Monday, November 08, 2004

Oh Birthday Boy

My own recollections of 1981 are vague. Strolling through the misty neumonic archives of that year, I find a black lab named Solomon (whose affection for me would decrease over the next few years in proportion with my increasing facility for directing food to my mouth rather than more accessible surrounding regions), a red tricycle, and drowsy rides in the cushioned rear window of Grampa's tractor.

The Iran-Contra affair, then just beginning to break, meant nothing to me at the time, nor had I any occasion to see Raiders of the Lost Ark until 1988 (inaugurating what has been so far a lifelong fascination with foreign objects of primitive idolatry, and a nervousness around fireplace pokers). It didn't bother me in the least, this freshly proposed notion that only an invisible and increasingly thinning layer called "ozone" kept my pink two-year-old skin from looking like hickory-smoked jerky.

Funny, the things that happen whether or not you happen to be looking up from your sandbox to see them. Not that noticing matters always matters; every moment of the present may contain excitements that will mean something only once they have rushed to join the past, which is the crucible in which all the present moments to come are forged.
So it was for me on November 8th, 1981, when mysteriously, in the middle of all the carpet-level discoveries that (to the best of my memory) made up my bold young world, I acquired a little brother. They called him Joey, wrapped him in Gramma-knit blankets, and lay him in my outgrown cradle.

I don't know when I first realized that this would change everything. Six years later I would be wiser, erupting in furious tears at the news of Andy's impending intrusion into our family--not again!! I knew that this betokened more change, more compromises, more noise. I hadn't yet learned that ruptures in stability tend to become new stabilities, and should be greeted with equanimity (at worst) or (in the case of such ruptures as new life) laughter.
Neither Joey nor Andy were ever improved upon, and I have no way of knowing what sort of initial reception the three of us would have given another sibling. I suspect I would have done a bit better, that I'd have managed to set a good example to the younger sibs of immediate hospitality and happiness once the first few chapters of what is now a mammoth catalog of fraternal memories were assembled.

Flip, flip flip.
Heh heh.

1986. Joey and I have had enough of sitting still on an impossibly long car trip, and we're feet to feet in the backseat, whooping and flailing away at each other's viscera with bare heels. In the dark, we don't know or care about split lips and puffy eyes. Mom, unaware that this isn't a tag-team match, performs an impressive twisting double scissor-lock maneuver and persuades us to reconsider careers in pro wrestling, at least for tonight.

Flip.

1987. Joey stands atop the backyard slide, thin and blond and fierce and armed, like me, with a plastic fishing pole connected via jump rope to his backpack. "No, you run!" he storms. "You're the ghost and I'm the buster!"

Flip flip.

1989. Joey, whose larger bedroom is home to Gramma and Grampa during their visits, stands in front of his closet door, arms crossed defiantly, chin resolutely angled. No Mom can't go in his closet--the contents of his underwear drawer needed to be emptied and relocated there because of course Gramma and Grampa will go snooping and if they saw his whitey-tighties he'd be unutterably humiliated so there!!

And on it went, and on it goes.

Oh, for the grace to see the present--and even the terrifying night of future--with the same clarity we see the past. For I have seen the past, and it was good. Not a bad year at all, 1981.

Happy 23rd birthday, Joey.
I love you.

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