A full-time brother

Growing up, my brother Billy and I shared a bedroom. We slept on a bed that folded into a futon. When we weren’t asleep or at school, he followed me everywhere. If I locked myself in a room, he’d try to pick the lock or figure out another way to get in.

I hated it at the time, being shadowed wherever I went. I was five and a half years older than Billy, and having your younger brother around was a liability. If I was with friends and we got into trouble and needed to run, he was usually the slowest in the pack. I felt like Billy was holding me back, sometimes literally.

But I also knew he needed me, and so when my friends weren’t watching I tried to teach Billy the difference between right and wrong, helped him with homework and showed him how to field a ground ball. I had to fill the void of our dad, who died when Billy was 4 and I was 10.

We stopped sharing a bedroom once I went to college. Every time I came home, it seemed like Billy had grown an inch. The pickup basketball games that we would play in front of our house kept getting closer until one day he beat me. By that time, Billy was a couple of inches taller than me, and I could no longer push him around.

Billy (right) and I in Tiananmen Square in October 2011.

Billy (right) and I in Tiananmen Square in October 2011.

During my last visit home, my family and I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we spent a day with dad’s former band mate and closest friend, Doug.

I reconnected with Doug through Facebook a couple of years ago, and we’ve remained in touch since then. I tracked him down because I wanted to learn more about dad. They were so close that Doug quit playing music for 10 years after dad died and sold all of his instruments, including a classic 1966 Gibson ES-335 and 1975 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.

Doug (far left) with dad (far right).

Doug (far left) with dad (far right).

We went to a bar and played a few games of darts and shuffleboard. During a break, Doug began sharing stories about dad. As he spoke, Billy’s eyes welled with tears. He tried to gather himself but couldn’t and walked outside. I put my arm around his shoulder and followed him out.

“These stories about dad,” Billy said. “I don’t remember any of them.”

I was old enough when dad died that I can still recall reading books together, opening packs of baseball cards and making a run to the local gas station for Snickers bars. But Billy was too young to have any memories of dad.

Later that night, we fell asleep a few feet from each other in Doug’s basement. It reminded me of our childhood, when I had to be a lot more than Billy’s older brother.

11 thoughts on “A full-time brother

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