After the guests leave and all is packed away; leftovers are sealed up in Tupperware, the fridge is full with the remnants of Christmas day food, bellies are full, and the home is lit by the soft dull glow collected from the little warm white lights, which string around and weave throughout the branches and shimmering between the tinsel and ornaments of the Christmas tree; the house is gratefully empty, dogs are cozied in their places with eyes half-closed and tired after an eventful day of attention and affection from house guests, family, and grandma; the television radiates a dull beam that flickers across the television screen, and usually flickering from a classic Christmas movie from our generation, or perhaps a generation before ours, yet the classic never gets old and still fits well in our hearts.
The couch way is the right way in times like this. At last, there is peace. At last there is quiet. And at last, the spirit of Christmas is clear. In the softness of this moment and in the comfort of such quiet, I think of all the years I spent before this one. I think of the Christmas before and the one before that one. I think about the years I had without Christmas—or at least the ones with the spirit, without the sense of home and the pride of ownership. I think about the years I spent in crowds and surrounded by others, yet I was alone. I think of this and it is strange to find that I am surrounded by so few these days, and yet, I do not feel alone whatsoever. This is me now. And this is good.
I still get occasional messages from friends and from those who read my rambles. I know them either as an anonymous few or by name only. They write to me and tell me about their life or their world and the things they see. They share their stories with me and they say with reason, “Because you helped.”
Way back when I began this trip, I wrote a short piece about what it means to be a younger brother. I wrote about the tortures that come with being the little brother, glutton for punishment and glutton for attention in any way I could find it. I was tricked. Yes, that is a nice way to put it. I was tricked into eating crayons. I was shown the proper way to receive a dead-leg or a dead-arm, which only means, I took punches to the arms and legs. I was picked up by my ears and by my neck.
I was scared by a ghost that jumped from a closet in my big brother’s room when the lights were off, which is another, kinder way of explaining I was scared by one of my brother’s friends that hid in the closet with a white blanket and a skull mask over his head.
And worse than any event, yet admittedly, I willingly volunteered; after being tied by a rope to the rear bumper of my brother’s old, beat-up, brown Plymouth Duster in the ice-covered parking lot at Eisenhower Park, and after being dragged around the circular lot, complete with speed bumps (again, I must express that I willingly volunteered for this experiment) and having been pulled around, snow covering my face, and in a breathless moment of realization that perhaps allowing my brother to tie a slipknot around my waist because this was the only knot he knew how to tie; this might not have been the best idea because of the constricting force that kept me from breathing.
Then in the alarmed moment of awareness; there was a moment when sunlight twinkled between the snow covering my face and I thought I saw Heaven’s light on the way to collect me. I suddenly reversed my decision about my brother and his desire to “Hang out” with me. And with an inner voice, thinking to my 12 year-old self I swore, “Holy Shit! My big brother didn’t want to hang out with me. That son of a bitch is trying to kill me!”
But, nevertheless, I made it through like all kid brothers do. I survived. My brother survived as well and in spite of the crazy things we did—this is part of what happens between brothers.
I wrote about this once. I wrote about this and the time my big brother tricked me into drinking a big cup of vermouth.
“Drink this,” he told me, “And I’ll do your math homework for ya.”
It was math. I hate math.
It was fractions. I hated fractions worse than anything and since I had no idea what I was doing (or what I was drinking) I decided to accept the trade.
I drank the cup with a terrible curled up face in response to the flavor. The taste was as if I drank the worst, most foul, horrible liquid, which to me was perhaps like a battery acid. Minutes later, I felt a little loopy. Minutes after, I laughed a bit. Seconds later, I vomited for the next few hours.
I must say, my brother held up his side of the bargain. He did my homework. Only, the answers to the math problems on my math homework were mostly incorrect and the teacher yelled at me for this the next day.
Still, through it all, I smile at these stories and others like them. I smile because I have them and because there are others in the world that never had a big brother. I smile because I survived them and I smile because as crazy as they sound, and in some cases, the stories are not as bad as they sound; I smile because they are are fond memories of crazy things.
I posted this story on a tattoo webpage, which is no longer around. The next day, I received an email from a woman in Iceland. It was surprising to learn that something which came from me had traveled so far.
The woman wrote to me expressing her opinion on my story. She briefly wrote about the relationship she had growing up with a big brother of her own. She told about the fights they had and the things they did.
Then the woman from Iceland thanked me for my story. She thanked me because they brought back wonderful memories of for her. Unfortunately, next the woman from Iceland explained the reason for her email. Sadly, her brother committed suicide years before. “It’s been a long time since I have been able to smile about him again,” she told me. “Thank you for this,” she said.
As a writer, I cannot think of any honor more valuable than this.
As a man, a brother—more importantly, as a human being, I could not think of anything so touching.
I still get messages, although not very often. However, I get them often enough from people who struggle in life. They come from drunks and junkies looking for help, hoping that I can shed some light on an easier softer way. Some messages come from people abused and they leave me their stories, asking me to write about them, telling me, “Maybe this can help someone else.”
I get messages from parents of children—either of children with addictions or the unfortunate terrors of pediatric cancer. These are the messages that hit me hardest. I cannot say why they hit harder than any but when a child hurts; I can only say it hurts me. And it hurts me literally.
Sometimes, I receive messages from someone going through life and they relate to who I am or what I’ve done. And they tell me, “You’re the first person I thought about.”
As a writer, as a man, a father, and husband, I can think of no honor more precious than this. And as I sit here, writing to you from the loft of my home between the mountains—an empty cup of coffee sits beside me. The dogs in my home are still sleepy from yesterday and the wife is resting; outside, there is snow on the ground and inside, all the gifts under the Christmas tree are gone and gifted.
There are times when we are unsure about the mark we leave behind. I am not sure where this next year will take me. I am not sure what I will face, or overcome, but what I do know is that I’ve been noticed by some pretty incredible people throughout the years. And that above any is the best Christmas gift a guy could ever ask for . . .