Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Brother's Best Suit

My brother Andrew and I hail from western Illinois, a place where hail is seen every so often. It's said our state has only three seasons: cold, colder and construction. Much to the chagrin of everyone, it gets cold around late August, and by mid-December, you're just about ready to die. In a fire, if you can help it.
With temperatures dropping like anything drops in a vacuum like everywhere not Chicago in Illinois, it gets absurdly cold by Halloween. Growing up, my brother and I had to trick or treat in out coats more than once. It's awful for a kid to have to beg for candy in a hand-me-down coat.
"Oh, look, two little hobos."
"We're Batman and Robin."
"Oh. Well. You know, the coats."
"Yeah. That and hobos are known for having pointy ears and masks."
"Get off my porch."
To a child's mind, Halloween being so cold just isn't fair. Batman didn't wear a coat when he fought crime, so why should I wear one in a quest for sugary deliciousness? My parents always answered this by telling me to put on my coat, successfully circumventing an argument I was bound to lose.
One year, deciding the best course of action would be to avoid the whole coats/no coats, but long underwear conversation, my parents purchased for my brother and me costumes containing hooded sweatshirts. It was a masterstroke, to be sure. And in what was, in retrospect, an even more portentous move, our parents picked out the costumes themselves, apparently according to our personalities.
I was a mouse. My brother was a devil. We went out on All Hallow's Eve, got a bunch of candy, and had a great time. What worked out pretty well for our parents is, after the holiday, we could still utilize a good portion of our suits. Not that I didn't keep a number of batsuits, mind you, but the blue ranger and Dracula have both been lost to time. So, Andrew and I would wear these outfits to go out and play in the next to our house. We would be having a swell time in the leaves, and then Andrew would do something that I absolutely hated.
He would play dead. We'd be running around and he would drop like a stroke victim. This scared the holy living hell out of me. What would Mom do? Dad would kill me.
"You were supposed to be watching him!"
I was barely able to tie my own shoes, and here I was, foreseeing my father berating me for being unable to combat ST(oddler)DS. This, playing out in my mind, revealed the most traumatic part of all: Mom would cry. And she wouldn't cry like she had on the roller coaster at Six Flags. No, she would full tilt lose it, balling and calling for her little boy who I had allowed to perish in the balmy Illinois fall, in a pile of dried, red leaves. Well, I wasn't about to let that happen. So, grabbing Andrew by the wrist, I would pull him toward the house. He may die, but it wouldn't be on my watch. Let Mom and Dad deal with this. So I would drag him, worried sick and maybe crying a little myself, and he would laugh and laugh and I would get so mad at the little shit for it.
Years have passed, and we are still a mouse and a devil. I have graduated into a clever mouse (see me write these entertaining little stories?) and he has become a Devil Dog. Yup, he's a Marine, complete with rifle, boots, the whole shebang. We have both traded in our jackets for more substantial clothing. Not to say those jackets weren't warm enough. They were fine. No, what we wear now defines us better. I wear my writer's fedora, which makes me feel all artsy, like I should sip on absinthe and be poor. And he wears a dress blue jacket with gold buttons. Each button is embossed with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor the Marines proport to have taken over responsibility for from God Himself. It makes him look appropriate to attend the Marine's Ball. It's BDUs he wears to kill people.
I remember when he decided to earn that uniform. He and Mom and Dad went to see the sergeant at the mall recruiting center. I was not allowed in, for fear I would start with my drivel about peace and not let the man speak his. I consented to absence, with the understanding Andrew would not be allowed to sign up for the delayed entry program. That night I found out I should not allow my parents to go it alone. Andrew was signed up for the Marine Corps.
He was all smiles, my parents had a look of solemnity about them, and Andrew got a "Congratufuckinglations" from the poolee who would be given credit for helping get my brother's name on the line. I was disappointed, and a little worried. This was my little brother, after all. I had seen him in the direst vulnerabilities. I had seen him deal with untrue friends and girlfriends, battle with weight gain and could even remember buying diapers for him. I remembered how much he cried when his guinea pig died.
And I made a choice. It is a cold world. We all choose the best way to get through it, and in choosing, decide who we want to be. I decided the best way was to tell stories. Andrew picked "oorah." I could have tried to pull him toward the house, put him in front of Mom and Dad and say, "look, he wants to go and get killed." I know I have to let him. I wouldn't want him to stop me, tell me what I do isn't right. I will not say the same to him. The truth is, despite the danger, in spite of the fear I now possess more than ever for his safety, I'm proud of Andrew and would not change his profession for anything.
He has chosen the costume to wear to protect him and who he is, and it's something he wears in autumn as red leaves float to frozen earth, or if hot sand and lead whips about him. I will not pull him from either.

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