Kisses & Punches: Remembering My Brother’s Authenticity
If you’d met my younger brother when he was little, say 5 or 6 or 7, there would have been no mistaking how he felt about you.
As soon as you were introduced, chances are he either would have planted a big, sloppy-wet kiss on your cheek … or stretched his arm out to the side and swung it like a baseball bat, right into your gut. Hard.
No pretense. No question about where you stood with him. I guess you could say he wore his emotions on his sleeve.
Steven, who would have been 40 today if he’d lived past 21, always was a kid of extremes. Small but scrappy. A serious risk-taker who also risked a lot for the people and things he cared about.
He loved speed, and his need for it progressed over the years. He lost or broke countless pairs of glasses jumping off the bike ramps he built. His skiing buddies called him “kamikaze” because he loved to ski straight down the hill with nary a single turn. His car no doubt took a beating from all the quick shifting into high gear.
He loved his friends. A poster-size picture of him and his BFFs smiles out into the bedroom that was his. He liked to do stuff to make those guys happy. Sometimes stupid stuff. He did even stupider stuff for girls.
I’m pretty sure he loved me, too. As we grew older, a huge gap in understanding widened between us. We were so different, but we certainly had our touchstone moments over the years. I’ve often said that we were five years, six grades and worlds apart, but we were never closer than the night he and I were home alone when the vet called. I, a teenager at the time, sat him on my lap to break the news. The split second I uttered the words, “Dusty died,” it was like someone had turned on the faucet full blast. He sobbed for a full 15 minutes. I’d had no idea how much he had loved that crazy cat.
I was reminded of all this and more a couple of weeks ago when, at picnic back in my hometown, I went over to say hello to the family who lived two doors down from mine while I was growing up.
Twice that evening, our neighbors brought me to tears with memories of my brother as a little boy. Tales of him playing the neighborhood sentry, stopping cars at random checkpoints. Tales of him tearing up our bucolic streets, first on his bike then in his car. Tales of times he let show the extraordinary sensitivity that lay beneath his angry exterior.
After years of seriously negative behavior, Steven spent the last months before his fatal car accident channeling all that emotional energy into a seriously positive pursuit: training to be an emergency medical technician.
He loved riding with the ambulance crew. I suspect rushing out on urgent calls appealed to his strong desire to help people and gave him the adrenaline rush he so badly craved. The experience changed his whole outlook. After years of barely interacting with our parents, he began excitedly waking them at 1 a.m. to tell them about his shift. A young adult of extremes.
You see, he never really stopped wearing his emotions on his sleeve.
In what ways are you totally authentic? In what ways do you want to be?