Do you remember your first friend? Chances are you're thinking about the buck-toothed kid that you grew-up next door to or the little girl in braids you met in kindergarten. If you take a look closer to home though you might find an even earlier friendship.
Your brothers and sisters are your first friends, enemies and hopefully the only people you ever try to maim or kill. My brother was all of those things to me. I often think fondly of childhood memories or cringe at the near misses we escaped, but this coming week offers me a special opportunity to do so. This Wednesday will mark the four year anniversary of my brother's death. All week I remember the adventures we had as children. After all no one really knows your childhood experiences like a sibling, someone who lived those experiences with you.
Though he was six years older we were forced playmates, because, we lived in the country, and our nearest neighbors could be spotted only through binoculars. Living on a farm gave us a super-sized playground with fields, forests and barns to explore. We could often be seen racing across the hills on his dirt bike. When I was very small I would ride cross legged on the gas tank holding on to the handle bars. (Safe, I know) As I grew I rode on the back of the bike hanging on to him. I couldn't begin to count the number of bumps, bruises and burns we obtained from motorcycle crashes. Who knew that two people on a dirt bike doing X-Games style jumping could be so risky? The force of that wipe out is nothing in comparison though to hitting a petrified cow patty at fifty miles an hour. Didn't know manure could turn to stone did you? Well it can, and when it does it can send a motorcycle and its riders flying through the air. Unfortunately you miss the whole flying part. One moment you're on the bike, the next you're slamming into the ground, and the next you're bloody and limping pushing a busted bike back home.
Just like with other childhood friends I didn't always play nicely with my brother. I can remember him chasing me through the house, I'm not sure what I'd done, but I'm sure it was a doozy. Reaching the brand new bathroom I slammed the door and locked it behind me. He hit the door so hard it cracked. That was it, the fight was over. We had to work together to patch and paint the door before our parents got home. On another occasion I'd grown so tired of his picking that I hid in the hall coat closet to surprise him. I'd been in there for quite some time when he jerked the door open to scare me. It worked. I was so startled I punched him right in the face, knocking him to the floor. Our parents were painting the living room, and could barely cling to their ladders they were laughing so hard.
My very best memory of my brother contains no blood or bruising and I think about it all year not just on February twenty-second. Even though we were not affectionate siblings I know he loved me. Not because of all the things we did together as children or because of the great lengths he went to in order to attend my college graduation. It's not even because of the trust he put in me with helping with his health and addiction issues in the last few years of his life. I knew of his love because of a peanut butter sandwich.
When I was around nine and he was fifteen my parents were going out for the evening and just the two of us were staying home. It was a warm summer evening and he and I were making sandwiches for dinner to eat outside on the picnic table. Around that time I'd developed an affinity for ham and cheese sandwiches on lightly toasted bread. Yes, I was an odd child and a very picky eater, but that's beside the point. I had already toasted my bread when I realized we were out of ham. Now my Mom, being a mom, insisted that I not waste perfectly good bread. Which I understand now, at the time I thought she was a lunatic it was just bread. The only sandwich materials we had were pimiento cheese and peanut butter, not even any jelly. A battle ensued between mother and daughter, which ended with Mom and Dad heading out for the evening and me having a peanut butter sandwich on now cold hard toast. I was completely distraught. Picking at my nasty sandwich in tears while sitting across the picnic table from my big brother. Suddenly he leaped up and grabbed the monstrosity.
"Haha, I've got your sandwich!" He ran across our back yard carrying it high above his head laughing. I still remember his red and white Hawaiian shirt flapping behind him. I gave chase just to see what he was going to do. When he reached the fence at the far side of the yard he sent that peanut butter sandwich sailing into the field, scattering wild eyed cows. Shrieking with delight I perched on the black board fence in my bare feet. He had saved me. We never said anything else about it, not that evening or in the next twenty-one years before his death.
It warms my very soul to see my children interact in a loving way. My daughters are best friends. They hold hands when they're scared and take care of each other at every turn. That is when they're not screaming bloody murder and smacking one another. Their brother tolerates their affection and will let them play Legos with him from time to time. Always though my favorite is to see him cheer them up after a bad day, he can't stand to see them sad. Sometimes he'll even offer the coveted sleepover in his room.
As the years go by many of us lose touch with our families. Differences and arguments can drive siblings apart as can miles across the globe. Shared blood shouldn't be the only thing that brings you back together. Remember your very first friend. The one who's been there since the very beginning, and knows all the wacky things you did as a kid. Actually encouraged you to do those weird and wacky things with them. You weren't just born into the same house, you were born into a friendship.
So who loved you enough to throw your peanut butter sandwich?
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