Sunday, August 2, 2009

One For Matthew

My nephew Matthew is another one of the amazing blessings God has lavished on me. Several years ago my brother and his wife gave birth to a little girl. God, in His providence, knew what great beauty she would add to His Kingdom and lifted her up into His gentle arms much earlier than we would have liked. Before I was ready, my brother called with the news that they were expecting again. My stomach churned; would it be OK? Are we prepared for this -- the "not OK" as well as the "OK". So, I was a little self-absorbed... Along came Matthew. He is the bright sky after a dark and menacing storm. He is a joy to be around and an irresistible temptation to squeeze. Unfortunately, my brother and his family have never lived "just around the corner," so they send me pictures, we text at odd hours, and we maintain terrific cell phone plans. My brother has been kind enough to publicly list himself as my first and only "follower" of this blog, and has allegedly used it as a means of getting Matthew to go to sleep at night. Perhaps, I can appeal to his generation's budding insomniacs should I desire to promote "Brokentobreathless" more aggressively. Anyway, this one's for you, Matthew...

My brother and I were born eighteen months apart. It must have looked like our parents were on a roll there for a while, but Paul was born and they broke the mold (or were forced to destroy it by the Men In Black) We fought all the time, sometimes viciously which, in all honesty, I regret. My mother claims I would pluck him and smack him as he slept in his crib, if I thought no one was watching. I say, clearly he was asking for it. My brother has asked me, more than once, if I remember breaking a hairbrush over his head during a fight. I'd like to take this opportunity to say "I have no recollection of this event." And, if I was to one day remember it, I'm sure the evidence would show that he had it coming. I do, however recall one wicked fight in which he wanted to watch "Felix the Cat" and I wanted to watch "General Hospital." As any soap opera junkie will testify, "General Hospital" in the early '80's was "the one" to watch, and Felix? Well, let's just say Felix would garner the support of a few felines and a couple of dogs who thought they'd tuned in to Food Network.

Even our own cat had no sympathy for my brother. When Paul and I were young my father delivered a cat to our home, put it in our basement and never told my mother. In the afternoon I discovered it, and my poor mother promptly "shooshed" it out into the rain. The bewildered cat sat outside the door until Mom called Dad to relate her story and he, in turn, shared his. From that day on, "Blackie" (we were a very inventive lot) would lay siege to my brother, pinning him in a corner of the room, hissing, snarling and swiping each time he moved. If he twitched, it was likely his legs would be in the next ad for Neosporin. Paul would stand motionless, crying and whimpering until my frustrated mother would yell for him to "make a break for it." As he did, Blackie was hot on his heels, ready to swipe at the first opportunity. It would continue like that, sometimes from corner to corner, until my mom intervened or our ferocious feline tired of her "cat and mouse" game.

Blackie wasn't the only one who knew how to keep my brother in check. Paul was born in July. His summer birthday enabled my parents to come up with a creative way to celebrate (pet names were not our only niche) -- we would recognize Paul's special day with a birthday cake on the beach. I saw this little tradition as a way to assert some control via extortion. It didn't matter if the weather was hot and steamy or if we were bundled up to our necks, the threat of "no birthday party on the beach" was never far from reach. If my brother refused to get up and change the channel, it was "no birthday party on the beach." If he tried to eat the last pickled egg, it was "no birthday party on the beach." A couple of months ago, when he and his family were being relocated to a job ten hours away, I wanted to use "no birthday party on the beach", but felt that somehow it might have lost its edge. As we reminisced one day, about my early training for labor negotiations, my brother seemed a little resentful of my "strong arm" tactics. I had to remind him that, based on our parents' success rate of actually getting our family vehicle to make it to the beach, it was not manipulation, but psychic ability.

As Paul and I look back on our tiffs and our KO's, we laugh. Yes, he is gracious and forgiving enough to laugh with me. I can't help but notice how ironic it all is. My brother stands six feet or so to my five foot, four inch frame. When I reach up to hug him, my chunky little arms can't even make it around his broad shoulders. Despite his size, Paul has always been a "gentle giant", leaning on me for strength and in some cases, muscle. Based on our history, that may seem to be the irony, the close relationship we have despite our past and despite the miles between us. But the real irony is that in spite of all my bullying and posturing, Paul is truly the "bigger person." He has forgiven me for things I have struggled to forgive myself; he can love me and depend on me enough to ask my help, regardless of the way I treated him. He has become a much better person than I ever pretended to be.

And that, Matthwew is the truth about Daddy. Sleep well, my angel, sleep well.
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