Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Wanna Be Like Mike

Around 1991, my grandpa purchased a state-of-the-art Panasonic VHS camcorder. He began to film almost every moment of our lives, significant or insignificant. Today, there are still VHS tapes filled with his grand-kids engaging in several interesting activities like getting ready for church, playing Nintendo, putting together our toys, reading a book, jumping on the trampoline, and eating breakfast. It may have seemed simple at the time but I like to think that Grandpa had the foresight to realize that even the simplest moments in life are precious and capturing them could give us some insight to why we turned out the way we did. In each of the videos, there are two most common characters; Me and my brother, Michael, and the moments between the two of us are still very special to me.

There is one video in particular that seems to sum up my relationship with my brother the most perfectly. I think I was probably 5 years old at the time meaning Mike was probably 7. We were both dressed in full length footie pajamas at my Grandparents' house around Christmas time, I believe. I know that his jammies were red and probably Ninja Turtles, but I do know that mine were pale yellow with Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang on the front in a white circle across the zipper, my shoulder length blonde ringlets sat disheveled around my round face suggesting that we had only recently crawled out of bed. 

Grandma and Grandpa had given us a Sesame Street railroad set and we had the pieces strung out across the dining room table. Each piece of the railroad was in the shape of a letter and the ends of the letters connected together to form a path for the train to move throughout the neighborhood. Even though the pieces only had limited options for placement, I was struggling to make a smooth path. After all, I was only 5 and this toy must have been in the 6-10 age group. I seemed oblivious to my shortcomings as a railroad operator and excitedly grabbed letter after letter and haphazardly connected them together. I was anxious to get the railroad built so we could put the train on the track and I couldn't be bothered by detail.

Unknown to me at the time, Mike was taking a much more logistical approach to creating this alphabetic railway. Once or twice, preserved only by the video, Mike addresses the situation with me that I had placed the pieces at an incorrect intersection. I looked thoughtfully at the pieces, kindly disagreed with him, and continued about my business. Because of my stubborn nature, even as a wee one, Mike realized that attempting to stifle my creative and ambitious vision would be futile. What he does next showed me more about my brother than I ever expected to find in an antiqued home video. 

He stepped a few feet behind me and carefully reoriented each of the pieces I had placed incorrectly and followed me as I went continuing to make silent corrections along the way. As soon as I noticed he was turning a piece here and there, I thanked him and told him I was just about to fix it, which I obviously was not planning on doing. As I got frustrated throughout making my path, he softly suggested a more suitable letter and which direction to connect the letter. He encouraged me and congratulated me when I made the correct connections, even if they were a result of his suggestions. At the end of the construction, my railroad connected full-circle and the correct connections allowed us to put the train in place and watch intently as it circled around the track. 

Mike has never been a person who needs recognition or fame for what he does. He loves with his whole heart his family and his friends and does anything he can to help. Even in this memory of my brother, he just did what he could to help me, asking for nothing in return but to see things work out for me with the best possible outcome.

As my 5 year old self continued decorating and adding embellishments to my railway with my brother, my future 24 year old self found myself again on my grandma's couch, watching a video that had been shot only 5-10 feet from where I was sitting, almost 20 years prior. I glanced over to the area behind me where that dining room table still stood and pictured the two of us, only barely able to see over that table at the time, building that silly railroad together. 

My heart was full of love and admiration for my brother and I realized how much I missed him. During my childhood, there have been a lot of people in my life, whom I have loved, that have left me for some reason or another. Even recounting experiences to others, it is impossible to give an accurate feeling of how I felt during that time. My brother is the one person who was always at my side. Between the moves, new schools, new friends, new religions, new faces, I never have to describe to my brother how those things made me feel because he has been my co-pilot and the co-author to my stories throughout the years.

Mike joined the army when I was 19. It was a very difficult time for me and the first time that we had spent any real amount of time apart from each other. We could only communicate via snail mail during that time but I desperately looked forward to his letters and sending him details of the events from home. Things were tough for him but he seemed to be learning and enjoying the comradeship of the fellow recruits. When he came home for Christmas during his basic training, Mike had become a more proud and handsome version of himself. He held his head high as he walked toward us at the airport. His smile instantly greeted us as he welcomed each of us into his arms, one by one. I have never been prouder of him as we walked toward the car, other passengers thanking him and shaking his hand as we went. 

Now, 5 years later, I find myself being overwhelmed with pride again for my friendship with my oldest brother. He married his beautiful wife, Amanda, and became a dedicated step father to her gorgeous son, Aaron and set up life for his family in Texas. The recent birth of my adorable nephew, Aidan, has only further revealed his commitment and prowess as a loving father and husband. I miss them but whenever they cross my mind, I always smile.



I rarely take the time to tell you but I am so proud of the amazing man that you have become. It shouldn't surprise me because I have spent my entire life believing that you're the coolest person on the planet. Since as young as I remember, I have always looked up to you and and valued your approval above all others. 

You have taught me how to catch snakes with a piece of plywood, how to maximize the double tap when using my trigger finger on my paint ball gun,  how to drive a stick-shift, pitch a tent, construct a shooting range, and walk across a monkey bridge. You have rescued me when I snapped the drive shaft on grandpa's pickup, helped me hook up the bithcin' sound system in my car, loaned me your shorts when I peed myself, held my hand while we walked through Lego Land, flew across the country to be at my side while I underwent chemo, and been my partner in numerous crimes. We have mourned together, cried together, laughed together, acted completely irresponsibly together, confronted death together (at our own hands), and we have learned together. Most importantly, you have shown me how to accomplish anything by putting your mind to it, how to be a loyal friend, and how to love like nothing else matters. 

You have stepped in as my hero to save me when I had no other way out so many times I've lost track. Money, time, or distance have never prevented you from reaching out your hand to help me. 

Thank you for all the years you tolerated me tagging along with you and your friends, making me your partner in your adventures, and for valuing my advice and opinions. You will never know how much it has meant to me. 

I know that as a new family with two young children, things will be tough at times. Now, we didn't have children, but Carley and I moved out when we were very young and very inexperienced. I know that those first few years are the most difficult time to work through. I don't think Car would mind me saying that they were downright miserable for a lot of that time in our first little apartment. They are scary at times and the fear and stress can easily manifest itself in frustration with your partner. I have seen you and Amanda together and seen how well you two compliment each other and love each other. If I could give you any advice, it would be to let these tough times draw you closer together, not drive you apart. Because it will if you let it. Fall back on the love you that you have for each other and for your children. When you feel like everyone is betting on you to fail, bet on each other to win. It may seem weird that I can relate to you in this way as your sister, but there is nothing as empowering and motivating as the love of a beautiful and supportive woman in your life. Her love and your relationship with her will power you though the darkest of times. When it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, remember that when you get through it, it becomes only a memory that has strengthened you as a team.

I wish that Grandpa was here to meet your wife and your children. He would be so proud of you for the way you love and care for your family. You should be proud of yourself. I am proud to be an aunt to your sons, a sister-in-law to your wife, and a sister of the best guy I know. You're my best friend, my hero, and I love you.


There are places I'll remember
All my life
Though some have changed
Some forever
Not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life
I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one 
Compares with you
And these memories
Lose their meaning
When I think of love
As something new

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life
I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life
I love you more
In my life
I love you more

(Johhny Cash version, not the one by Bette Midler)

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