My brother had a birthday this week. He’s a little less than a year younger than I am, but his life has been dramatically different that that of his older sis. Since we are so close in age, Billy and I shared a lot of memories. Shared–past tense–because Billy’s childhood memories have been erased.
One night when he was 20 years old, after a hard day working out of town as an apprentice electrician, he went to a bar. He met some girls. Billy was not only a generous and kind human being, he was also gorgeous. Girls liked him. A lot. All we knew about those girls is that one of them was driving the car that night of the head-on collision. Both girls died. Billy survived. He was in a coma for two months and the doctors didn’t give us much hope.
When he woke up, he was still my brother, but the trajectory of his life was forever altered. He knows me as I am now, not as I was when we were kids. He no longer had the small motor skills to do the job all the men in my father’s family have done since Edison invented the light bulb. Eventually the local electrician’s union hired him to mop floors and clean toilets at the union hall. He has a good income, a pension coming, and health insurance. He’s happy.
Those two girls would be the first deaths Billy saw first hand, but not the last. Billy owns a home and from time to time he’s had a friend or family member down on their luck living with him. The accident did not erase his kindness or generosity. One day Billy came home from work to find that his friend had shot himself in the head. Blood and brain tissue everywhere. Billy cleaned up the mess and called the next of kin.
My uncle Jack stayed with Billy while recovering from cancer. Actually, Uncle Jack didn’t recover. He died in Billy’s house, on Billy’s sofa, with Billy by his side. My brother has witnessed death up close and personal. At my uncle’s military funeral, they presented Billy with the American flag. I admire Billy’s courage in the face of so much death. But mostly, I just love him. Happy Birthday, bro.