There are memories I have with my brother and there are memories I was given, although like most of us I’m probably jumbling up the two and inventing whatever is missing.
What I definitely remember: we’re five or six, playing a fun game in our basement where one of us bounces on the trampoline while the other throws things directly at the jumper, whose job it is to not get hit. Like any good pair of brothers, the game starts off easy and then escalates quickly. Stuffed animals turn to sharp objects and before I know it I’m upstairs, tugging at my mom who has just sat down to talk on the phone with a friend, explaining through the blood pouring out of my face how I lost the game.
Like most younger siblings, I followed my brother everywhere and was only interested in what he was doing, even if it involved getting things thrown at me. One summer before I could swim, we went to the beach and I stood on the shoreline while he played in the surf, sobbing because I was so worried about him. This is a memory I don’t have but has been recounted enough times I can almost feel the sand beneath my toes and the stress in my stomach. And even though I don't remember this happening, I love both the beach and a good cry so it seems very on-brand.
He has always taken his role as an older brother seriously.
When I was in grade school someone wanted to beat me up for reasons which remain murky - did I steal their choreo? Were they jealous of my tightly rolled jeans? I have never understood wanting to throw a punch about anything and so I wasn’t taking the threat very seriously; all I remember is my brother stepping in and vowing to fight in my defense. I have no idea if anything actually happened or if I’ve made up this story completely, but I do know if someone did want to injure me, he would have intervened. And then we would have gone to the basement and injured each other, like good brothers.
I eventually stopped following him around but he never stopped protecting me, offering advice and guidance I usually ignored but always enjoyed hearing. When I was considering moving to Paris for school, he told me I would regret missing out on having an American college experience, which made me pause just long enough to wonder if he was right before packing my bags and crossing the Atlantic. Three years later when he finally visited me and saw what my college experience looked like abroad, he begrudgingly admitted it might have been a good choice.
In the years since he’s been right about a lot, not that I listened. He was right about the sales job I knew I would hate (and which he told me I absolutely would), the relationships he mocked (only the ones which deserved it) and the constant reminders to worry less and enjoy life more.
Stop crying in the sand and come play in the surf.
This week he turns forty, which is weird because despite being eighteen months younger than him our whole life, I’m nowhere near that godawful number. He has two boys of his own now, who are busy being brothers and following each other around, figuring out what advice to heed and what to ignore. As we watch them play and fight and toss sharp objects at each other, I wonder what memories they’ll keep and what they’ll be told, what they’ll make up and what they’ll know for sure.
And I can only hope in about forty years they’ll get to look back on it all and realize how lucky they were to get to do it together.