My older brother left for college and I feel like someone hit me in the stomach with a baseball bat. I know what it feels like to be hit in the stomach with a baseball bat because my brother did that to me once. That’s exactly the kind of thing he used to do to me all the time. He’d steal my trick or treat candy every Halloween. He’d wrestle me to the ground and sit on me until I agreed to do his chores. He once threw a baseball at me when I wasn’t looking and broke my nose. During our childhood years he’d been known to chase me around the yard with a stick, make me walk the dogs when it was his turn, put his roasted asparagus on my dinner plate when our mother wasn’t looking, and lock me out of the house when our parents were out to dinner ... once in the middle of December in a snowstorm. God, I am going to miss that kid!
Most of the important memories I have involve scheming with my brother. Together we wrote an anonymous letter to our parents asking them to return Grace to the hospital they got her from. We spent countless summer nights sleeping in a tent in our backyard looking for coyotes and many Christmas Eves drinking Mountain Dew in hopes of staying up late enough to see Santa. He was always faster and stronger, and I looked up to him even as I grew taller. He was the one to pave the way for the kids in our family. He was the first one to learn to drive, challenge the curfew, fight for higher allowances, and now the first to leave for college. I remember being so frustrated as a kid with always being the younger brother. The truth is that being a younger brother has its perks, especially if you have my brother for your older brother.
He taught me almost everything I know about girls. For instance, he was the one who ripped up most of my love poems and smothered me with a pillow until I promised to stop writing poetry. He was always there to play catch, go for a run, throw the football around, hit a movie, or go for a swim. He even taught me how to swim. It was the natural byproduct of years of him holding my head under water in rough surf. If you have an older brother, you know exactly what I mean.
Just a few short months before he left, I got my license. In June, I got into my first car accident – a small bump into a lamp post in a friend’s driveway. When I arrived home, only my brother was there. I asked for his advice about how best to tell our parents. He took care of that for me as he blurted out, “Mom, Andrew cracked up the car while you were out,” as soon as my mother got home. Once she was convinced that no one was hurt in the accident, my mother proceeded to give me the lecture. You know that one about teenage male drivers, insurance rates, and accidents. As I settled in for what would be a long lecture, I saw my brother retreating from the room behind my mother. He popped up over her shoulder and gave me a wink and two thumbs up. He always did know how to get me into trouble, and he always knew how to make me laugh in the midst of it.
Now it will be a lot quieter in our house and a lot sadder for a little bit. My mom has been crying a fair amount lately. Maybe what my brother has been telling me for all these years is true. Maybe he IS my parents’ favorite. Yet, whenever I see my mom's red eyes and tear-streaked cheeks, I get a lump in my throat the size of an unshelled walnut.
I wasn’t home when he left. I missed his departure by 72 hours, but he left me a note in my room begging me to clean up his room before our mom notices he left it a mess. I open the door to his room and glance around at the dirty socks, old ice cream bowls, and wet towels strewn everywhere. I know it is going to be a BIG job and that I had better get started, but I just can’t move. I am in shock. I can hardly believe how quiet and deserted the place feels. I can’t believe I won’t be able to wander across the hall and find him right here in this room every night this coming year. On top of his crumpled up blanket I find another note. “Thanks, Andy. I owe you one. I’m gonna miss you, Bro.” “I know the feeling,” I mumble to no one in particular. It feels just like being hit in the stomach with a baseball bat by your best friend.