My Bro-ham

This is my brother Bobby. He grew up setting fields on fire and stalking trick-or-treaters in camo gear with his best friend. He grew up mouthing off at teachers and skating by with Cs and Ds, even though IQ tests scored him as a genius (and way smarter than me, I might add) when we were tested for the gifted student program. It was probably no surprise to anyone when I, the overachieving, people-pleasing one, jumped at the chance to study with the smart GATE kids but Bobby spurned the notion.

When I caught up with him in high school, a genius of a different sort emerged. We found out Bobby is a musical genius. He picked up and mastered the bass guitar and drums in something like a week, flat, each. Then, when he moved on to the acoustic guitar shortly afterward, his genius accelerated him to pulling sounds out of the body of that musical soundboard within weeks, when it would have taken someone much older many years to even approximate those techniques.

Bobby then moved on to writing his own songs, spinning them out of his soul like they'd been lodged in there for a lifetime, like they'd been waiting with bated breath for a key that would turn a door and set them free. One of my fondest memories of high school is falling asleep many nights to the soft strumming sound of his guitar and the lyrical words falling from his lips in the room next door.

While I have watched Bobby with admiration much of my whole life, I have often watched him from afar. When we were younger, this was because he was larger than life, both in body and temperament. As we got older, this distance became more subtle. Although we would talk over coffee or on the phone quite extensively about his love life or his career, I kept my own self at a distance, much to my own shame and sadness. As has been the case with many of my relationships, I have always found it much easier, not to mention natural and invigorating, to ask questions, to probe, to encourage and to cheer, while finding it excruciatingly painful to put my own heart on the line. I have always been afraid to find out someone doesn't understand me or, worse yet, doesn't care.

This morning, something about that pattern broke in my relationship with Bobby. I had woken with a feeling of "down-ness" that had been descending for about a week, and I wanted someone to talk to but didn't know who that could be. Kirk was alseep, having finally gotten there after a night of restless wakefulness himself, and it was too early to call my mom or my friend Sara or my friend Kate. When I checked my e-mail and found a note from Bobby, who was answering the family e-mail chain about our plans for Christmas, I saw that he had posted the message just five minutes earlier. Hmm, I thought, then picked up the phone.

I'm so glad I did. We spent the first part of the conversation catching up on his work news, what he and his lovely girl Ana have been up to, and all the silly fun they've been having with their dogs. When he turned the tables and asked how I've been doing, I could have demurred or begged off as fine, saying that there was not much news here. Except that wasn't true, and I had called him for a reason, believed perhaps even God had arranged the moment (since I had cried out a frustrated prayer to God earlier about not knowing what to do with all these feelings in this place, nor how to make any sense of them). And besides all that, I wanted to just plain trust my brother with my heart in a way I'd never done before.

So I plunged in. I told him about my ambivalence this week about my life's work, how I feel straddled between the business and my writing, how I'm not sure where the business idea is going or if it's even good anymore, how I want with all my heart to just write books for a living but worry that it's a self-absorbed or bastardizing process to write about my own life, which is what I really want to do more than anything.

Bobby was amazing in that place. I have to say he impressed me, that he really stepped up when I actually gave him a chance to do so. He got so excited for me, sidestepping the business questions completely and jumping right into my writing life. "What do you mean by self-absorbed," he asked. "And did you really just say 'bastardized'?"

He told me that he could hardly contain his excitement for me to write, that he had goosebumps just thinking about a book I needed to read that might encourage me in this place. He said he thought I was trying to compress too much, that I was trying to write my whole life in one book instead of breaking it up into chapters, and how the chapters could form whole books in and of themselves. He told me I didn't need to apologize for my life or my experiences, that I didn't need to answer to anyone else about my take on things and the way I've perceived the world through my experiences in life, and that maybe all this could be of some encouragement to someone else, the same way some books I'd been telling him about have encouraged me.

Finally he said, "If you decide that writing books is going to be your bread and butter, the way that you put food on the table for the rest of your life, I don't ever want to hear you apologize again about making money for doing it or calling it a bastardizing process. Chris, I hate to say it, but you just need to get over yourself. This is so not about you."

It was so, so great to talk with him like this. Even when I was getting schooled by his lecture. :)

In other news, he called back later to tell me he and his girl Ana had gotten engaged! This is so funny because he had been talking me about her this morning in such a lovey-dovey way, and afterward Kirk asked me when we would likely hear about the engagement. It turns out that when I called Bobby this morning, he had just been putting the finishing touches on a letter to this lovely girl, and our two-hour conversation had stalled him back a bit. Even still, it worked out beautifully for him to ask her to marry him at just the perfect moment a bit later in the day, and now they are happily engaged. I couldn't be more thrilled!!

Congratulations, Bobby and Ana. I'm so proud of you, bro-ham. And a great big welcome to the family, Ana. You so belong here with all of us. That is due in great measure, of course, to your kookiness, which so perfectly matches all of ours. :)

Aren't they a beautiful couple?!