To my brother on the occasion of his 24th birthday


Today you turn 24. To celebrate you, I have thought of all the moments
we've shared over the years. We share a past together. The dynamic
created by being brother and sister has influenced the shape we are
taking now, the way we see the world, the love we create, the
disappointments we feel.

I remember the day you were born. I was so excited, finally, to have a
little brother. I'd decided when I knew you were coming that we'd be a team. And yes,
I admit I was disappointed that you weren't big enough for me to play
with. However, your smallness made you fragile. I am sure I loved you
instantly. I wanted to show you things I knew. There was so much you
had to learn about the world, about our family. At four years old, I
was quite worldly, as you know. It seemed to take forever for you to
come home from the hospital. I wanted to hold you right away. I think
the grown ups were afraid I'd break you somehow.

When you fell off the back of my bicycle and hit your head on the
graveled street, I thought I'd killed you. I was so afraid because you
weren't crying and there was so much blood. You had to get three
stitches but were so good that you got a Coca Cola out of the glass
bottle. I was so jealous. It wouldn't be the first time you had to get
stitches but they were the last ones caused as a result of me.

Sometimes I would sneak down the hallway to watch you sleep. Your
breathing was steady and calming. Knowing that you were still alive, I
could go back to sleep.

You always shared your toys with me. I liked climbing into your
playpen; it drove mother crazy. You teethed on the edge of the
playpen. There's a picture of you biting the side of it. It is
quintessentially you. You bit a lot when you were little. And I seemed
to remember you getting suspended from pre-school because of it.

Even as a kid, you were interested in how everything worked. You could
take a toy apart faster than most people who worked putting it
together in the first place. You'd spend hours examining objects,
figuring out how it opened, closed, could it be punctured, how loud
could it go? You could sit, quietly taking things apart, trying to put
things back together. You had more patience with the simpler, smaller
things. I ran around in circles, making different sounds, banging on
things. You sure knew how to show me up.

I read a lot of books to you in between watching Thundercats and
playing with G.I. Joes. You never liked reading as much as I did, but
you'd listen attentively and then go back to playing.

You had a He-Man toothbrush holder that irritated the crap out of me
because you'd run into the bathroom and push the button just to hear,
"Hi, I'm He-Man, I'm strong as can be and I brush my teeth with
regularity. Once in the morning, once at night and after each meal so
my teeth will shine. If you remember this saying and you rehearse,
you'll be like the Master's of the Universe." I took the batteries
out, once and you cried until mom forced me to replace them.

You were a good little brother. We were our own club of two most of
the time, whether other friends were playing with us or hanging out or
not. We'd lie in our closets, talking through the wall or tapping what
we imagined was Morse code to one another. You always had a great
imagination. It was easy to pretend with you, that we were the only
people who existed, especially when we climbed on the roof. It was us
and the stars, Mom and Dad in the house below us. We created our own
roller skating rink on the back patio and except for those cranberries
getting stuck in our wheels, it worked pretty well. Dad bought us an
old tape player/radio/boombox thing at a yard sale. I'd play Bon Jovi,
Michael Jackson and Madonna tapes and we'd skate until it got too dark
to see.

In middle school, I got irritated that my friends always wanted to
hang out with you when they came over. You were MY brother. If I
didn't want you around it was only because I wanted to keep you for
myself. You were special, unique. I didn't want my friends to take
that away. I'd rather have hung out with you anyway. Mom told me to be
patient with you, that you wanted to be older like me, that I
influenced you, that you wanted to be like me. That's a lot of
responsibility for an older sister to have.

You asked for a Nintendo for Christmas and we spent hours sitting on
the floor in the living room, playing Mario Brothers and Jeopardy.
You'd always get mad because you knew the answers but couldn't spell
the words correctly. I let you spell them wrong and then buzzed in and
got the answers right. You kicked my ass in Mario Brothers though. And
checkers and chess and just about anything else that involves strategy
of some kind.

I was so proud of you when you started playing sports. I was less than
athletically inclined, never good at softball or volleyball. I could
spell like a motherfucker but I was hopeless when it came to bats and
gloves, shoulder pads, sticks, nets, etc. You seemed born for sports.
You skied with ease while I eventually sat down in the snow, took of
my skies and walked down the mountain because I was tired of falling
down. You were fearless, never afraid of not doing something well.
You'd just practice harder. You have a determination, a discipline
that I envy. You can work and rework one task. I get frustrated when
something doesn't work and I can't understand why. I get bored
reformulating and restructuring something.

When I left for college, part of me was heartbroken to leave you
behind. I knew you had high school pressures and I wanted to be there
for them. I missed out on so many key moments in your maturing into
the man you are becoming. I tried desperately to let you know that I
supported you. That I was encouraging you from my room hundreds of
miles away. You managed somehow to escape relatively unscathed from
high school.

I cannot express how much fun it was to visit you at the University of
Alabama those first few years. It was thrilling to see you live your
own life. To walk into your apartment, your room and see your
pictures, meet your friends, be part of your experience, was a
privilege. I felt that we'd somehow made it together. We had more in
common now that we were both in college, both struggling to figure
things out away from Mom and Dad. We'd been thrust somehow in this
strange environment where nothing worked the way we expected it to.
Friends seemed to drop away for no reason. No one put as much effort
into shared work we were forced to do in classes. No one got us. No
one understood our fears or triumphs, except each other.

Moving to Illinois to pursue my doctorate was difficult. I knew how
intensely I'd miss you. I knew I was giving up the chance to just hop
in the car and come visit you. I knew that I would be alone in the
cold winds without by biggest supporter, my best friend. I didn't
count on how much I would relish the calls from you, to ask a question
about who sings a song, to suggest I listen to a band, to let me know
that you still consider me a part of things in your life. I feel
immensely important when you call on me for help with an assignment, a
scholarship letter, a recommendation, a memo.

Life seems so complicated now with classes, and schedules, outside
pressures on our time. We are getting older, taking on more
responsibilities, using our minds in different ways. As we have grown
up, we have not let distance grow between us. You are still the one
person who gets everything about me and just understands. You can
still make me laugh simply by laughing. It is no surprise that friends
you've made speak of you with such fondness, such tenderness. You are
loved by so many. You are, without a doubt, the most genuine person I
know. I admire you, applaud your accomplishments, respect the
decisions you've made. I am confident that your successes will exceed
even our highest expectations of you. I see you as the little boy in
my roller skates, the patient engineer, taking everything apart to see
if you can make it work more effectively, the charming boy whose
dimples melt even the coldest hearts. You're the greatest brother
anyone could call their own. I'm overwhelmed with the privilege to
call you mine. And so today, brother, and friend, I celebrate you. I
cannot imagine my life, my childhood, or my world without you in it.

your sister