"Hello. My name is Deana. And this is my brother, Jimmy. And my other brother, Jimmy."
If you never watched the Newhart show, you probably are only getting half of the joke. I'm sad for you. Larry, and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl were perhaps my favorite part of the show. I wonder why.
Both of my brothers (who are my half-brothers and step-brothers to one another) are important in my life. My middle brother taught me to read. He taught me to be tough. He taught me to be competitive. He paved my way through school with teachers who knew that if I were Jimmy's sister, I must be quite smart. He knocked down the age restrictions in the school library ahead of me. He was the brother who lived with me, so he was also the brother I traded torment with. That's an important sibling bond because from those experiences, he also taught me not to take any shit off of anyone. He is my "everyday brother", my constant through my life. When I pick up the phone with him, we shift into our natural places, tormenting or supporting, whichever might be appropriate. There is an ease that follows our relationship which I cannot explain.
My eldest brother was different. He lived with his mom and, in truth, he was my "vacation brother". Holidays and summer breaks brought him into my life. And at 9 years older than I, he was the epitome of everything that was cool and different. Being from Dallas, he made me exotic and unique in my tiny, tiny hometown. Handsome and strong, he was the epic hero of my childhood. He lived upon a pedestal, and I was in awe to be his tiny sister. Every gift I created at school went to him, and he raved and treasured each one. His girlfriend became his fiancee and then became his wife. And this girl I had known since I was 7 has always been my sister. When he became a father, he brought into the world another handsome and strong blond-haired boy. And when he held that boy, I knew that I would witness fewer perfect things in my lifetime.
Many things have happened since those childhood days. I grew up and went to college and began a life of my own. I became consumed by my job and my students and my friends. I moved to a city where my home was less than 20 minutes down the highway, but no matter how I tried, I did not know how to love this "vacation brother" when I was no longer on vacation. And days and months and a decade crept by, and the emotional distance became the barrier instead of the physical distance we'd known our whole lives. I did not know how to be an adult with this person; I only knew to be the silly 9 year-old tagging along.
As I got older, I found myself drawing closer to my friends. Not because I loved them more, but rather because I needed them more. I needed them to hear and witness all the things I could not put upon my family. All of the hurt and shame and sadness. During the darkest moments of my life, it was their love and their words which pulled me through. They watched me grow and change and become who I was meant to be as opposed to who I thought everyone wanted me to be.
What I did not realize, however, is that the whole time I was being saved, my epic hero was going down with the ship. He was Odysseus crashing upon the rocks. Beowulf battling the dragon. Perseus warring with his Gods. Each time I saw him, there seemed to be less of him to know. The sadness in his eyes began to overcome his smiles, and for the first time in my life, he began to seem small and fragile. Our family's depressive curse threatened to bury him from both sides, and at times, I wondered if he would willingly wrap himself in its shroud.
Within the last year, however, my brother has begun to seek help. To speak up for himself and let his demons out -- not to be tamed, for I don't know that they can ever be controlled, but at least to stop allowing them to tear the cage apart. I do not know the words he speaks, but I know that those words keep him alive. They keep him connected to his wife and to his son. For that, I am grateful. And with that, I have seen the return of my brother, back from the walking dead, ready to find his place among the living. And back into my life. It has not been easy. We are continuing to find our way back to one another and develop this uneasy friendship as adults, but he has yet to give up on me even when I push away. In the past few months, all I've wanted is to push away. But he finds me, and drags me to the shore, even when he is barely afloat himself.
I am old enough to know now that those heroes in the books are merely legend. They are painted so boldly to give us all hope that there will always be someone to save us when we are lost. That one human can rise above all the rest. We forget, that in the end, he is still just a human. With flaws and vices and secrets and shame. I don't remember much from those old legends with complicated story lines and hard to pronounce names, but I do know this: that whatever the quest, the epic hero met it with bravery even when the odds were stacked against him.
And when I begin to lose hope, when I begin to worry that I will lose him in this storm encompassing my family, I remind myself that Perseus did survive his trip to Hell and back. That Beowulf followed the dragon into its own lair. And that after 10 years, Odysseus did find his way home.