My brother. Not really a wild child by any means but more of the free bird type. One who decided long ago that he was going to do whatever was in his heart and mind regardless of the potential outcome. It was the Summer of 1997. He had to take summer school that Summer because he didn’t do so well during the school year. He came home that evening, and calmly announced. “I’m signing up for the Navy.” I just looked at him and gave a smirk and said, “Yeah right…the military don’t like rebellious teenagers like you.” Mom was clearly upset about his announcement. Dad had a look of concern but agreed with what I said. Myself…I wouldn’t believe it until I could see it. Until I could see him sign the papers and until I could see him leave for boot camp I wouldn’t believe it. I honestly didn’t think he was serious about it. To me he was a teenager who valued freewill and freedom more than anything. And the military just didn’t seem like a fit for him.
The next few weeks flew by. My brother decided to get a jumpstart on boot camp. He would work out more, study military figures and rituals, anything to gain an edge. We would hang out at the mall, go cruising, talk about women, play video games, fight and argue…typical things that brothers do. Mom put together a surprise going away party for him. I was there along with my brother and our favorite cousins and best friends. But I still wasn’t believing that he would leave. Even after he went for his physical and to get processed I just knew he would decide against joining the military. Or maybe I just didn’t want to believe he was leaving. Maybe I had too much pride to admit that I’d miss him. Too much pride to show my love for the kid brother that I had fought and argued with on a continuous basis over the course of 18 years.
So this is it…the day. It was a cold, rainy, late October day. I was up early because I had to be at work at 7AM but would be home around 11 to have lunch and say goodbye to my brother. I still couldn’t believe he was leaving. I arrived home just a few minutes after 11. Mom was sitting on the couch with tears in her eyes. Dad had just got back from visiting my Granny. We managed to get mom composed enough to take a few family pictures before my brother’s recruiter arrived. Before I knew it my lunch break was nearly over. I walked up to my brother and gave him a big firm handshake. I could see the emotions in his eyes. Emotions of sadness, pride….. love. I released the handshake and threw my arms around around his big broad shoulders and said, “I’m proud of you man. We’re all proud of you. Take care of yourself and don’t forget to write when you can.” The tears flowed from my eyes like a water fountain as I held him. My voice quivered as I said, “I’m gonna miss you man..I love you…”
I walked out the door just as the recruiter arrived. I wanted to say something to him but I just couldn’t find the words through my tears. I just looked down and walked to my truck. The rain beat down even harder as the cold wind blew. “Fade to Black” by Metallica was blaring through my speakers. For some reason the song seemed to fit the mood. I kept it on repeat as I drove back to work.
I cried all day that day…actually, bawled would be more like the word. It takes a lot to make me cry. I suppose one reason, maybe the only reason why, is pride. But on this day no amount of pride could hold back the tears and love that I have for my brother. Both of us grew up a lot that day…and along with growing up, both of us young men were changed.