He was my hero until he was gone.
I grew up in the shadow of my brother.
I’ve never written or spoken about this until now.
A story that defines me.
From my earliest memory, my brother was always larger than life.
More charismatic. Better looking. Dominated every sport he played.
Ruled the playground. Funny. Had lots of friends.
Everyone liked him. Some adored him.
I was one of them.
We were only 18 months apart in age.
One grade level.
He had all the potential.
He was Batman.
I was Robin in comparison.
But I wasn’t his sidekick. Not even close.
He didn’t want anything to do with me.
He was the opposite of nice to me. He’d embarrass me in public and find ways to torture me in private.
That didn’t matter.
He was everything I wanted to be.
I loved him and I wanted him to accept me.
I would have happily been his lesser sidekick. I craved it.
He was the most popular guy school.
I was a mouse. A shadow. Less than.
My brother was my hero.
Then one day.
He was gone.
As he got older, bigger, he began to buck authority.
He felt like he could do anything. So he started to do anything he wanted.
Including challenging my parents.
When he was 13, he told my parents he wanted to move out.
He said he would go live in a halfway house.
Anything, but live at home with rules he had to follow.
I saw my parents lose control of him.
He seemed destined for jail or something worse.
My parents were at a loss.
A friend of my parents told them about a school for troubled teens.
They flew out to investigate it.
My brother happily agreed to go.
It was new. It wasn’t home.
It was a school full of kids more wild and crazy than him.
One moment he was the Student Body President of our Junior High School.
The next, he was gone.
My sister had left for college the year before.
Now our house was empty.
My parents worked long days.
I spent a lot of time by myself.
I’d sit in his bedroom and wonder what he was doing.
I saw my parents struggle with their decision to send him to that school.
They cried a lot during those days.
I cried a lot, too.
When not in school, I often retreated to our basement or my bedroom.
Staying in the shadows, I would play video games so I didn’t have to think about anything else.
I didn’t know who I was without him.
Time went on.
At school I just went through the motions.
I got some B’s, a lot of C’s and sometimes D’s.
I did just enough.
Then the day came when my parents allowed me to fly across the country to visit my brother by myself. They said I would be able to live with him at his school for a couple of days.
I was so excited.
I missed him terribly.
I arrived at a grand campus. My brother showed me to his dorm room where he lived with a group of other kids of differing ages.
I was given a bed nearby.
Initially, I was a bit envious. It seemed like he was living at a never-ending summer camp.
But as I followed him around the school, I began to see odd things.
Like a group of teenagers holding hands as they went from one building to the next.
I asked him why they did that, and he said simply, “They have to do that.”
After dinner that first day, we went back to his dorm where they gathered everyone in a big circle and began a group therapy session.
As they went around the room people would talk about something that was bothering them, others would call people out on things that made them angry.
I had never been in a meeting like this. It was fascinating and confusing.
But at some point, they turned their attention to me.
What the fuck?, I thought. I was just visiting.
They focused on my brother and me for quite some time. Asking us tough, direct questions.
My brother was quite skilled in deflecting questions. I was not.
They quickly broke me open like an egg.
I cried in front of strangers for the first time.
What the fuck was this place?
My brother said very little.
He didn’t have my back.
Just like old times.
I cried myself to sleep that night.
I hated that place.
The next day, I asked my brother if he wanted to come home.
In my heart I was pleading for him to say yes.
He had left a crater in my world when he left, and this place was crazy. Messed up.
But without hesitation he said no.
I couldn’t understand this. Didn’t he miss his friends, his home… his brother?
That place was fucked up in so many ways.
I asked him why? In my heart I pleaded with him to reconsider.
But he wouldn’t give me a straight answer.
He acted like home was an awful place.
I don’t know if he even knew why he protested going home.
But he could have.
All he had to do was say, I want to come home.
And he could have.
He was not stuck there.
I didn’t understand, and it broke my heart.
In that moment, I no longer envied my brother.
I realized he was more lost than I ever was.
On the plane ride home. I felt myself turning numb.
I knew my brother was never coming back home.
He was making a choice to live away.
I decided I would start making my own choices.
I would no longer mentally and physically live in the shadow of my brother.
I would be more. I would do more.
I didn’t know what that meant, but I felt the change in me.
Before I left on that trip, I was a below average student.
I didn’t really care how I did and it didn’t come easy.
But almost right away my grades improved.
I crawled out of the shadows. I tried out for the lead part in the school play. I became class President. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
I stopped hanging out with friends who were getting into trouble. I started working side jobs and saving my money.
As the captain of the wrestling team, I led by example, ended all forms of hazing, and gave everything I had for every match and every practice.
I strove to work harder in all parts of my life.
If I struggled with a topic at school, I would meet the teacher before school to get the help I needed to succeed. I took college classes at the community college at night.
I became the responsible student, the son you could trust, and the friend you could count on.
This continued into college. I never skipped class. Never.
And continued with my work-life and home-life. I always show up.
Always striving to be better than my former self.
Whatever you call what happened to me with my brother, it has led me on quite the journey.
Twenty-seven years later, that drive to be more and do more is still there.
It hasn’t dulled or dropped off, if anything it’s a light that keeps getting brighter.
It’s helped me build a great marriage, to raise amazing kids, to live a life full of adventure and opportunity. To create businesses and organizations that make a difference in peoples lives and drives me to help others to be more and do more.
My brother has shaped my life in more ways than he will ever know.
And even though we have never become close, he is still in my life, and I will never stop looking up to him.