my brother, my blood, my dear-heart

by tobias crabtree

when my brother, josh, was born, i was 9. i asked my mom when he would start talking. to me, there was a lot of value in holding a conversation with someone, even if it was just talking about how mean my older sisters were or how fun summer was. so, you know, i really didn’t have much use for him until he could speak…like, words, none of this ga ga ga bullshit.

when josh was kicked out of his second high school for fighting i was home from college. i talked with him and then i went in front of his school board and asked them to give my kid brother another chance. they gave it to him. he stayed out of trouble and finished. i got josh hired on a concrete crew and we worked together. he was only 16 and tough and skinny as a rattlesnake. one of the lead men on the crew started picking on josh because  he was young, i punched the guy in the mouth. we were promptly fired.

josh has never needed me to defend him. he’s always been a scrapper. he’s always been loyal to the ones he loves. tough, quiet, lean and honest–that’s josh. and then my kid brother met a lady and they were married and then a little boy and then another and wrinkles and years and losses and birthdays and life. years later, when i finished my time in the marine corps, he hired me. i worked for him as a carpenter. he watched out for me and helped me learn the trade. he became my teacher. i didn’t stay, i never do. i left the country for a year and when i came back he was there, with his family, to feed me. josh never forgets.

his boys love me. i’m that uncle; covered in tattoos, smelly from wood fires, cussing too much, secret bags of tools for making all kinds of things, drawings and pencils, bones, rocks and the color of the sun.  they would take me to school for show-and-tell if they could. they are my little brother again. i look at them and i fill up. when i think of harm coming to them my heart pinches off and my head swims.

i was so cocky when i had less years. so damn arrogant. i spouted on about my grand schemes. i shouted at the government and i shouted at the preachers. i ran away to the woods and stared into fires at the very farthest ends of the roads. i ate what came along and was gaunt in the belly and long haired and fiery as hell. “let the world burn,” i would say, and tip back the bourbon bottle, “let it burn.” funny (not really funny) things happened to me.

a dear friend died. and then another. and then another. and i fell in love and i had my  heart broken. i lost and lost and lost.

when i fell way down–and, oh man, i did fall down–i realized that this was not something new. i was having life happen to me. a friend sent me a poem by Rumi called The Guest House. i read it. oh my, it said some things and i had to listen. it is so easy to be lost in self pity; it’s a dark and tricky forest with trails that circle back on themselves. i read Mary Oliver. i called my brother. he said, “come home, dude.” of course he said that…of course he did.

i am not a guru. i am not even a philosopher. i’m not a wise-guy or a doctor, nor do i have “cum laude” after any title i’ve ever held (and have i ever held a title? hmm, i did win this thing once where you have to hold your breath and…ah, nevermind.) i do, however, have this view on life. it’s pretty simple. life is what we have. that’s it. it’s everything. it’s laughing with your mama. it’s playing pranks on your lover. it’s stopping by a friend’s house and remembering with them after they think everyone has forgotten. it’s staring at the stars and allowing tears because it’s so good. it’s crying 10 years later…hell, it’s crying 50 years later. it’s smiling at a pretty girl and having her smile back. it’s back pain. it’s the sound of sirens too close to your house as you drive home from work and say to yourself, “don’t let it be, don’t let it be.” it’s a healthy baby. it’s a healthy baby crying all night. it’s the tone in the doctors voice when he says he’d like you to stop by his office to talk about the tests. it’s that old guy with the one, white, teary eye and his cup that he holds every morning as people walk past him for their five dollar latte. it’s a perfect sun in the perfect blue on a perfect day in february.

all this. fill up, man. we may have only this one chance, who’s to say?  take what there is and call it wonderful. as for me, i’d give all i got to that kid brother of mine…if he’d take it. he wouldn’t i’m sure, he’d probably tell me to save a little for myself and play with the kids.