My earliest memory of my big brother is him pushing me around the living room in a laundry basket.
I’m sure he would have tried the stairs if we had any. Other early memories include my undeterred believe that he was Superman (ages 4-5), the time he peed on my head from the roof while cackling hysterically (age 10), and countless claims of, “That didn’t hurt,” (ages 1-18).
Having siblings is a sort of exercise in urban survival combined with fierce loyalty. If the fork they try to stab you with doesn’t kill you, they’ll use it to defend you in a battle against the playground bullies. It comes with unspoken intimacy that can only be shared by those who witness the same things at the same time, the kind of joys and travesties that bind us to each other in ways we never even talk about. They just are. It is the unique nature of family – however functional or dysfunctional.
Oldest siblings have to do all the things first. Sometimes this is helpful because they teach you how to ride a bike with the frustration still fresh in their blood. Sometimes it’s helpful because when they call your mom from jail on a Saturday morning, the look on her face tells you never to do that. Ride it out until Monday, at least.
My big brother was always so rad, I wanted to be like him despite being repeatedly told I wasn’t cool enough. I wanted to hacky sack like he did. I wanted to snowboard as well. Then I wanted to ride bikes as well, wear everything Patagonia as well, climb as well, and once I might even have tried to hold my liquor as well. The pressure to set an example must have been as daunting as the determination to follow in those footsteps.
Then we grew up and the memories we made changed. I moved to Europe. He came to visit and taught me how to jump bikes. Once, while racing through the night, I heard his bike bell ringing in the dark. My brother, who lives in Santa Cruz, California, drove all the way to Spokane to ride two laps with me in a 24-hour race, then drove home. “Want any NoDoz?” he asked as we stopped at camp and he pushed me to get back on the bike. “I might have to come up here and beat you next year,” he said. Any sister knows those are the words of a proud brother.
I beat him to some things. I had a child first and risked her life in the wilderness as often as possible, claiming parenthood wouldn’t slow me down. Now I watch his toddler rally the pump track and narrowly escape head injury at every corner while cheered by his dad. I divorced first. And without missing a beat, he was there to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and remind me, “That didn’t hurt. You got this.” If anyone knew what I could do, it was he. He’s been watching me try and fail and try again since I was learning to walk.
Forty years later, I’m still trying to keep up. We’re running through the rain-soaked redwood mountains of Santa Cruz. He’s wearing a monochromatic, metrosexual blend straight out of an outdoor magazine and leaping from stone to stone. I take walk breaks and he waits at the top of the hill for his slowpoke little sister. We talk about raising our children, the cusp of midlife, what brings us joy now in the minutia of our everyday lives: coffee, anything outside, technical clothing, our kids chasing each other through the house, time together.
I no longer need to catch up. If anything, I want the world to slow down because these moments are so precious. Yesterday I might have been fighting over the last burrito with him. Today, we shared our stories, a clementine, decades of history, and the kind of connection that only siblings can have. And while I’ve outgrown some of the stories he told, most days I’m still pretty sure he’s Superman.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at email@example.com
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