When I was little and there was a possibility of me wandering off in public places, one of my two older brothers, Mike or Jeff, would death-grip the back of my neck and steer me around in front of them like a dim lamp in a dark cave. And if I complained or annoyed them too much, they would punch me right in the soloplexis, knocking the wind out of me (my brothers followed a simple and rather ingenious philosophy: you can’t complain if you can’t breathe). One time, I had made a promise – “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye” – that I couldn’t follow through on and my brother reached in his pocket and pulled out a hook for hanging pictures: “I couldn’t find a needle, but this should work,” he said. I went screaming into my room.
I remember repeatedly demanding that my mother punish my brothers for whatever they did to me that particular day and she repeatedly refused to do so. She said I was asking for it, always following them around the way I did. I was always aghast at this, betrayed by my own mother, who was no longer my mother, but rather a cold, unfeeling tyrant.
What I’m trying to say here is…I believe in older brothers.
Of course, Mom was right. I always asked for it. I annoyed them so extensively, but I just wanted to be around them. My brothers were bigger, cooler, funnier, and they knew everything. And for every bruised rib I took, I always went back for more because I couldn’t get enough. They were gods to me, gods with acne and stupid hair and I wanted to do everything they were doing, all of the time. But I was an annoying 5-year-old, and they were both entering the cruel and self-conscious throes of puberty: they wanted girls and popularity and I just wanted to watch cartoons. It was not meant to be.
Of course, over the years, the curtain has been drawn back a bit, and my older brothers are now more human, more relatable, and more like me (or I’m more like them), yet some of that hero-worship residue still remains. I can’t think of two people I’d rather spend time with or two people who have made me laugh more or two people I’d sooner go to for advice. They aren’t gods anymore, they’re, well, they’re brothers. And I can’t think of any better word for it.
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