It’s the image that always comes to me when I think of my relationship with my brother, the royal blue and white striped peashooter he gave me for my fourth birthday. It must have been his idea at age eleven. I don’t think my parents would have suggested arming a four-year-old.
He may not have thought it through, the fact that once armed I would request ammunition – unpopped popcorn kernels – and permission to follow him outside with his gang of friends. They’d shoot slyly at the moving cars that passed our house, raising peashooters to mouth at just the right moment, puff out their cheeks with requisite air, and blow, jettisoning a small morsel at their target, and then quickly hide their weapons by their sides. I’d stand focused on the parked car in front of me, roll a popcorn kernel around on my tongue to gather the right amount of spit to afford perfect trajectory – my brother must have taught me that – and then fire away awaiting the satisfying sound of the ping, of kernel hitting metal.
It’s the only gift I remember receiving before age nine when a snazzy three-speed Schwinn bike arrived, that’s how important that peashooter was to me, probably because it came from my older brother, the one I mimicked and followed around, stealing his T-shirts and any other clothing items of his I could wrap around me.
Through the years we grew apart, our relationship more courteous than connected, but lately things had shifted. We were on the mend, so it seemed. In his illness, challenged to speak, we resorted to emails, emails that bounced back and forth like live dialogue, emails that revealed our history, our one-time bond, our status as siblings. In his words he was warm and encouraging, inserted happy face emoticons and LOLs.
He spoke of his gratitude for his friends and family, what the caring of others in this time was teaching him. He spoke honestly about his mistakes and how he wanted to shift, of changes he wanted to make. “I have found that once I let others into my life things get easier all the way around,” he said. And I thanked him, told him he was gifting me with his openness, and that he was teaching me about learning to accept help.
I’m sorry he and I didn’t have more time to explore this renewed connection. I’m sorry he didn’t have more time to explore what he had discovered. Mostly I’m sorry for his young children because I know what their dad wanted more than anything was to have more time with them. If their mom doesn’t mind, maybe I’ll get them each a peashooter for their next birthday, and together we can fire off a popcorn kernel or two and try to make a ping and think of their dad.