I was 5 and he was 8 when he came zinging into my world. Really. That was the noise we heard. Zinging. Awestruck by his gift in handling crayons, I let him color in my coloring book. He could actually color in the lines! He was loud. He loved to laugh. He taught my sister and me to jump from bed to bed. And we fell in love with him.
My step-brother came into our life much like a tornado nestles into a mobile home park.
Sometimes he was angry. Other times, he was overly enthusiastic. He fought authority. He fought with his new sisters. He was just different. I was amazed by the range of his emotions. Sometimes I hated him. But most of the time I loved him fiercely.
While I was in junior high school, I was beginning to put together all the reasons my brother was different. He sucked at baseball because he threw like a girl. But he could help you figure out how to cut your kinky ass hair so that it was cool enough to be tolerable during the Dorothy Hammill era. By the time I was in high school I had figured it out. My brother was gay.
Being gay in Smalltown, Georgia is not a recommended way to become accepted by others. Most of the folks in town still believe that being gay is a choice. And if you make that choice, why then dear friend, you are going straight to hell (said with Southern Baptist hellfire and damnation accent).
So, we made a pact. We would just act like nothing was amiss. And no one knew anything about it. That is until my brother was beaten up outside the gay bar on the county line. I thought I would die when that story made the paper. And I found out how cruel kids can be. I cringe with the memories of how badly I wanted to fit in with the cool kids – those cool kids who were such assholes.
My brother soon left to live where he could find himself. New York. Washington D.C. San Francisco. And finally, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Conversations became sporadic. And yet still deep. We both complained about boyfriends. And our parents. Until one day, my “I’m pregnant” was silenced with his “I have AIDS.”
When we went to get him from Cincinnati to bring him home, I was struck with the grief in knowing that we were bringing him home to die.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of my parents who had to stand up to scorn and ridicule because they stood by their son. And the power of family was enough, at that time, to heal him. He bounced back. He laughed again. And, at times, he even raged.
For five years, we had our ups and downs – along with a few medical scares. We began to joke that our brother would out live us all.
But eight years ago, that all changed.
I miss him. I miss how he gave me advice when I didn’t want it and he was in no position to give it. I miss his hyena cackle when he was making fun of us. I miss his funky Christmas gifts that always had everyone wondering. I just miss him.
This Tuesday Tribute is in memory of my brother who died on January 22, 2001.