I believe in older brothers. I had two—Andy, seven years older, and Tony, nine. Their father died before I was born and my mother had remarried my father, a man she’d known from childhood who turned out to be not so reliable and was gone before I was five. While we knew about our status as halves, that was not the description of our relationship. We were full-out siblings with the requisite nudging and nearly nightly torture. When we roughhoused I’d call out for my mother’s help, and she’d yell from the kitchen, “Watch her nose!” It was ok if an arm got broken, but God forbid my looks were ruined.
Still, it was they who chased away the boy who made my shins bleed, and drove me to my best friend Sally’s and gave in to my constant whine to go for water ice. The walls of my childhood are decorated with them.
Andy was a little goofy, accessible, my pal; Tony, who left home when I was 10, was glamorous, charismatic, and a little hard to get.
Andy gave me away when I got married. When our Mother died 10 years later, it was Tony who took care of her affairs, impressively assuming the difficult work. It turned out Tony was a mensch.
About a year and a half later, Andy, the middle brother, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The period of his illness coincided with the end of my marriage. I couldn’t keep it a secret from Andy, even though I thought I should because I could see that what was one of the most agonizing things for him about dying was thinking he was leaving me unprotected. I suppose in some way I thought maybe my need could keep him here. Though I have a tendency to make gods of the men in my life, clearly I could not be his.Tony again had to sort out his affairs. It was a tedium, three years that drained his time and energy, but he saw it all through, and it was he who came this year for my son’s bar Mitzvah. He’s no longer unattainable, and there’s no question I can lean on him when I need to.
As the only girl, I had some sense as a child that I walked between these two pillars. I didn’t quite understand that I would come to feel so cradled by their love and care, and how it would sustain me.
Now, when my kids are fighting, I tell them to stop. I tell my girl someday she’ll be really grateful she has an older brother. Neither quite believes me. But then, I can see, because they’ve seen the evidence in my life and their father’s, who also has two older brothers, while they might not admit it yet, they do know, when it comes to the value of siblings, Mom knows how to count.
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