My youngest brother and I were two years apart in age. Our birthdays were also exactly one month apart, so we shared our mom’s homemade cakes, divided down the middle with care. When my parents divorced, my two oldest brothers—6 and 8 years older than me—eventually went to work with my Dad, so that left just the two of us in my mom’s house during the week.
We shared chores—we fought over whose turn it was to wash the pans and who had to do the dishes. Collected comic books, and we’d fight over which ones we could get this week and which ones had to wait until we’d collected more change from Da’s metal toolbox. And we had Sundays with Dad. My Dad drove from his home about an hour away and took us to the movies, or McDonald’s, or for Chinese food at our favorite place, China Sky. I remember we always got the same thing at China Sky—“beef with pepper.” We ordered it so often they didn’t ask anymore.
When my brother started working at the airport, and driving more often, we made the trek to Da’s house instead of him coming down to get us. It meant we spent the day with my father, watching Star Trek, baseball, or old John Wayne movies. The trips up to my Dad’s house were full of car-dancing and loud music, and I’m pretty sure my brother’s old blue Escort blew carbon monoxide into our faces as we drove. We would share memories, reminiscing about things that had happened to us over the years. It was like we had this secret language full of shared experience.
Those were our days. Our memories. When my brother died of Meningitis in 2001, all of our moments went away. My father had died the year before, so there was no one left to get my “beef with pepper” reference. No one to share my birthday cake with. And no one who understood it when I talked about the worst movie ever, Out of Africa, that one time we let Dad pick the movie.
I still reach for the phone when a new comic book movie comes out, even though he died before there was such a thing as a smartphone. I can’t watch The Avengers without some part of me wondering what he would have thought of each character’s portrayal. If he would have liked goofy Thor, or hated him because that was his favorite comic.
When I started taking my kids to the same local comic store I’d gone to with my brother, I realized the teenage boy who’d been behind the counter when we were kids is now the manager. I almost bawled right there in nerd Heaven, and I would have lost my cool cred with my kids. But it reminded me of all those Sundays where we convinced Dad to take us, after he’d given us a bag full of change. One time he gave us what ended up being $120, and we spent it all on comics. When he found out, we never got the bag of change from Dad’s toolbox again. My brother and I used to laugh all the time about how it suddenly disappeared as soon as Da realized it was real money.
I wish I could still talk to my brother about it, or knew what he thought of the new direction of Marvel, or the Rebirth of DC. I’ve lost that connection, the one person who shared those memories with me.
As I walk with my children through the same comic book store, I try to silently will them to have the same conversations. To build the same secret language—the language of memories, of siblings who share a story. Only time will tell if they do.
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