He was her hero long before they lost their other two brothers, but now he is even more so.
It’s tough to explain what’s so special about my middle brother, Bill, without explaining first that he’s the last one left. I had three, and at some point in time they were all my heroes. Jay, the youngest boy, the closest to me in age, died at the age of 31 of meningitis in 2001. Jay drove me to my Dad’s every Sunday in our teen years, we collected comics together, and he was the Godfather to my first child. When I failed to go to military college as I’d planned, it was Jay who knuckled me on the head and asked me if I was dumb for thinking Mom and Dad were disappointed in me. When Jay died we never thought we would recover; my two other brothers and I. Jay was a bridge between the youngest (me), and the two oldest, who were six and eight years my elder. It took me a long time to adjust to not having that buffer and I worried I would never connect to either of my older brothers the way I had with Jay. But time moves on and while you’re never the same, you begin to adapt, missing a piece of your life’s puzzle.
Bill was like a father figure when my parents divorced. My father lived far away so we only saw him on certain Sundays, and my oldest brother was in his mid-teens at the time and way too cool to care what we were doing. My mother got a job downtown and had to leave early in the morning, and when Jay and I tried to “miss” the bus, there was Bill dragging us by the ears to make it on time (figuratively, of course.)
Bill, or Billy as I still call him, has been there for me on more occasions than I can count—3:00 a.m. car troubles (so very many car troubles,) plumbing problems, putting down the new rug under extra heavy furniture, picking up the kids from school while I have one of them at the doctor. Before marriage and kids, it was all about giving me life lessons—how to handle an accident, how to change a tire, never fearing to call someone when you can’t drive. He’s not always great about it though—yes, Billy, I’m talking about the time I was 21, drunk and sick and called for a ride, and you carried me on your shoulder down three flights, bouncing on every step. I haven’t had a sip of Riunite Royal Raspberry in the 22 years since.
A few years ago, Bill and I started taking martial arts together. Being competitive as we are, we practiced a lot, and often when paired together in the class we would try to one-up the other. I became really close to Bill during that time, finally feeling like equals instead of so far apart in age. It was the one time in my life I voluntarily went somewhere outside my home to sweat, and I can’t recall ever feeling so strong in body and mind. When I became pregnant with my youngest, Lily, I trained up until the eighth month and then had to rest. I never made it back, but Bill and I continued to be fairly close. Oddly, I also became closer to my brother Charlie. His kids and mine had begun to hang out together, and because of that, we had more in common. It was the closest I had ever been to the two of them despite our age differences.
But just when we all started to believe we were going to be okay, my oldest brother, Charlie, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Billy, in anticipation of Charlie losing hair, began to grow his out so he could shave it in solidarity. Charlie didn’t end up losing his hair. He died in January 2015, right after he turned 50. He was the oldest but also the wildest, the one that took the leap without looking. Bill, and I are both more cautious than that, and while Charlie’s antics could be crazy (and for the less spontaneous, sometimes frustrating), they are also sorely missed. In his absence, I can remember him driving me to work on his motorcycle, being the hero big brother who was just oh so cool.
When Charlie died, Bill and I took over the planning of his services so that my mother wouldn’t need to bear that pain—losing two sons was bad enough. If you’ve never buried someone without insurance, let me first tell you to make sure your policy is in order and second tell you that it’s difficult, even when you have all the money in the world (we didn’t.) Looking at a casket and having to choose the least expensive option feels like you’re doing too little for someone you loved, and Bill at one point broke down and said, “I wanted to do better by him.” It made me cry and laugh at the same time. Cry because I did too, but laugh because Billy has always done the best he can for everyone.
It was Bill who had the burden of telling me that Dad died and drove me up to Middleton to say goodbye (though I had to return the favor when Jay died.) I’ll never forget the moment at Jay’s wake when I finally began to crack. Before the tear could reach my cheek there was a strong hand on my shoulder, Bill’s strong hand telling me I could handle this. Holding me up as he so often had. It was Bill who, when Charlie couldn’t drive, would make the trek to Hull to drop off his girls after the weekend. It was Bill who, when I was having a hard time choosing between two brothers for my son’s Godfather (I had named him after my third brother who had passed away), told me that he was thinking that he was already a Godfather and it made sense that I should choose Charlie.
About six months after Charlie died, Billy wanted to take us to King Richard’s Faire—we had paid for him the year before. Bill called me up and asked me hesitantly if I thought Charlie’s girls would want to go. He wanted to take them too, thinking it was something he could do that our brother wasn’t there to do anymore. The girls were thrilled, and the kids had such a great time they were planning the next year as they left. Billy enjoyed the shows and the jousting, but mostly he spent the day enjoying that the kids were enjoying the Faire.
It would be easy to think that Bill is only my hero because he’s my only brother left. But that’s not the case. In some way, Billy has always filled that hero role for me.
So why is Bill so special? He’s that good guy that people always talk about. I have a friend who, to this day, remembers that he let her drive his brand new car when she got her learner’s permit. She drove to the mall, and when she pulled it in too far while parking she bumped the bumper against the wall. She braced for him to yell at her, and he didn’t. He told her not to worry about it, despite the fact that inside he was probably losing it because his “baby” got dented.
Then there was the occasion where he spent the day, free of charge, fixing my co-worker’s headlight.
Bill has had fibromyalgia for a couple of years and was recently diagnosed with diabetes.it hasn’t slowed him from answering a call when I’m stuck in the parking lot at Walmart because I forgot to take the car out of drive when I turned it off. (And he was so busy laughing at what I did that he didn’t even yell at me for making him drive all the way there at dinner time.)
I’ve never, not once, met a person who has met Bill, who he hasn’t helped in some way. Bill is the guy that will always be there. Having lost two brothers, I can tell you that sentence is as much a prayer as a statement. He’s always been, and always will be, my hero.