It gets hard sometimes—to sit and write. I sometimes lose focus on why I began this trip. But then something happens. Someone steps up and shares a piece of their life with me, and that’s when I realize, “Maybe I’m not alone in this crazy place.”
I began this journey years ago with a short blog entry that explained, “I doubt anyone will ever read any of this, but here it goes,” and so I went on.
I learned as I went and withstood the criticisms and jabs. I learned to disregard my concerns and speak openly through the written word.
Growing up, I walked in the shadow of an older brother, which was not always easy. My brother was well known and well liked. He was a talented athlete and noticed by all the girls in our neighborhood. We were too far apart in age and personality, but I always admired him. Safe to say he was one of my first heroes, though I never told him so.
I had written about the memories of my brother and our younger years. I wrote about the times he would lift me by my ears, and sometimes my neck. He would punch my arms and legs, calling them “Dead arms,” or “Dead legs,” and sometimes he called them, “Froggies.”
I cried on a few occasions—but I always seemed to come back for more. I suppose this was part of the banter that exists between older and younger brothers.
On a cold winter’s day after a snow storm, my brother asked if I wanted to go “Skitching.”
What that meant is my brother was going to drive around the snow-covered parking lot in the nearby park, and I was going to hold onto the bumper of his car. I assumed he would not drive too fast. After all, I was pint-sized, and he was my big brother. Why would I think he would do anything unsafe?
I wrote about this in detail and described my feeling of pride while sitting in the front seat of my big brother’s car. It was not a nice car by any means. My brother drove a brown Dodge Duster with a loud, rumbling engine, and uncomfortable tan colored seats. His car was perhaps the worst in his high school’s parking lot, but that never mattered to me.
We pulled into the circular parking lot at the Merrick Avenue entrance of Eisenhower Park. The lot had four speed bumps, two on both front and back sides of its large oval shape. I was heavily dressed in a blue down jacket with a hat, which was knitted by my grandmother, and pulled down to cover my ears. Beneath my outerwear, I was tucked in snow pants and my upper body was covered in two sweatshirts. I wore a fluffy pair of mittens, but more, I wore a huge smile because my big brother wanted to spend time with me.
After we pulled into the mostly empty parking lot, I noticed the few cars, which were parked near the hills where other children my age rode their sleighs. Some of the children were with their parents, and perhaps others were with their older brothers too. But to me, no one had an older brother as cool as mine.
My brother found a rope to tie around the bumper. I was to crouch down and hold onto the rope as my brother drove around the circle. The bottom of my boots would slide easily across the icy ground, and again, I never assumed my brother would speed around the track—because why would I think my big brother would try to kill me?
After careful consideration, my brother looked at the rope, and then he looked at me. “Why don’t I just tie this around your waist? This way you won’t fall.”
Gulping the early tensions of fear, I agreed, and my brother tied one end of the rope to his rust-spotted chrome bumper and the other end of the rope around my waist. However, my brother’s knot tying ability was limited to one kind; a slip knot.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
I shook my head, yes, but deep down, I was thinking, “NO!”
I crouched down with both hands gripped around the old white rope, which had been frayed from years of whatever use that ripped it to its broken condition. My butt was just inches above the frozen ground; my knees were at my chest with both feet in oversized snow boots and planted as best I could have them.
I was surrounded by a cool world of winter white.
Piles of snow crowded in different corners of the parking lot. The fields were covered in thick blankets of fresh snow. The only sign of anything dirty was brown tire marks across the ice-covered pavement and the rear end of my brother’s brown Duster. Its black exhaust flew back and the engine rumbled.
As I heard him return to the driver’s side of his car, my brother opened and closed the door. I saw the brake lights engage, and I could hear as the car switched from park into drive. Next, the rear tires spun, and then I was off.
It was not bad, at first. I was moving at a nice pace and my smile was bigger, and perhaps whiter than the freshly fallen snow. But when I hit the first speed bump, I was unable to recover my position, and I fell to the side.
And since my brother tied the knot around my waist and since the car began to pick up speed, the knot slipped upwards and synched around my stomach, restricting my breathing, and relentlessly dragging my scrawny body around the snowy oval shaped parking lot.
I recall hitting the other three speed bumps with hopes my brother would look in his rearview mirror and clearly see that I, his little brother, was in distress. I hoped he would notice my body flying across the ground, bouncing along with my arms and legs flailing in the air. But in his head and in his heart, my brother truly believed I was having fun . . .
There was a moment when the sunlight filtered through the snow, which covered my face. I was looking up towards the heavens; I can remember my thoughts now as clear as they were then.
“My brother doesn’t want to hang out with me . . . . My brother is trying to kill me!”
Fortunately, he stopped the car after the second pass around. I assume he expected a different reaction, and I assume I would have cried, that is, if I had breath in my lungs to allow it.
I did not laugh then, but I laugh about this now. This is an example of brotherhood craziness. And yes, I could have been hurt. And yes, something terrible could have happened—but that’s youth, and this is what I wrote about.
The next day after publishing this story in my blog, I received an email from a young woman in Greenland. Apparently, she had been following my posts on a tattoo website.
She explained, “I never wrote to you before because my English is poor, but I wanted to thank you for writing about your brother.”
She went on to mention about her own brother. He too was older and they also went through their own crazy adventures. Though she admitted she would have never allowed her brother to tie her to the rear bumper of his car, she related with stories of her own.
She mentioned, “Why I write to you is because I have not seen my brother in three years.”
She explained,” What you wrote meant a lot to me. It brought back all of the happy memories I had before my brother’s suicide.”
And then she thanked me . . .
Somewhere, some woman on the other side of the globe was touched by something I wrote. As a writer, I could never expect any payment better than this.
As a part of my journey, I wanted to learn how to communicate. I wanted to create my own version of art and build my own voice—but art is a humbling creation—and I often feel as if I am sculpting alone and no one can see or understand my vision.
But that’s not true
I have never made much money as a writer. I am far from famous and less than well-known. There are times when I wonder if there is a point to all this. I wonder if this journey I began will lead me somewhere. And it has.
This journey has led me to you.
It gets hard sometimes—the writing, I mean.
I lose focus on why I began this trip and I become frustrated. But then I received a message the other day from an old friend after he lost his son to a rare, but aggressive form of pediatric cancer. I tried to honor his little boy by writing something to comfort those who mourned.
My old friend sent a message to thank me for the piece.
He wrote, “Hope you don’t mind, I had your tribute printed and framed to display at Jake’s memorial service. I put ‘Written by family friend Ben Kimmel’ on the bottom. Hope that’s ok.”
As a writer, I will never receive an honor as great as this one. As a man, a father, and friend, I will never be as touched as I am now.
Sure, it gets hard sometimes—the writing, I mean.
But then someone reaches out, and suddenly, I realize I am not sculpting alone.
This is my journey.
And that my friends, is what art is all about.