My younger brother turns thirty one on Tuesday.
I once defended him during a vicious snowball fight by throwing an icy snowball at the meanest boy in his class. Gave the kid a nosebleed. I'm proud of that.
Mike is a pretty amazing person. Other than being my brother, which automatically makes him a lucky bastard, he is smart, a superior sous chef, funny, tall, a gifted musician and writer, tattooed heavily and with great variety, a fan of the partying, has a million friends, loves his mother, can sleep through a tornado or paramedics bursting into the house, is greeted like Norm on Cheers every time he enters Johnny's on 119th, can quote nearly verbatim every movie he's ever seen, is a closet Dave Matthews Band fan, makes me laugh simply by saying "buffalo deer," is cooler than I could dream of being, got to meet and cook for one of his heroes, Anthony Bourdain, and is one of my favorite people in the world.
Growing up, Mike and I were best friends and fervent enemies depending on the minute. I remember one vicious fight, it was summer time and we were home alone, Mike was chasing me around the house with a metal tipped ruler and whacked me on the elbow, cutting me and drawing a little blood. We both stopped short, kind of shocked that it had happened. Mike's face turned white and he started apologizing and I started laughing and we plopped back in front of the TV and finished watching The Monkees rerun. Or after constantly letting Mike get away with hitting me and not defending myself, our parents finally got tired of me whining about it and flat out told me to hit him back next time. We were fighting in my parent's bedroom, I think Mike had hidden my Barbie dolls, high up on the loft bed my dad had built for him. I turned around to walk into his bedroom to dig around and find them. He slapped me hard on the back, I turned around and hauled off and punched him right in the stomach. He doubled over and collapsed in the doorway. I don't think he hit me again. And while I felt powerful and dominant for a brief minute, I also felt a little ashamed.
I remember listening to Q-104, the top 40 radio station in Kansas City in the 1980's and early 90's, and recording ourselves singing along on this tinny Fisher Price tape recorder. Recording our own radio shows, Dr. Demento knock offs, and Weird Al parodies. Trying out fake British accents, interviewing each other and pretending to be DJ's. God, I'd love to listen to those tapes today. Or laying on top of the loft bed together, with the lights off, each of us taking turns holding the flashlight and reading out loud from Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark, and then terrifying ourselves so much that we'd scurry down the ladder, hiding in his closet together, so this couldn't find us.
I should publicly apologize to Mike for one very serious scam that I perpetrated on him when we were children. I may have convinced him, through an elaborate and ongoing story, that he was adopted and that he had an older brother who was a professional soccer player who lived in Australia and raised Labrador puppies. I fiendishly combined Mike's three favorite things and one irrational childhood fear into one ridiculous story. I think he believed it, at least a little bit, until he was fifteen.
I could go on and on. That's the beauty of having siblings. Someone to share the family car trips and escapades with, someone to confess to, someone who has your back, someone who knows you better than nearly anyone else ever could, someone who with one phone call takes you back to being thirteen years old, walking up to Hy-vee to rent a movie together, teaching you his favorite rap lyrics on the way, singing along together until you get the rhythm and the lines just right. Someone to check you on your shit, someone to tell you they love you and miss you when you're homesick. Someone who loves you no matter what. No matter.
Mike and I are incredibly different and shockingly similar sometimes. And like most siblings, we haven't always had the smoothest, closest relationship. Our family dynamics have slapped labels on us both that we tend to rely on. I'm the well-behaved, stable daughter, he's the wild, rebel son.
Under the weight of these labels we struggle to find out who we really are, in the world, in our family and in ourselves. Because we are both much more than those labels want to permit us to be. They become an excuse and a crutch. For both of us. I turn into the preachy, judgmental sister and Mike is the rebellious, 30 year old brother without a checking account. Over the last year Mike has really struggled and forced himself to make difficult, brave decisions.
He moved away from home. He started a new life in Florida. Complete with a demanding and exciting job, new apartment and a different lifestyle. I know he struggles with missing home, friends, the life he's always known, but I couldn't be more proud of him for taking risks, challenging himself and trying to figure out who he is without the weight of his past keeping him tethered in Kansas City. I think doing all of this on his own, under his own energy and willpower is something he should be deeply proud of himself for accomplishing. And he got a checking account. At 31, he's turning into a grown up. I'm proud of you, Michael. I love you and happy birthday, kiddo.