“Stay out of trouble,” he told me.
This was the fourth or fifth time I had said goodbye to him. I had never cried over it once. Traveling made Andy happy. Living in California made him happy. So why was I so upset seeing him go this time?
Because this time I knew I was actually going to miss my big brother.
“That’s Andy, that’s my big brother,” I boasted to the kids on the playground.
Andy is always something I have been proud of. Growing up I always looked up to him. I always wanted to do what he did. I would mix my Barbies up with his G.I. Joes in an effort to get him to play with me. When I was six he stuck his tongue to a frozen flagpole and I was right behind him ready to try it next. He tried to teach me how to skateboard when he was about twelve which resulted in me falling down a hill and never wanting to try it again. When he went through his punk rocker faze, I would help add the studs to his denim jackets and watch him and his band practice from our garage.
As we grew older we grew farther apart. Andy soon became more of an embarrassment than a role model. His horrible grades and constant fights with my parents caused me to want to be the opposite of him. Only my close friends knew about Andy. It wasn’t until he left that I was comfortable with my friends meeting him.
“There is a hippie on your couch,” my best friend Greta told me with a straight face.
“That’s Andy, my older brother,” I said trying not to laugh when one of my best friends met him for the first time.
I couldn’t help but laugh at Greta’s shocked expression when she turned around and saw him for the first time. Other peoples’ first impressions of Andy always make me laugh. Most people don’t actually believe we are related. We have the same brown hair and large smile but that is where our similarities in appearance end. Andy is about a foot taller, 100 pounds heavier and twice as hairy as I am. His hair looks like a matted mane with some dreadlocks thrown in. His face is covered with a beard that he had been growing for months. He closely resembles the caveman from the Geico commercials.
Two years ago I watched as he begged my parents to let him move away. It was the middle of his first semester in college and he was already tired of it. I watched Andy as he called my dad and begged him to let him move. I watched as he stood in the driveway with tears in his eyes pleading with our dad to let him get out of Kansas. A month later in December I said my first goodbye to him. It was the easiest goodbye. I didn’t even hug him or get up from the couch, I just said bye and he told me to stay out of trouble. In a way I was looking forward to him leaving. I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed of the fact he wasn’t really going to school or that he looked like a homeless person.
Almost every time I go somewhere with him people stare at us. If we go to a store people will turn their heads as he passes by. If we go to a restaurant people at the tables next to us glance over every few minutes trying to get a better look at it. I have always hated the stares. They have always made me uncomfortable but they have never once bothered Andy. He smiles and says,“How’s it goin’?” or “Have a good one.” That is probably my favorite quality about him. He doesn’t care about people judging him. He doesn’t let little things in life bother him, he makes the best he can of any situation.
For a while I liked it when he was gone. He wasn’t there to make my parents angry or eat all the food in the house. Then I started to miss him. I missed his advice he would give me. I missed him looking out for me and always making sure I was ok. I missed hearing The Grateful Dead playing in the morning. I felt like I had taken all those years he lived with me for granted. I wished I had said so much more to him the first time he left. I wished we hadn’t drifted apart as we grew older.
When he came back that April I barely recognized him. He had more hair and a wider smile. It was then that I knew I shouldn’t be worrying about him or missing him as much. He was genuinely happier when he was away from Kansas. When he came back that time he also made more of an effort to spend time with me. Before he left the most time we spent together was arguing over what to watch on TV but now we actually bond. He tells me stories about the olive farm where he lives. He makes sure to ask what I am up to or what I’m interested in. He makes sure to remind me not to make the same mistakes he did. He would give advice at any chance he had.
This past summer standing on our driveway it felt like I was looking at my brother again for the first time in a few years. Except this time I was looking at another person too. I was looking at a friend as well. I was looking at someone who lives life and full embraces imperfections. I wasn’t embarrassed or worried about what my friends would think. I was looking back at Andy, my big brother who I have learned to be proud of once again.