad had given me with him anyway, but if it meant that we could start this business, chase this dream, then that was all the better.
Plus, wouldn’t that stick it to ol’ Dad if we were making so much money that we were paying for college on our own after a few years? To be financially free of him meant that we didn’t have to suffer his judgemental lectures for any bad grades, or anything really. We’d be truly independent.
I was so excited I could barely sleep the first few days after we got there. I was sleeping on their couch, which didn’t help when his roommate got up early for work. A tiny 2-bedroom apartment didn’t leave a lot of room for shifting around, it was explained to me, but he’d had a plan to build a bunk bed so that we could share a room. There was a slight shrug and muttered apology that the apartment was filled with someone else’s bags, boxes and stuff, but the guy’s wife just threw him out and what were they supposed to do? Roommate Carl had taken the bunk bed instead, as they certainly couldn’t turn the guy out on the street.
Besides, my brother assured me, he’d keep his bedroom window open so that he could hear if anyone helped themselves to my belongings sitting in the back of the truck and parked one floor below. That might’ve contributed a bit to my lack of sleeping as well.
But that didn’t matter, because every gas station sold fountain drinks that were like a gallon jug of milk, but Mountain Dew instead, and he was taking me to meet all of his automobile repair contacts the next few days. We were going to get this plan in action, and first thing Monday morning, we had a date at the bank, where we were going to deposit all $25,000 of Savings Bonds into a joint bank account where I would have control over my own set of finances and be able to track how the rest of them were going. For every withdrawal, he promised me there would be an equal or larger deposit not long after. His plan was perfect.
Savings Bonds don’t work on face value until a certain number of years passes though, and we were informed my father had purchased 30-year bonds. So if it said “$100” on it, it would have to be 30-years old before it was that value. These bonds weren’t more than 5 years old. This was all something it would have been nice to know, and we ended up with a little over $10K instead.
Not a problem, he’d assured me, we could still make this work. First and foremost, of course, we’d get tuition and books out of the way first, and I shouldn’t worry about keeping track of the checks because the balance would never be low enough to be a problem. Because we would be selling so many cars, of course, our balance would only ever grow.
Oh, and ignore if he’s taken large amounts of cash being taken out, some of the better bookstores only accept cash, and when you get into the higher classes like he was in, pre-Med and all, most students kept their textbooks because they would remain relevant in their careers, so there were never any used textbooks available. I’d been told to get used textbooks if I could, because they were about 10% of the price, but alas, he’d be forced to get new ones. The fact that you’d get up to 50% more when selling them back at the end of the semester had nothing to do with it.
Plus, I was reminded when writing the checks out for our tuition, I had promised that I’d considered half that money to be his, for the college money we both believed he’d be cheated by our father. I was honoured to have been able to write checks for both our educations with the money Dad had given me for college. It was a nice bit of defiance, a middle-finger in the air from the two sons that had both been shorted by his penny-pinching over our lifetimes. Wouldn’t we be showing him when the business was rocking and we didn’t need his money any more.
He’d scouted our first car, had cleared it with the salvage yard and the repair guys, and were were off. A Honda Protege, barely a few years old, trashed by some co-ed with a rich daddy that just bought her a new one. We got it for $1500 and only needed to put another $1100 into it to get it in sell-worthy condition, which was no problem with the money we had in our joint account. We were doing this thing, and it was going to make us rich.
Life moved on, I got stuck into my studies and we eventually built a bunk bed with a shitty foam mattress so that I had a place to sleep. It was cheap and shit, but I was in heaven. I was sharing a room with my brother, in college, out on our own, soon to be making our own money.
Months in and we were having too many adventures for me to worry about what was going on with the car. The unavoidable delays kept it from being finished, then there were some issues with getting it listed in the For Sale Ads. Then the phone calls came rolling in, but since he’d insisted that we were flexible in the price so we weren’t going to list the price, we got a shitload of calls. Most of whom hung up as soon as I told them what we were asking for it. I was assured it would sell soon, and not to worry.
In the meantime, I’m the designated Phone Person, because he already kind of had a girlfriend, Diane, that he’d had for a while. They weren’t a “thing” any more, according to my mother, since he’d made it clear he’d prefer to marry her and she made it clear she wasn’t going to marry someone who “worked at a junk yard.” He also had a friend, who’d started as just a friend, a study partner, but was now something more than that. So if she came over to “study” I was to stay out of the bedroom. There was also a bartender at the place we liked to shoot pool at, and they had a thing a while ago and she was still sort of hanging onto it and he didn’t want to be a real asshole and just cut her off and break her heart, so for her sake, he’d let her come around occasionally too.
Oh, and aside from working at an Auto Parts Store, Roommate Carl also owns a duplex that he’s rented out to a developmentally-disabled person who thinks there’s the owner, Carl, and the maintenance guy, Gibson. Carl is never around, being the busy entrepreneur that he is, but Gibson was usually available after a minute of prep. See, Carl Gibson was both, so he needed to get into character. Also, Gibson is Australian, so he’s got kind of a funny accent. I could tell stories of Roommate Carl for days.
So David is dodging every phone call and entertaining every female expressing interest while I’m trying to sell our car that no one wants. One guy took it for a test drive only for me to find out later that I wasn’t supposed to let him come over and he was really only there because he’s an old friend and gay and in love with David and sort of stalking him.
By the time the semester ends, we go home for Christmas and I’m still riding the high of us Being Brothers. Finally. I’ve done hardly anything to embarrass him or bring shame on our family, because you’re damn straight I’ve learned those lessons. And my only mistake came when we were out drinking with David’s Best Friend, Bret Green, and while he was trying it on with some girl and lamenting that he should know better than to try and hit on a girl when David is around because they always only have eyes for him, I commiserated, pointing out that David had plenty of attention. Oh, I’d said absently, forgive my delay but Marna called earlier. Again, and her message was the same as the last message. That it’s been two days and she would really appreciate him calling her back.
Bret Green had turned with shock and bemusement to my brother and practically shouted, “Who the HELL is ‘Marna’?!” David, flustered and missing the 8-ball during his turn, waved him off and took him aside from the pool table to explain in very believable and sincere ways that we were trying to sell the Protege, something Bret Green knew as he’d test-driven it too, and sometimes his little brother got confused as to when women would call and had assumed that she knew David, and instead was likely just a prospective buyer. He told Bret to look on the bright side, giving me a look, that we’d surely be selling that car soon.
Later, when alone, I was dressed down for my mistake and how I hadn’t considered that Bret Green, despite being David’s sworn Best Friend and Closest Confidant, was also roommates with Diane. How could I be so stupid as to go and mention another woman’s name to the roommate of one of the main women? There would surely be some explaining to do later, and was clearly all my fault.
But somehow that was my only real transgression for the entire semester. I’d done real good, I figured, and we had money to spare on nice presents for friends and family. I did, at least, as he was so busy with Finals, and we were such a tight unit by the end of the year, that he not only valued my judgement, but trust me with the finances necessary to get our parents presents for Christmas. Oh, and could I get something nice for Diane too? And something small for Marna, nothing too big, maybe a CD or something because I’d know by now what music she likes. He’d handle the present for this new girl, Anne, because I hadn’t met her yet and he didn’t want to fuck it up.
I’d gone into the 2nd semester of my Freshman year almost as confident as the first one. Financially-stable and still free and easy and able to pay for both my tuition and books, but for all of David’s fees as well. The first day of classes approached and I was finding that my truck’s gas tank was almost always hovering around empty when I took it to school in the morning. Granted, I’d told David to use it whenever he needed, having sold the Saab that Dad had given him two years before and his Buick always being worked on, but he’d promised that he’d never, ever take it out without putting gas in it.
When I came in with the mail one day I found a letter addressed to both of us from the bank. It wasn’t like the thick ones with our statements in it or ads for other services, it was a bright yellow inside. Roommate Carl commented that he recognised that as a bounced check fee. $50 please, do not pass Go. I said that was impossible, we had thousands in there, room and board for both of us couldn’t have cost that much, and it surely must be something else. Roommate Carl laughed, and said that he’d used the same bank for years. We owed them for the overdraft fees, $50, and the cancelled check fees, another $50. A cool hundred had disappeared like a fart in the wind.
David came home and I’d waited to open the envelope, as per his instructions, because since both our names were on there, we had to open them together. And if he’d opened them without me, it was just because he always got so much mail that he hadn’t noticed. And we didn’t need to open this one together because yes, Roommate Carl was right, this was a bounced check on our account. But it was all just a simple mistake, easily rectified. He’d moved some money over to a different account so that he could pay for some unforeseen repairs on the Protege, which were obviously why it wasn’t selling, and he’d straighten everything else out with the bank, and I wasn’t to worry about it.
As the semester moved on, he was seeing more and more of Anne, and I was seeing less and less of the other girls that came through. Anne’s parents lived a few blocks away, it turned out, in the rich people’s section of Bryan, instead of the crackhouse section, where we lived. They had a big, fancy house, with a pool and everything. Not that I would have known though, never having been invited over.
Anne also lived in Houston, which made it hard to see her, but thankfully he had a little brother that wanted to support his pursuit of love and would loan him the truck whenever he needed it. Never two weekends in a row though, he respected my need for my own freedom and didn’t want to monopolise my wheels. He’d fill it up every time, he promised.
This lasted one month before it turned into every weekend, but it was because it was her birthday, then her friend’s birthday, then the Dave Matthews concert, then their six-month anniversary. I knew my math wasn’t bad enough to think that it had been more than a few months since he’d spent the night at Diane’s or the bartenders, but maybe the anniversary in question was retro-actively agreed upon after their relationship was deemed mutually exclusive.
Then came the time for me to meet Anne, and she was not what I was expecting. I was told on the way to the bar that I was not ever to mention his recent nights at Diane’s and never Marna, let alone the bartender or anyone else. No other women, that was the rule. I knew the score by now, I knew how to avoid his disappointment. I didn’t even let on that I didn’t know about recent visits to Diane’s.
The evening was fun and he seemed pretty smitten, giving in to every one of her ballsy, brassy, bossy little demands. I did fuck up though, making some joke about how she was the reason that my truck was always out of gas, to which he reacted defensively when she gasped and turned to him accusingly, chastising him for leaving me high and dry on Monday mornings when I was late to class and he’d run into traffic coming back up from another weekend’s visit and I’d miss my first few classes because I’d have run out of gas too. I knew I’d get in trouble for that later, probably when she went to the toilet with her girlfriends, but the evening had a happy vibe, a good energy, and I felt the Stay of Execution.
Later, I nervously tried my hand at smooth-talking her and trying to fix things on his behalf. I wanted to prove to him that I could play this game too, where you lied to someone’s face to make the situation better. To make it so nobody got hurt and nobody had any problems. They’d come back from the bathroom and she’d plunked down on his lap, looping her arms around him and commenting that she was tired of yelling over a table and she liked that I was so funny like he was and she wanted to have front-row seats to the both of us.
I waited for a lull and got her attention, explaining that my faux pas earlier was because that model of Ford Ranger has two fuel tanks, with a simple toggle switch on the dash, and silly me, I’d simply confused the two tanks, believing the truck to be empty when David had, in fact, put gas in the other tank. And he was never the cause of me missing any classes, everybody always skipped first thing Monday morning 8am classes, and that I was exaggerating to give him shit because I wanted to see for myself how he handled it in front of her. Because, I told her, I could see how much he likes her, and I wanted to put her through the paces to make sure I was looking after the fragile heart of my only brother.
She was miffed at the suggestion that anyone would need to suss her out, and lowered her already husky voice to another register while aiming her power eyes at me to clarify that she wasn’t somebody that needed sussed out, thank you very much, she wouldn’t go around breaking people’s hearts.
Fearing I’d fucked up yet again, I prepared to retreat completely and ready myself to eat the inevitable Shit Sandwich that I’d not only get from him later but from her every time after, should I ever be allowed around her again. All I knew was I definitely wasn’t getting invited into her parents’ pool now.
Then something surprising happened. He took her chin in his hand, aiming her fiery little gaze at himself instead, and said, “Hey, you know when he said that he ‘could see how much he likes you’?” He slowly shook his head while gazing into her eyes and said, “He was wrong. ‘He loves you.'”
She melted into his arms, of course, her eyes suddenly as big as dinner plates while wobbling wetly at him instead of drilling holes into my skull. As we were leaving and they’d said their goodnights, I remember thinking that I’d thank him for the save. But the evening didn’t have that kind of vibe. He was happy, content, and I wasn’t going to remind him of anything that would bring up the subject of his disapproval of me, so I stayed silent, and enjoyed the moment.
The semester ended, I failed Chemistry 102, and my truck never got refuelled again even though it was gone from Friday midday to Monday middayy. The occasional envelope from the bank rolled in with yellow paper in it and Roommate Carl occasionally hassled me about how late we were with rent, even though I told him repeatedly that wasn’t possible given how much money we surely still had.
I told him not to worry about it anyway, as I’d be taking my truck back north with me for the Summer, and would be seeking other arrangements when I got back. Nothing amiss, completely amiable, but it was time I live on my own. He was happy for me and wished me the best, but could I pretty please, with sugar on top, remind my brother about rent?
A day or so before I took off David woke me up while he was leaving for work. He was happily informing me that it wasn’t so that he could borrow the truck, as he understood I had planned on being in Dallas to visit Mom for an event she wanted me to go to the next day and then I was off to Montana for the Summer. He wanted to tell me, with a pause and a sigh for gravity, that he ‘was probably gonna get married.’ and what did I think?
“Aaaaaaaaaah!” was my reply, and I genuinely thought I was being funny. I mean, he was joking, right? Married? I didn’t even know if I should ask if that meant he’d stopped sleeping with the other women, because I was afraid that he’d have some way of explaining The Rules to me again. Was he moving to Houston? Fuck, I had no idea what was going on.
I laughed, a genuine laugh, because a bachelor is supposed to be upset when a fellow bachelor is “lost to the enemy” or some other bullshit that I thought I was supposed to say. He acted hurt though, and moved slowly out of the room. I called out to him but he left the apartment. I didn’t bring it up again, and I still wasn’t even sure if he was kidding about being hurt or not.
At the end of Summer I’d come back down through Dallas and had timed it so he’d be there, having caught a ride with his friend Steve, who had also coincidentally been the one who had finally purchased the Protege after David offered him a great deal on it. That the deal also happened to be about $100 below what we’d put into it was never mentioned. It was Summer, hotter than fuck in Dallas, and I’d just been driving for nearly 24 straight hours, pulling over only in New Mexico to sleep in the cab, just so I could get back to have a full weekend with my brother at our mother’s house.
Mom was never one for rules, ever, so we liked it that she put her foot down if we were to be coming up on the occasional weekend to have her cook for us and do our laundry, that one of us was going to mow her lawn each time, as they were months apart, and we were taking turns because we were both going to be doing it.
I was fucked from the drive and the heat and just didn’t have it in me. He’d already been there a full day, lounging in the air conditioning and having his favourite meals trotted out to him. When Mom brought up the lawn-mowing, I mustered up my courage and asked him if he could do me a favour and take my turn. He baulked, telling me that it was my turn, him having done it the previous time back in May (this was August). I told him that I was asking for one favour, just one, I would do the lawn twice in a row next time, and I asked him “How many favours have I ever asked of you? Can’t you just do this one for me? All I’m asking is for you to mow the lawn.”
The truth was probably about two. And he’d turned me down on both of them. So silly me, I figured he owed me. Instead he looked at me with that same hurt expression he wore that day in the apartment months ago and said, “And all I asked of you was for you to be happy for me…” and trailed out as his sentence trailed off.
I don’t know why, but I wasn’t having it. I sat in the air-conditioning and read my comic books, stubbornly refusing to hit the optimal time just before dusk to mow Mom’s spiny, spikey, hotass Texas lawn. I knew, I just knew, that he was waiting me out. The day would get too far past it and the window for mowing would be gone, and we’d have disappointed our mother, something neither of us ever wanted to do, ever.
He was at the computer desk, ostensibly working on his homework for Summer School, but really I knew he was just keeping an eye on me to make sure I knew he wasn’t going to mow the lawn for me. I could feel the tension coming off him, and when I suddenly got up, I felt it release. His relief was visible, as he believed he’d won. I hadn’t even known quite what I was going to do until that moment, I was probably going to buck up and just go out there and do it and resent the fuck out of him for every second of it.
But fuck it, I figured, I still felt like shit and it had really struck me at how little I’d ever asked from him and how much he’d asked from, and taken, from me. Having seen him visibly relieved that he didn’t have to do something as simple and mundane as mowing the lawn hearkened back to every single time he was ‘just being lazy’ and had me do his chores, or shirked his to-dos that Mom or Dad had drawn up for him. For all the times I’d run to the shops for him, gone to the convenience store for him for cigarettes or drinks, or Mountain Dew and Doritos when we were kids. He’d never done any of that for me. Not ever. And he wanted to be pissy at me for not getting excited that he was going to marry a girl that knew nothing about him? Who was one of three or four sharing his bed without her knowledge or consent?
Instead of going outside, I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of Mountain Dew, went over to the comfiest chair in the house, plonked down heavily, opened up a comic book and chook-hissed the can of pop open, my intentions crystal clear. I wasn’t mowing that fucking lawn. I put my head down and comic book up so that I wouldn’t be tempted to watch his body language or catch the inevitable dirty looks, so I was suitably surprised when I heard the back door swish open and shut, then minutes later the growling of the lawn mower.
I half expected him to come in and stand in front of me and tell me that he’d gotten it going for me and I better get to it. I would have expected that from him. Hell, I made sure I was scarce when he was halfway done because I still expected him to come in and tell me that he was doing me the favour but we were splitting this time and I still owed him for an entire full session as that would have been reminiscent of many deals we’d made before.
Instead he mowed the whole thing and nothing more was said about it. I wasn’t going to fake excitement at the prospect of something I found ill-advised, stupid and, quite frankly, wrong. And I wasn’t going to feel guilt about his disappointment either, or his displeasure with having to mow Mom’s lawn on an August day. He came in and I offered him a beer and he took it, and I considered that a win. Maybe one of my first wins with him ever.
We headed back the next day to College Station and at some point he asked me about how the Summer had gone in Montana. I told him bits and pieces, mostly stories about people that knew him and missed him as those were the stories he always wanted to hear. Then the ones about our Dad and when he was being a doofus, he always liked those too. Anecdotally, I threw in how the Savings Bonds didn’t add up to what was written on them, so when Dad mysteriously found another stack of them in the ancient Old West Solid Steel Safe that he had at his clinic, I didn’t expect them to add up to much, but at least it was something.
When we got back and I got most of my stuff moved out, I went to the bank and gave them the Savings Bonds, just like before. But unlike before, I had them put it in my own account, now that I knew all about how to open them, and I happily saw my balance of $1,200. By my accounts of the comings and goings of our joint account, there should have been exactly $1,012 still in there and I’d decided to leave it all to him. I figured that was a more than fair trade, and I’d feel no guilt in taking the money meant for my college education and actually spending it on my college education.
I was still coming and going from the apartment for the next week or so, moving stuff out and ferrying him around to various things. At one point I remember him asking me if I’d been to the bank to deposit those Savings Bonds yet, and I told him that I had. I deliberately didn’t tell him I’d opened my own account though. The way I figured it, if there was what there should have been in there, just over $1,000, then there was no way he’d be put out. Because he had no idea how much I’d have put in there and there was no way he’d write a check for more than what was in there. Right?
I’d picked him up at work one day and taken him home and the mail was sitting on the table, like it always was, and he picked up the white bank envelope with the yellow letter inside, like he always did, but instead of carrying it swiftly and directly to his desk, he paused and gave me a genuinely curious look.
“I thought you said you deposited that money.” he said, and I watched him regard me with more and more scrutiny the further he got through that sentence.
I squared my shoulders, made myself as tall as I could, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I did.”
And I didn’t say anything more. If he’d asked, if he’d been confused, I would have explained I’d opened my own account. If he’d felt betrayed, if he’d been pissed at bouncing a check based on the assumption that I was putting more money into our account after he’d drained it without my knowledge, then I would have pointed out to him that recouping our money recently from the Protege and accounting for his upcoming tuition and fees, we should have still had more than $1,000 in there, and that if was writing checks bigger than that without first checking that he had the balance for it, then he better rethink the responsibility of having a checking account. And if he was going to do that on an account with my name on it, then we’d do better to split that money and open separate accounts.
I had all that ready to go, stored up and primed and ready to be laid out in a way that would be impossible to argue against. If he’d come at me from any conceivable angle, I was covered, and I’d spent days preparing for any direction of attack. Emotional blackmail, sentimentality, you name it, I was ready for whatever he might throw at me.
But he didn’t throw a thing. He just nodded like he understood the entire situation and quietly took the envelope to his desk.
It turned out that I did still have some residual guilt for not telling him I was going to put those extra Savings Bonds in my own account, but I figured I’d paid my imagined debt to him.
I did try. For a whole year, I tried.
After that, our relationship went back to its origins, of us playing off each other and entertaining our mother, or whomever else we were around, but really we only hung out at Thanksgiving and Christmas, then again at he and Anne’s wedding in February 1995. Nothing about the car-flipping business, bounced checks or Savings Bonds was ever mentioned between the two of us again.
For the next 10 years, I only saw him for about one weekend a year, including all the time that I lived in the same town as he worked and the 8 years I lived within a few miles of Mom. He never came to my house except the one time and he never met my friends or my girlfriend/fiance. Even though I saw every single one of his High School Football games, he never saw me play an instrument or a sport, despite being of semi-professional status of both at different points.
The one time he came to my house he’d been drinking all day while he and I and our mother went out fishing in Colorado. We’d both been begging him to come up for a visit because it sounded like his mental health was suffering. Mom continually mentioned that Anne was rather hard on him from time-to-time, usually right around the time of month when they’d have to send a check to a small town in Texas to pay child support for the illegitimate child he fathered while working out there, and Anne was home pregnant with their first.
When he finally did come up for a visit, he was miserable and not terribly talkative, the drinking just made that worse. He tried to be a big brother at some point and acted like he was putting me on the spot and asking me about whether or not I was happy with the person I was with and if I was making the right choice in marrying her.
I wasn’t, and I wasn’t. I was miserable too, but stupidly did what people expected of me and thought that asking her to marry me might straighten her out and away from the drugs. But I didn’t feel like that was his place any more, and I looked him right in the eye and lied. Not very convincingly either. In fact, I deliberately did a poor job at my lie to force him to press on. To bait him into digging deeper.
He didn’t though. He nodded with smug self-satisfaction and went back to drinking, citing jet lag (after a 2.5-hour flight the day before) as the reason he was uncharacteristically tired at 9.30pm and having me drive him back to Mom’s to sleep instead of staying at the home I owned.
That would be the last time I’d see him, as I would be married to another woman and living in Australia by the same time in a year. I didn’t see him at our step-sister’s wedding, nor our grandmother’s funeral, and I didn’t hear from him on the 4th of July when our mother tried to kill herself and I had to ring 911 and spend the night in the ICU with her, keeping vigil over her bed as she woke every 15 minutes and flailed at her IV and connected cords, holding her hands tight and fighting her back into bed where she would once again pass out. I didn’t hear from him when I got married, I didn’t hear from him for the birth of my first actual baby (second child) or my second baby (third child, 4 years later).
I rang him twice the first few months I was married, in August 2005 and again in October. The first time was to introduce him to my wife, who he promptly announced, “If Judd loves ya, I love ya.” and then when she complimented me as a person, he said, “I taught him everything he knows.” When I insisted Anne meet my wife, and Jo mentioned that one of the kids wanted more breakfast, Anne replied “Oh! You got a kid?!” then signed off on the call by saying that if Jo were ever in the States, to “come on down to HYOO-stun TAY-yexas.”
The one thing I did get, in the 18 years I’ve been here in Oz, was a comment on something I posted on my website. The same website I’d had since 2000, juddexley.com. He left a comment on the About Me page that read, “Pretty cool, little bro.” I replied to the email address supplied. I’ve never heard anything back.
But I did try.
I didn’t reach out to him again, and when Mom defended him by saying that he’d always been bad about contacting her, being a day or more late for things like Mother’s Day or her birthday, sometimes not even ringing her at all as he’d simply forgotten completely. I told her I didn’t need much, and I hated talking on the phone since all anybody did since I moved to Australia was make draw attention to how I talked.
He never emailed me. He never rang me. And if he did, he never left a voicemail, so I never knew about it. He never told our mother to have me ring him or email him. When he joined Facebook years after I did and became friends with both our parents and extended family, just like I had, he never sent me a friend request. I simply never heard from him again.
But I did try.
Because I would have answered the phone, despite my protestations. I would have listened to the voicemail and rang him straight back. I would have accepted his friend request and tagged him in pictures of us as kids. I would have answered his email and written him volumes on my life and family and kids and all the things that I was proud of. I would have asked him endless questions about the beautiful niece I once had and I’d have reminded him how special she once was to me. I would have asked to talk to the young nephew I never got a chance to know, and I would have tried to know him. I would have shown mountains of interest in his life and I would have done flips and twists to get him to show any interest whatsoever in mine.
But he never did. And now he’s gone.
And I did cry. Still do.