I have a younger brother. Red hair like me. Scrappy–not like me. An affectionate child who grew up with little affection. He learned early to use his fists. Always moving. New schools. New thugs. New manhood to prove.
I left home when he was still a kid. We went our separate ways. He got into booze and drugs and motorcycles and tattoos before he was thirty. Almost checked out twice – by overdose and by motorcycle.
Once he knifed a man for messing around with his wife. My father, the war hero cried (first time my mother ever saw him cry, she said). Prison time. Alcohol and fists not a good combination. The women in his life learned the hard way.
I turned away. From the money-begging, from the manipulation, from the badness.
He’s in prison again. Fifteen years. I visit him. I’m the only one. The folks are gone now. The others seem to have written him off. I can’t. I hate that it feels more like duty than love. He’s my brother. My blood. My hair. My temper–though he can’t hide it, like me.
I send him money now and then. Have a file folder with his letters and stuff. His guitar under my bed. Visit every few months, fill him up with junk food at the prison canteen–a he-man double burger with squeeze cheeze, chips and a soda. He’s my brother.
He’s 58 now. Has cancer. I haven’t seen him in almost a year. I’ve been plenty sick myself this year. I finally got there. When they wheeled him in from the infirmary he looked different. The scrapper was gone. His eyes looked humble. He had an air of acceptance about him, with apprehension nibbling the edges, and I felt something soft I hadn’t felt for him in a long time. Love.