My older brother Jim had a decade on me.
Dad taught me to hit a baseball. Jim taught the rest.
How to throw a punch? Jim.
How to cook a cheesesteak? Jim.
How to flirt? Jim said, “Give ’em 3 beers, 3 insults or 3 compliments”.
I remember frowning at his first car. A used Dodge Dart.
I loved Jim’s first apartment. A loft.
A place for AC/DC and Nintendo.
A place to peek at his girlfriends sunbathing on the roof.
A refuge from home.
Jim came to my high school games often with a girlfriend in tow.
He taught me to drive stick to avoid the wrath of Dad.
His girlfriends always had sisters.
Caught me with one once.
“I won’t tell mom, but always watch the clock.”
I’d house-sit for him during vacations and business trips.
“If you break somethin’, you’re payin’.” He knew.
Girls doing Lemondrop shots.
Keeping the parties as small as a 17-year-old could.
No danger but some sex in Peoria, Illinois.
One day Jim invited me to lunch. Met his newest woman. He was serious.
Very cute, very buxom, had an office job, had a sense of humor… had a kid.
Afterwards, “She’s great isn’t she?”
“She loves me.”
“Her daughter Britney loves me.”
Jim married right before I went off to college. He always looked on edge.
A year later, a birth announcement. A boy, Jacob. Looked like Jim from day one.
Trips home I spent with them.
Jim was a great dad.
Britney even called him “Dad”.
Winter break senior year, I came home. So did Jim.
Divorce. She cleaned out his accounts. Kicked him out.
Mom understood. Dad didn’t.
“How can she do that?”
“What the hell is a restraining order for?”
Jim had a lawyer + everything in order. He felt he’d get custody of Jake due to the kid split.
I drove him to court. Waited hours. Cursed slow snowflakes. Saw his face. Knew immediately.
“Weekends and Wednesdays.”
“I have no rights to Britney.”
“…but she calls me Dad.”
Jim cried the drive home. I put on the radio. There’s no Hallmark card for “Sorry ’bout Family Court.”
Jim composed himself. Rubbed his eyes dry. Creed’s “My Own Prison” came on.
Jim turned it up. Cracked a smile.
He lipsynched along, staring forward.
“Gimme time to tell Mom and Dad alone.”
I graduated and moved. Hit the city with money. Applying Jim’s lessons.
Over eighteen months, Mom’s calls + emails were Jim’s Fall news bulletins.
Jim’s ex denies him visits with Jake.
Jim is drinking a lot. One DUI.
Jim lost his job. Too many DUIs.
I drove home for Jim’s intervention. He went to rehab, we cleaned his wretched place.
“What the hell is his problem? I didn’t raise a whining bitch,” Dad said cleaning.
20 empty bottles of gin.
10 empty bottles of shampoo.
I threw up while cleaning the bathroom.
The next Thanksgiving, I went home to a bar for an informal high school reunion.
I saw Jim’s ex-wife there. Flirting with washed up jocks from the class of ’86.
I am an angry drunk.
I am a good brother.
“You’re too old to rope a third sucker,” I shouted.
Jim cleaned up. Worked HVAC, trained for 5Ks, went to AA. Moved out of Mom + Dad’s.
At his first sober Christmas, we spent late nights talking. Mom hid all the alcohol.
“First you stop cravin’ it.”
“Then you stop thinkin’ about not cravin’ it.”
“Now I’m just focused on Jake.”
We did “remember when” and talked about the future. We ranked exs + their sisters.
We looked forward to playing video games and watching pro wrestling with Jacob.
“I shoulda married Rena.”
“I saw her tanning naked,” I revealed.
“You saw nothing. She had no breasts… no kid.”
He half-heartedly criticized my bachelor life. He knew Chicago was good for a single man.
He advised “stay dirty ’til yer thirty”, but staring at the firelight, I knew he wanted me to be happy.
“Make sure she’s a Cubs fan.”
“Check out her mom’s hips.”
“Make sure you can handle her baggage.”
Few years later, Jim texted pics of his new woman. Met her whitewater rafting.
Worked at a college. Granola crunchy, which helped soften Jim up. He looked at peace.
I smiled at pics of Jim and Jake playing Madden on a PS4.
I sent pics of my dates.
He’d guess if it was 3 beers, 3 insults or 3 compliments.
At 29, I hooked up with a cutie from my Wednesday night coed volleyball league.
She texted like crazy and played coy. I liked hard-to-get.
She came over every weekend.
Gave me space, no pressure.
Every Wednesday was my place for post-game beers.
Two months into it she told me “I’m ready, let’s talk serious.”
I prepared for the “I love you”. I didn’t love her back but was flattered.
“I want to introduce you to my son.”
I stared silently at her.
I stood up, grabbed her purse and walked her to the door.