happy 28th birthday, brother

Four years ago I wrote my brother a letter on the occasion of his 24th birthday. Today he turns 28 and I thought I'd write another letter celebrating him. So, here it is.

Today, you turn 28 years old. How is it possible that we have grown up so quickly? It feels like no time at all and yet all the time in the world has passed since we were kids, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and eating Hardee's big cookies after school.

A lot has changed since I wrote you a letter on your birthday 4 years ago. You have graduated from college, bought a house, got married and started your own business. Take a moment and look at those milestones and see all that you have accomplished in a small amount of time. I think all of these events speak to your determination, a kind you've had since you were a kid. Once you decide you want to do something, there is no stopping you. Of course, you come by that stubborn streak naturally. Tell a Fitzgerald that (s)he can't do something and (s)he sets out to prove you wrong. You are a lot like our grandfather, I think. I picture the two of you working in his makeshift shop, full of tools and spare parts of any number of cars, lawn mowers and appliances. Your desire to understand how things worked led to a few broken watches, but you never let obstacles stand in your way or bother you for long.

All of my favorite memories from childhood include you. Remember the time we were walking home from school (in Headland) in a monsoon like downpour and your shoe came off, headed for the huge drain? Mom reached down and saved it and we stood laughing and clapping in the rain because your shoe had been rescued. I remember designing Light Brights and leaving those tiny bulbs in the hallway where Dad would get them stuck to his feet. It made him crazy but we'd just laugh at his feet covered in shiny lights.

One of my favorite times with you was our trip to Atlanta. (Well, except for the one part where we almost ended up in the ditch because we thought it'd be a good idea to change drivers while the car was in motion). We went to a Lauryn Hill concert and of course, you made friends with the couple in front of us and tried on the guy's vest which was like a dress on you. We watched a Braves' game, took in the High Museum of Art and rode roller coasters at 6 Flags. It was the first trip we'd taken without Mom and Dad. You were 15 or 16; I was 19 or 20 but we were on our own, playing at being adult. I will never forget the moment on one of the roller coasters where you asked why I closed my eyes. I responded, "I don't know" and you said, "It makes it worse if you can't see what's coming." And I opened my eyes. I have loved roller coasters ever since. Do you remember that one ride where you couldn't see what the ride was because it was so high and the enclosure for the line was so low? And we kept seeing people get out of line, which made me more and more frightened of what was to come. It was the one where the seat itself pivoted about 45?so that when you dropped you were staring at the ground. The operator counted 3-2- and we were waiting for 1! But dropped at 2. We took pennies on the Z force, I think it is, to see if they would float and somehow we recorded our experiment but the tape ended me with mostly me screaming.

I'm pretty sure it was that summer that one of the Hurricanes (Opal, maybe) caused you, Mom and Dad to evacuate Pensacola. So you came to camp where I was a counselor. It seems like you stayed with us after Mom and Dad went back to Pensacola. You and I drove to Panama City to see the Hurricane waves. We jumped into the ocean holding tightly to one another, so as not to get pulled under. It was thrilling and terrifying, especially when we saw the Coast Guard patrolling. On the way back to camp, you lost your wallet somewhere. Obviously, a victim of the Subway Club Card Curse. You always said when you had a Subway Club Card filled that you lost your wallet. We retraced all of our steps and found your wallet at Wal-Mart in Defuniak Springs complete with money and the Subway Club Card. You were lucky that way, like when you threw out your Subway trash with 20 dollars wrapped in the bag only to go back and find it still there with the money.

It was also not long after that we spent New Year's together in Panama City, smoking cigars and drinking champagne on the beach. I don't know why we got that idea into our head but I think it had to with trying to carve out time to spend together, when we could. I was in Mobile, by then, attending South Alabama and you were behind in Geneva. I remember sitting in the moonlight, wondering what our lives would be like when we grew up. I don't think I could have imagined anything like the places we are now.

I miss you. I miss that closeness we shared where it seemed like no one else existed except for us. I know we couldn't stay that way forever but there is a large part of me that wishes we could. I used to feel like I knew you better than anyone else but with time and distance everything has changed. We both have people in our lives who know us so much better than we know ourselves or one another. And in many ways that's an amazing thing. We're so lucky to be loved so well. But in other ways, it makes me sad because I wish we could somehow recapture the level of closeness we once shared. Sometimes I feel like we're shouting across a chasm, neither of us know how to bridge. As I said in a previous post, it breaks my heart that we are ghosts of our former selves with one another and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get back. Too much time, distance; our lives are at two different points with an ocean in between. But at least we're each there, waiting, waving and supporting one another, even if it is from a distance.

Remember how we used to talk about buying an RV and traveling around the country with our respective families together? It's funny the kinds of things we imagine when the world seems limitless.

I still think of you as a dreamer; you've always been the guy with ideas. I admire your focus, your determination, your steadfast belief in the good in people. I am proud of you and of all you've accomplished in 28 years. I will repeat what I said at your wedding because it is still true and I think sometimes you need to be reminded that all of us who love you are in your corner. Know that no matter the circumstances I am always, always your greatest admirer, your loudest cheerleader, your most honest friend and your sister. You’re still my little brother. I still see you in grease stained t-shirts, bleeding from whatever wound you’ve encountered from playing whatever game wholeheartedly. I see in you in my rollerskates, in your Sunday best, in a Halloween mask. I want to freeze us there, to remind of us both of how lucky we were and are to have one another. I never feel truly alone because I know you're there, somewhere thinking of some random crazy moment from our past, a past we share together.

So, happy birthday brother. I love you.