I am two years and nine months younger than my older brother. So he had almost three relatively calm years. Before I came along, he was the king of the house. He was the one with birthdays and taken on trips to the store. Then, out of the blue, who should pop in and spoil his ride?
Me. The little brother. The one that would question and challenge. And divert attention. Nonetheless, he persevered. My parents practiced on him. He was the one on whom they had to figure out spanking and allowance. Curfews. Grounding. Love. Because they did love us, but they were new at this and all of their best impulses came through experience with my big brother.
So he worked hard. Harder than I ever had to, because he was out in front. I was like those wheel-sucking bicycle racers who follow close enough to slide into the slipstream of the leader. I could sit back and watch him struggle, and know that when it came my turn to go out on a date or ask for help buying a car this was ground that had already been covered. And I benefited from the fits and starts of my parents' trials and errors.
Not that there were a lot of them. We were blessed with one of the world's most profound examples of a sitcom childhood. Yes, voices were raised, and doors were slammed. I remembered the sound of my older brother pounding down the stairs to his room below mine. I made a mental note and when it was my turn to move downstairs, I emulated that exit from parental authority or concern. I also remembered the sound of him coming back up the stairs. After. When the smoke had cleared and steam was no longer pouring from anyone's ears. The sound of reconciliation. We were family, and we could not stay mad long. There was a deep-seated need to make peace. I learned by watching and listening.
Which is how my older brother became my hero. If all he ever did was introduce me to the Beatles and Pink Floyd and take me to my first rock concert, that would be enough. He also taught me the terror and joy of the front seat of Mister Twister. We discovered Spinal Tap together, and for those who emerged the theater confused we agreed that for them, "the lotto machine is broken." The fact that as we aged we found more to share in was brilliant to me. He kept and framed a drawing I made in high school and hung it in his house. His grownup house.
I have a picture of my brother and I together in my grownup house. It was taken at a family dinner at The Blue Parrot. We are both smiling that same smirk of a smile. The Blue Parrot has closed, but today my older brother has a birthday. I don't think I'll ever catch up. And that's okay with me.