My brother’s birthday is around the corner. He would be thirty-one years old, but he was killed in July of 1999. More than the anniversary of his death, his birthday is a painful reminder of all that has passed since he left this earth, but it also reminds me of all the things I learned from my baby brother and all the laughter we shared.
I’m the eldest sibling. As such, I took my role of protector quite seriously as a child. No one was allowed to pick on my siblings, unless of course that someone was me. I recall distinctly the moment when my baby brother transitioned from the little baby brother I protected to the beginnings of the young man he would become.
It was my fifth grade year and we were “new kids” at the school. I was used to being teased by that point, but our little sister was only in first grade. We were waiting for our ride after school, the three of us goofing off together, because we had not yet reached the age where hanging with your siblings was no longer cool. Some boy tossed out a few insults, and I think I fired back a retort and walked off, but he followed and kept it, starting in on our little sis. I recall turning around to say something.
Before I could, my brother stepped in front of both of us, no matter that he was only in second grade and I think the kid was in my grade. Hands balled at his sides, in a low, serious voice he said something along the lines of, “Quit messing with my sisters.”
In that moment I knew he would take on the world to protect us just as I had always felt it had been my job as eldest to do. My baby brother, facing an older, bigger kid, became a hero in my eyes at that moment. I stepped up beside him, letting him know without words that I had his back. Even my little sis swallowed her tears and squared off against the kid.
I told the kid, “You mess with one of us; you mess with all of us.”
The kid backed down, laughing off his taunting as “just kidding”.
My brother always had my back, and he didn’t do it to gain favor or expect any type of thanks. Oftentimes I had no idea he’d defended us until long after the fact. In spite of all the stupid teen rebellion stuff he did, I never once doubted that I could count on him. At the grand age of nine he defined for me what I saw as a hero. He challenged me to find my own courage and for that I will forever be grateful.