When I was three, I got another brother.
"No thanks. I already have one of those!"
"Not one like this."
My parents were right. This was no redundancy on their part. Probably the first difference we noticed was that this one was a climber. My parents built two new bedrooms onto the house to accommodate their growing family. The rooms weren't quite ready for habitation, but Nate fell out of his crib one night, forcing them to move him to Jed's bigger crib. Jed got to move into his room a day early. I got stuck in the old room watching to make sure the convict baby didn't try to make another run for it. From then on, I became safety patrol, informing authorities of breaches in security and public safety. Nate climbed so many things, tables, bookshelves. We have proof. My mother always took pictures before scolding him. Meanwhile, Jed and I stood on the sidelines, scratching our heads, wondering why we never thought of any of this.
Of the four of us, I'd have to say that Nate got into the most trouble. He had more imagination and guts and less inhibitions than the rest of us. We used this to our advantage. "SUCKS" didn't sound like such a bad word, but just to be sure we sent Nate in to say it to my dad. Sure enough, it did not make the approved list, as indicated by the soap bubbles floating from Nate's mouth. Note to self: Don't say "sucks."
We put our marks on each other. I tickled Nate when he was hanging upside down on the swing-set and caused him to have stitches. Check for the scar on his bald head. My only black eye? Him--or his head, rather. He caused me to go through the glass screen door, which gave me enough scars on my forearms for my sister's mother-in-law to ask her if I had tried to commit suicide. Suicide. No. Fratricide? No...comment.
Still, this extraneous brother let nothing stop him--even a full leg cast on one leg and an immobilizing brace on the other. He climbed bleachers and staircases, and yes, he fell flat on his face. But fear of the faceplant, real or metaphorical, was never a reason not to do something for Nate. This guy sold encyclopedias door to door in California one summer during college.
I did safe things over my summer breaks--most notably, take more classes. During one such summer session, I came home from college to see my brother Jed give a commencement address to his high school class. The same weekend, I went to the Joan Jett concert, in which Nate was the opening act in the form of a lip-synch competition. Nate performed in this ritual and won first place with a rendition of Joe Dola's "Shaddup You Face". He wore a cub scout hat and had his friends as his back-up band, one mock-playing an accordion. He bought Oakley sunglasses with his prize money.
He loves designing T-shirts. In college he hand painted a T-shirt for pregnant me. It had a huge succulent pear on it and the word RIPE. I loved that T-shirt and wore it to my baby shower. Around the same time, the Seinfeld years, he made a T-shirt for himself to wear around campus. It said, "Spongeworthy." AGGGHHH! Must refrain from making some sort of joke that includes the words "poster child" and "birth control" in it.
I am afraid I have not always been the most supportive of older sisters. I pooed (from the approved word list) on his idea to try out for the Penn State basketball team. This was right after his summer ordeal selling encyclopedias door to door. He was a 5'10" white kid who needed knee surgery. Poor guy trying to relive his high school glory days. I was imagining another faceplant. Instead, the following year, his face is on masks that people wear to the Bryce Jordan Center where fans chant his name. Every year, the team hands out 4 awards to its players, and each year that Nate was on the team, he won one of those awards, including the Coach's award.
Because of this brother, I've seen the President. He's the reason I first saw the great capital cities of the Europe: he was in England for a year as a basketball missionary, trying to save the redcoats from the false prophecy of soccer. This guy tried out to be the Nittany Lion and was runner up. He was also runner up for Pennsylvania Student Teacher of the Year. As an elementary school counselor, he painted his head every year, so the kids wouldn't be afraid of him. He does kind of look like a convict or Jesse Ventura, but a turn as a magic 8 ball or the globe solves that. I have watched him read a poem he wrote to his bride on his wedding day that left not a dry eye in the church. I have watched him defend his doctoral dissertation. That was more of a sweaty palms ordeal. Afterwards, our grandpa started listing his physical ailments over the phone.
"Not that kind of doctor, Gramps."
"Well, what good are you?"
This brother of mine takes more pictures than anyone I know. And happily, for the last 40 years, I have been able to look through Nate's fish-eye lens and see the world in quite a distorted and weirdly wonderful way. Had my parents stopped at 2 kids, life would have been very boring indeed. I would have taken less risks and had fewer adventures (scars). If it hadn't been for Nate, I would never have taken pictures of myself dripping in purple paint or taken my own faceplant risks such as sending my novel out to agents or telling dad I was dating or a democrat or dating a democrat. Without Nate, I wouldn't be who I am. This, I know this for sure. Happy birthday to Nate. Happy life galvanization to me!