Wednesday, May 7, 1997.
There are days when it seems like it was yesterday; others, it feels like a lifetime.
20 years… that’s how long it’s been since Michael died. 20 years since my parents lost their 2nd son, students lost their teacher, friends lost a constant source of entertainment, and I lost my role-model.
As I often do around this time of year, I started thinking about what I was going to write, how I could best share the memory of my brother; sometimes it’s cathartic, sometimes… it’s not. This year, I was struggling. I had already written a blog post 5 (5!) years ago that pretty clearly expressed the impact that Michael’s later years, and death, had on me. Fortunately, in the midst of a moody fog (which I also tend to get into around this time, much to the chagrin of others around me…), it occurred to me that I’ve never really given much thought to how much Michael shaped me in my earliest years.
For example, take my unashamed love of superheroes & comic books . You thank Michael for that. Before I could even talk, I was watching the classic “The Incredible Hulk” TV series, Michael sitting me on his lap. To this day, the Hulk is one of my favorite characters (I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t appreciate the numerous ripped clothes that resulted from this… ). Watching the Superman movie & Batman TV series led to countless hours running around the house and jumping off of furniture with a towel around my neck (I have the scar to prove it).
Want to guess who was a big “Star Wars” fan in our house? Yep… Mike was. And,
thanks to the magic of VHS (anyone under 30 is probably wondering what the hell that is…), I was able to experience the splendor along with my brother (there may or may not have been some damage from using a wiffle bat as a lightsaber…), which culminated in him taking me to see “Return of the Jedi” in theaters when I was 7; for this reason, RotJ was, and may still be, my favorite Star Wars movie.
The hundreds (maybe thousands?) of comic books I own? That particular addiction can be linked back to Christmas of 1986, when Michael bought me my first set of comic books: a “Man of Steel” 6-issue mini-series, which I still have in plastic bags with a backing board. I read those books so much, I ended up buying another set to read, just so I wouldn’t ruin the original set. Those particular books are my most most treasured comics, and always will be.
More importantly than just how much I enjoy Star Wars or superheroes, these characters, and what they stand for, literally shaped me. Much of my concept of right & wrong, helping others, etc, comes from the seeds planted by reading these comics, or watching these heroes on TV.
Who I am today, more than anyone or anything else, is thanks to Michael for being the best big brother ever, sharing what he loved with me (as he did with everyone that me met). But, until I sat to write this, even I didn’t realize just how much of him I carry around with me… music (U2, REM and a few other 80’s groups), desire to travel, even my sense of humor, all directly influenced by my brother.
For the last 20 years, I’ve been so focused on what I lost when he died that I completely ignored what I still have of him. My future brothers-in-law each have a tattoo on their arms, which say “I am my brother’s keeper”; it refers to being responsible for someone, as in “I am responsible for my brother.” For many years, Michael was my keeper; teaching me, guiding me, helping me. But, it’s more than just keeping them safe or protecting them. I like to think that it also means that they are always with you, no matter what. That’s how I’m choosing to see Michael now… he is a part of me, in everything I do.
So, today, rather than having my usual cocktail of self-pity and anger, I’m going to spend some time with family, hang out with some friends and watch “Guardians of the Galaxy 2″… because that’s exactly what I would be doing with Michael, if he were here today.
And I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory.
I Am My Brother’s Keeper.