I woke in the early morning hours. The sun hadn't quite come up, but cold silver light had just started to shine through the windows. I climbed out of my bed in the pink bedroom. My feet were cold on the bare wood floor. I opened the door quietly: hearing the latches and the old door knob clicking (I can hear the exact series of clicks and squeaks as I write this). I stepped out into the hallway. Across the hall from my bedroom door was my brothers’ room, the doorknob on their door made a different sound, but no less familiar. Once inside, I assessed the two twin beds: each occupied by a brother. I didn't disturb one; he wasn't who I was seeking. I crept up to the closer bed and whispered, “Tommy”. His face was still sleepy. Without question, he pulled back the blanket and I curled up next to him. He was always this way with me, and I adored him.
He was the brother closest to me in age, but there were 9 years and a sister between us.
He would play with me. Always beginning with his precursory and conspiratorial: “here, put this on”. He taught me how to dress for the part. Decked out in camo and a helmet, my pockets loaded with grenades, the enemy army strewn out across the floor. We, the victors, the champions. He allowed me in those moments to feel like a champion, his partner in crime.
Out in the sagebrush and dust, outlaws of the Old West (because sometimes it’s alright to be the underdog). Dressed appropriately, of course, in bandanas and hats. Pistols on the hip, bb guns locked and ready. He taught me how to shoot. Toy soldiers remain in their unmarked graves in the dirt behind the house to this day.
He taught me how to sing. I was four or five when he got his first acoustic guitar. He’d sing the words for me, then I’d repeat them exactly as he’d done. Then he’d tell me exactly when to sing them. Over and over again, we’d sing until I knew it. Years later, we’d go over his original songs the same way. Sometimes he’d just have music, no words. He’d prompt me with, “Sing something!”. The pressure was on and as uncomfortable as it could be to sing something spontaneously, I was unwilling to disappoint him. Mostly I’d just sing nonsense. But one summer night, I sang about being a long way from home, unable to go back. The words poured out of me from depths I was unaware of. It was a song of lost love and heartache. He taught me how to tap the depths.
I was 22 years old and these things I’d never spoken made me feel vulnerable. But I was with him, I knew it was safe. He just kept playing, allowing me to lay it all out. The breeze blew over the mesa, it came into the room through open windows and doors. Carrying with it the smell of sagebrush; stirring within me an untold story. I sung my heart out, it was the closest I’d ever had to therapy. It was the first time that I’d addressed my heartbreak, it was the first time I admitted my guilt in it all. My brother allowed me into his safety and warmth, whether I was an outlaw, a co-conspirator, a champion, or a singer. He was always that way with me.