Yesterday was my brother Kevin’s birthday. He would have been 28. I miss that crazy bastard.
What do I mean by crazy? How about this for starters:
He loved fire. Loved it. He got a kick out of blowing huge fireballs at parties. Once, at a Phish concert, one of Kevin’s fireballs caused Trey Anastasio to stutter mid-song as it shot up above the crowd. With Kevin’s larger-than-life image on the Jumbotron screen, the fans roared as Kevin blew fireball after fireball. Until security got him.
In college he went to see the doctor because his body was doing some odd things. The diagnosis: partial liver failure. My brother didn’t drink much, and there was no family history of liver trouble, so the doctor was puzzled. He asked Kevin, “Is there anything you do that’s out of the ordinary? Something you do for fun? Something other people don’t do?”
Kevin thought for a moment and said, “I like to spit fire.” When the doctor asked what substance he used to “spit” fire with, Kevin explained, “Bacardi works pretty well, but for a really solid fireball I like to use lamp oil.” Lamp oil! Needless to say the doctor’s recommendation was to avoid incidental ingestion of potentially toxic flammable substances. After following the doctor’s orders, Kevin’s liver got better.
On more than one Halloween Kevin dressed in drag. Wearing full makeup, high heels, and an evening dress (with his existing goatee), he would set about entertaining some and causing uneasiness among others. I was one of the others. On one of these occasions, he got me in a bear hug and tried to kiss me, faithfully playing the role of an amorous transvestite. Truly one of my more uncomfortable moments.
To me, Kevin was more than just a brother. When he was born, I felt he was a gift for me specifically. There’s a picture of me at six years old holding my toddler brother and the joy on my face is plain to see.
I remember a day in my teens when he and I had come back from doing something and we both wanted to share the story with the family. I looked at him and said, “Tell them what happened.” He looked at me and said, “No, you tell them.” I wouldn’t. I think he may have looked up to me then for being able to tell a good story, but I wanted him to find his own voice. I knew that wouldn’t happen unless I got out of his way. I told him, “Look, I’m not telling the story. If you don’t tell it, it’s not getting told.” He told the story and I was so damn proud of him.
What hurts the most is knowing the moments I won’t be having, the times I won’t be spending with him. He was supposed to be the Best Man at my wedding. He was supposed to be the crazy uncle to my kids. He was supposed to outgrow the “little” and just be my brother. It seemed like we had all the time in the world.
When Kevin had cancer, there was one night when he and I slept in the living room of my mom’s beach house. He had the couch and I had the loveseat. Since they were at ninety degree angles to one another, our heads were just a few feet apart. With the lights out, knowing how precious time was, I told him how much I loved him. And how much I’d miss him. And I cried. He told me he’d miss me too. It broke my heart.
Near the end, on one of my weekend visits to New York to see him, I remember having to leave to fly back to Boulder and feeling soulsick. Kevin’s condition was deteriorating. He hardly left the bed anymore, he couldn’t walk under his own power and his language skills were failing. He could no longer form complete sentences. It took great concentration for him to find even the simplest words to communicate his thoughts and feelings. I woke him to tell him I was leaving. I said, “I love you, buddy.” He looked up and said, as though completing my thought with his words, “So much… so much.” And my heart broke again.
A few months back I made a promise that every year on or around his birthday I would do something adventurous, life-affirming, and perhaps a little bit crazy to honor his memory. This year it was a trip to Canada. It gave me an emotional boost and a better perspective on life. It also allowed me to say goodbye to Kevin. Or at least to begin to. It was time.
So, I miss you, you crazy bastard. And I still love you so much… so much.