Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Brother Series: Dan

My oldest brother Dan was forced by chronology of birth to take care of the rest of us. To this day he bears a decent amount of resentment at having gone without so much free time and cool stuff, while in his imagination the rest of us frolicked like the Lost Boys around the dirty century-old farmhouse and surrounding gravel pits that were our Neverland.

Yes, that's a goat on our porch. So what?
His chores included getting up early to feed the horses, milk the goats, and gather eggs from the chickens. He then had to make sure all of us were up and dressed, after which he would feed us - more often than not he slopped some greyish oatmeal the consistency of watered-down paste into our bowls and then barked "too bad!" at us when we bitched "this is GROSS!" at him. After breakfast he'd get all five of us, including himself, out the door and onto the school bus for the 20-minute ride to our crummy little school.

Since Dan was the oldest and I was basically the youngest, I didn't feel all that close to him. I know when I was a toddler and pooped in the tub (come on, you know we all did that at some point, shut up), it was Dan that cleaned it up, even though my mom was sitting right there when I told everyone what I'd done. That and the fact that he shared a birthday with my best friend are the two strongest memories I have of him from childhood. Yes - walking past him and mumbling Happy Birthday as I headed out the door to go to Jessica's party for a few years in a row - that's what I filed away.

He was mostly just in my peripheral vision until he joined the Marines to escape all of us when he was 17 and I was 8, at which point he pretty much disappeared for a while. This would set a trend of hope and impatience among my siblings and I; knowing that escape was possible, if we just put in our time. I heard the words "I can't wait to get out of here" muttered or shouted or just read in a desperate expression so many times over the years that I didn't associate turning 18 with voting or college - it meant Finally Moving Out.

We heard from Dan from time to time. I remember he sent me a giant stuffed panda bear from Okinawa, and I may have written him a letter or two, but for the most part he seemed like a distant uncle.

It wasn't until I was in high school that Dan and I started getting to know each other. He started coming around a little bit more, and took an interest in me. He affectionately called me 'Doc (short for my childhood nickname, Boonie - itself an abbreviated version of Boondock), and began telling sentimental stories about how close we'd been when I was a kid. This was news to me, but I went with it. He would chuckle about how it was impossible to keep me in a diaper as a kid, or in clothes for that matter (nothing much has changed there). As I grew older and received perks he'd never had, his big bald head would turn red and he would take it upon himself to educate me on the injustices of favoritism:

"you get a CAR?! Dammit when I was your age I had to work THREE JOBS to get a car!" or "mom lets you use the checkbook to buy the groceries?! When I was your age I had to go to the store with mom and carry everything to the car...with NO CART!"

"They didn't have grocery carts back in the olden days of 9 years ago?"

"Well, of course they did! But...I wasn't allowed to use one! I had to...I had to just...CARRY everything!"

Despite his apparent dissatisfaction at having suffered in his role of Oldest Child and therefore Caretaker of All, he has eight kids of his own. I'm not kidding. Eight! They live super far away so I'm not in a position to spy, but it doesn't seem like those kids are too grumbly, either. In fact they look...happy. I see lots of pictures taken from soccer, gymnastics, football, baton twirling and other random team-ish sports. They're always wearing clothes - matching clothes - and their hair always looks nice. Like, brushed and styled nice. I honestly need an ibuprofen and a nap just thinking about how busy their mom must be! But she gets major applause from me because its obvious that she's actually involved with them all, and that's pretty goddam amazing right there.

Dan and I text or talk to each other approximately once per year. Some years, twice. During our last conversation we did the usual commiserate bitching about how people (aka our family) give us a hard time for not visiting more, when how in the hell are we supposed to, with kids and no money...for me it would be $1,000 in plane fare alone, and I only have two kids, I don't know how in the heck he ever manages to travel!  This conversation, as you can see, always turns in to a mutually-understood and appreciated rant on both of our parts.

We also took about 45 seconds to discuss my love life. He said he hadn't known I was getting divorced, that he'd heard a little bit from our mom and his wife, but he 'never knows what to believe'. I suggested that he could just, you know, ask me. This made us laugh for some reason. We are not exactly a family of communicators.

At the end of the day, I love this big bald martyr, and I know he loves me too. Sometimes it's nice having siblings that you know very little about, because the alternative is knowing too much, and not liking what you find in each other. Because we grew up in the same house, we love each other. That's just the way it goes. Also because of this, I know that if I ever really, really, really needed him, he's absolutely got my back. If only from afar.

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