My younger brother Denny and I fought constantly growing up. Denny was smart, athletic and always got what he wanted... At least that's how it seemed. I guess it's normal to feel that way about your own brother; especially if he's a total ass hat.
The summer before we started middle school, the family went on a road trip to Nanna and Peppi's ranch. Denny and I were arguing, of course, in the backseat of our 1985 Chevy Astro. Our father shouted over his shoulder and threatened to turn the van around if we didn't shut our "insignificant little face-holes." When our arguing only intensified, he pulled the car over at a rest area and threatened to burn us both bald in front of a pack of cub scouts selling coffee and donuts.
We both knew that he always carried a barbecue lighter with him wherever he went.
Denny's full name was Denny Wen-Wen-Wayooa; it was a family name my mother's father coined after he chopped off his tongue. Although I was the older one, I always felt slighted, not only by my parents, but by God as well. It seemed as though the first child out of the mother was somehow worth less than those that followed. Funny how being a sibling is like that.
[cue Yo La Tengo segue way]
It all started with the CD player. I still remember the day our father brought home that glossy, black console, only slightly smaller than our VCR. It... was gorgeous. Our father hooked it up, popped in the only CD that he was so proud to own, turned up the volume, and addressed my brother: "Denny can use the CD player all he wants," he said with a smile. Then the smile disappeared as his icy gaze fell on me, "But you, the other kid? You don't never touch it."
I still can't listen to The Best of Johnny Gill without having to go to the bathroom.
My father's anger may have come from the fact that I had, just a few days earlier, burned his alphabetized catalog of Asian foot fetish zines... But it really didn't matter. From that day forth, I harbored a deep resentment for Denny. But I guess that's normal when you have a brother.
I never did use that CD player, and to this day I still haven't touched one. I actually stopped listening to music because I thought my heart was dead. Denny told me all about the great bands he listened to: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Ray Stevens... Since I was still allowed to read books, I told him about Shakespeare and Dostoevsky and he never pretended to be even marginally interested. But we still had great fun, talking about things that we were both passionate about.
It seemed like it had taken our entire lives, but we were finally getting along like real brothers.
[cue Elliott Smith B-side segue]
It was two days before The Homecoming Sports Game, and Denny was entertaining scholarship offers from several major universities. He had broken several school records and was named to the All-State Mascot Team. On his way to the game, he ran a stop sign doing 85 mph. Witnesses said that he was mock-catcalling the elderly town librarian when he ran head-on into a silver maple tree. The doctors said that the only reason Denny was still alive was because he had been wearing his oversized, foam moose-head. Denny was lucky enough to come away from the accident with only a broken leg. The tree he hit, however, would never walk again. In the following weeks, Denny half-assed it through physical therapy, but quickly quit because he considered the rehabilitation process to be "totally homo."
I never knew what he meant by that.
A year later, after our father's death, the two of us went to clean out the house we grew up in and found ourselves back in our old room. Sure enough, there it was in the back of the closet, beneath some sticky lacrosse gear: the CD player.
We pulled the CD player out and gently wiped it down as if we were toweling off an estranged uncle. Denny plugged it in, and to our surprise, it powered on. We broke out into spontaneous laughter. There we were: brothers, now and forever, through thick and thin. I was about to tell Denny that I loved him when he told me that I was a brainless idiot and farted a few inches from my open mouth.
Denny pointed out that we didn't have any CDs to play. After realizing that maybe this moment of nostalgia was best left in the past, I saw the corner of a plastic jewel-case sticking out from beneath an ice skate that Denny had stolen from a girl in a wheelchair.
Inside the jewel case was the EP Single for Offspring's "Low Self-Esteem." We played it and pretended that the song was so awful that it was good (rather than admitting that it was only awful). Denny picked up the CD player, ripped the cord out of the wall and walked out without a word.
It was at that point that I realized what it truly meant that Denny and I had grown up together. We weren't children anymore, we weren't reckless teens, we were adults. And it became clear to me that there could only be one of us.
Strange how being brothers is like that.
[cue something thought to be World Music by someone who considers Paul Simon to be World Music]
I don't actually remember kicking his weakened leg out from under him as he stood at the top of the stairs. But I do remember smiling as I watched tumble-down two flights before he came to a stop on the ground floor with a sickening thud.
With time and wisdom, I've come to realize how wrong it was of me to kick my brother down the stairs. Now I know that I never should have kicked Denny down those stairs, he didn't deserve it; it was my father who deserved it. Denny took the brunt of my dangerously misdirected and unresolved aggression against our dad who, I think, we both secretly wanted to kill.
And that was when I realized just how much Denny and I shared with one another, and that I had been wrong to think him an ass hat. I mean, hey, if accepting misdirected rage against one another in order to protect the obliviously-sainted image of your parents isn't being a good sibling, then I don't know what is.
I guess that's what being brothers is really all about.