Tuesday, June 10, 2008

brother, first and last

I started out with three brothers and now I have one. The eldest, older by about 12 years than I, is the only one left. I could tell a million stories about Doug because he is someone about whom stories are told, and will be told long after he is gone, which won't be long if things keep on the way they are. I love my brothers, not any one the best, and went through life being never myself but always somebody's sister. They were all treacherously handsome and drawn, all but the youngest, to trouble. The youngest (and I think we'd all agree, the best) died first. His heart was like his father's, doomed to beat for only about 35 to 40 years. Doug's has been beating longer, and likely harder, and is beginning to wear down now. The middle boy, silenced his about five years ago with whiskey.

When I was eleven, Doug taught me to play poker so he could beat me out of my babysitting money and play pool at Foss's Pool Hall in Medford. He told me to fold on the only royal flush I've ever been dealt. Lore has it that he painted his Navy commander's face with deck paint and nearly joined the Mafia. I'd believe anything. I have believed anything. I like a story and am a liar, this much we know. I remember people bringing Doug home from long benders, leaning him up against our front door, knocking, then running away. We'd open the door and down would come Doug -- passed out cold. I remember (or I may just be repeating a story I heard a hundred times) my brother hanging out the back window of a station wagon, the old kind with the seat facing backward, bottle of tequila in hand, spinning out of our wide gravel driveway with a carload of Mexicans bound for Tijuana, and this during a time when cars full of Mexicans were something of a rarity. Now, to say it outloud, or rather in print, it sounds rather benign. At the time it was the height of subversion, of rebellion, something he was known for. My mother never gave up on him.

There have been many years of my life when I didn't know him. He captained his own fishing boats and fished the Southcoast of Oregon for the past 40 years or so. When he found out I was shooting heroin he walked into the bar and slugged me, not really very hard, but nearly knocked me off my barstool. I tried to explain to him that it wasn't that big a deal, but he knew better. He knew. When I needed to kick, I went to him and camped inland from his mooring, and felt safer leaving my boy with him on his boat when I was sick and had to drink. He knew that one too. And still does. He is not a gossip.

He finally found a woman who could live alongside him, not exactly a pirate's wife, but something like that, who can't get too far from saltwater without getting nervous. She is a weaver and she has saved him twice now from the foibles of a body that is nearing an early finish. .

What Doug and I have in common is walking away from the rest of the family -- he more than I -- to live lives unapproved of by the Christians. We, me and K, visited him on our way back from this past camping excursion, and I didn't know if my husband would like him, but they seemed to hit it off, and for maybe the first time since I got married, I felt like family all together. Kurt said, "You never told me your brother was a real fisherman." I said, "Oh. Well, he is." I forget to tell him things about my family. I often forget I have one. He is my family now. Our counselor thinks I'm not a great communicator.

I am sad for my brother's failing health. I work in an industry where it is impossible not to know what it means to have a stroke, even if they get you to the hospital in time to bust the clot. I am grateful that he and I have lived long enough into this life to sort of know one another, although I will always feel separate from him, which is not very different than how I always feel.

One of the most significant memories from my very early childhood, maybe even the earliest memory of all, was of being awakened before dawn to hear him saying goodbye to me. I was in the top bunk, and he hugged me and ruffled my curly blonde hair. He still calls me Jude. He was seventeen and leaving for the Navy. It was that or prison I guess. I never did know what he did wrong. Maybe I should ask him. I've always wondered. But I guess he, or my Dad, chose the Navy. As you can tell with the face painting incident mentioned above, it didn't go well. None of my brother's took to the military. Or the military to them, it seems. Rebels, one and all.

No comments: