I’ve done some things in my life that I’m not proud of – sometimes accidentally, and sometimes intentionally – as I’m sure most of us have, and for the most part, I’ve sought to rectify those situations where possible and seek forgiveness from those affected. I like to think it’s all part of the natural evolution of the self. Live, learn, strive to improve, rinse, repeat.
Of all of my past shames, though, the one that gets to me the most might surprise you. I’ve never been able to forgive myself for being so shitty to my little brother Eli when we were kids. Don’t get my wrong, I’ve always “loved” my brother, in as much as you’re biologically programmed to love your siblings. The way I saw it back then, only I was allowed to be shitty to Eli, and no one else could. I reserved the sole role of bully in his life.
Still, I specifically remember two things that give me knots in my stomach to this day:
Once, when Eli was about four or five, we heard the ice cream man coming down the street. Eli was chemically addicted to orange push-pops, so mom gave him a dollar and told me to escort him to the curb so he could buy one. “Yeah yeah sure sure, I will.” I said, intently playing my original NES. Minutes later, Eli came back in weeping inconsolably. Soon after, mom came into my room furious. “You were supposed to go with him,” she said, “and I checked out my window to make sure you were out there, and I saw Eli standing alone at the curb, waving his dollar bill as the ice cream truck just drove right past him.”
I can still picture the situation vividly, and even now as I write that, it brings tears to my eyes. I’ve apologized a few times over the years, and Eli always laughs and shrugs it off and tells me that not only does he not remember it, but that I’m crazy for still carrying it around. I can’t help it. After that moment, I vowed to strive to never let him down again.
The second thing isn’t so much an event as a general function of my childhood relationship with him. From the moment Eli was old enough to be an actual person, he had a bedroom next to mine. He would always ask to come in and sit with me, whether I was playing video games, watching TV, or playing with my toys. He wanted to be a part of it, and I never let him. I considered him an annoyance. I would tell him he could sit at my door and WATCH me play. Once, I even shut my door in his face and then opened it some time later to find him still sitting there, having waited patiently for me to open the door. He wasn’t even mad… he was just glad I’d finally opened it again.
I know “kids will be kids” and I was too young to really understand what he meant to me, or the effects of my actions on either of us, but looking back now, it breaks my heart to think what kind of hurt I must have caused him by not allowing him to be included, and not treating him like what he is – the closest genetic match to me on the entire planet.
My older brother, Jake, was never that way to me. Sure, he’d be a dick to me once in awhile as all older brothers are required by law to be, but for the most part, Jake always included me in his life and always treated me like an equal – perhaps because we grew up in different cities and only saw one another on occasional weekends and holidays, or perhaps because he just had a bigger heart than I did, I’m not sure, but I was not a very kind big brother for the first few years of Eli’s life, and for that I have been sorry for over 20 years.
I’ve never figured out how to let go and forgive myself for it, even while Eli himself has forgiven me over and over again, laughing and shaking his head. I thought that perhaps if I wrote it out in a public forum I could finally put it to rest, and that’s what I’m attempting to do here.
I’ve watched Eli grow up into a capable and admirable man, and I’ve tried to be the kind of brother to him, ever since, that I can look back on and be proud of, and I hope I’ve succeeded. Siblings are one of the greatest gifts we can get in life, and I’ve been blessed in that regard far more than I deserve, with five of the best brothers anyone could ask for – Rob, Eli, Kyle, Jeremy and Jake.
Eli, I am immensely proud of the man you’ve become and continue to be, and though I know I wasn’t the nicest person to you growing up, I want you to know that I’ll truly try to never let you down again, and I’ll always, always be there for you, no matter what. Any time you need a place to be, you can be wherever I am. Any time you need a teammate, you’ve got one. Any time you need an orange push-pop, I’ll stand with you at the curb and make sure the ice cream man stops this time. I promise.