My brother's car keys jingle with a passion. He has a pair of "bear bells" that we bought at the Grand Canyon on his key ring. I never dreamed that two bent pieces of metal could make such a racket. They aren't all bad, however: his entrance into the house is always well announced. The lock turns, the door opens, and the tall figure of my brother appears. Actually, the incessant clinking of those keys the whole time is the first sign that he has arrived. We can even hear them over my dog barking, the second sign of his arrival. It is the third clue to his entrance that is most welcome: a happy, though often tired, "Hey! I'm home!" My brother's head almost touches the top of the doorway whenever he walks through one, and his feet always shuffle over the doormat in his scuffed, brown shoes. It is hard to stand straight in them because the heels are so worn down on the outside of the heels. Now, the seams are coming apart and his stained socks are beginning to show. They are his favorite shoes, and they have seen almost three yearsí worth of teachers, heavy backpacks, and backfired practical jokes.
My brother is six feet, seven inches tall, though he won't admit it. He doesn't want to face the fact that he is as tall as our dad. He's starting to accept his height now that he has seen how short the people are at his school, but he doesn't stand up straight. He stands with his shoulders hunched over in a lanky stance, and he sways his feet about when he walks. One thing he can't deny, however, is that he is extremely easy to find in a crowd. All you need to do is look up and find the head with the huge, silly smile on it sticking out above the rest.
He is very tall and very skinny. My brother lies about his weight, saying that he weighs five to ten pounds more than he really does. He forgets to eat often -- his excuse is that he's too busy -- and when he lived at home we had to constantly remind him to sit down and eat. Now that he is in college, we're not sure if he eats at all, though he claims that he remembers to eat "most of the time." He eats meals so inconsistently at home that he gained weight on a two week backpacking trip. It was because he ate three meals every day -- and he does admit to that fact. His bones stick out all over his body because he is so skinny, especially in his knees and shoulders.
My brother's feet are big; he wears a size fourteen shoe. The veins and tendons on his feet protrude so much that they seem to have been added as an afterthought, too late to work them into the foot itself and thus necessary to lay them just under the skin. His toes are curled, but otherwise they resemble peas strung on a straw and covered in coarse skin and hair. His legs are hairier than his feet, though. They are very tan, too.
My brother's hands are large and wide. His long, bony fingers have knobby knuckles and nails that are strong and dirty. He used to play the piano, but when he took up the guitar opted to drop the larger instrument. Last year he joined a local band called Backyard Grill; he played the bass guitar. He soon got big blisters began on the tips of his fingers. For days they were so painful he could hardly play, but they eventually turned into calluses.
I think he feels it was well worth the pain, though: he had a lot of fun in the band and learned a lot. When we drove somewhere in his car, the conversation was usually about music, and often about bass lines. While listening to the radio or one of his tapes, he would say "Liz, what song does that bass line remind you of?" And then there would be moment of silence and maybe a boost in the bass on the radio while I strained to hear the baseline and connect it with a song I knew. I got pretty good at it this summer, and now I listen to the bass line out of habit whenever I hear a song with one.
The veins on his arms stick out in round hills, as if there were long, thin snakes curled up and down his arms just under the skin. It's almost revolting to look at. I cringe whenever I see his arms or hands, wondering why his blood vessels that canít reside in the usual place.
His neck is slim and crooked. It looks like a soft, elongated can of soup that holds a head on top of it. His Adam's apple protrudes from the narrow cylinder that is his neck, a small sphere that bounces up and down whenever he speaks. My brother speaks often, but he doesn't sing very much. He used to sing when he played his guitar in his room at night. He claims that he can't sing at all, and most people tend to agree with him. However, I don't. I admit, he's not the best singer, but I like what I hear. He strums his guitar passionately and sings the songs he plays gently, and it is soothing to me. It is not the cacophony some people might expect.
His hair needs to be cut; it falls in thick layers over his eyes, his forehead, his ears, and now his neck. When my brother attended St. X, he had to cut it often, but now that he is in college, he doesn't bother to. He came home on a break recently, and his hair was down to his jaw. My brother hardly ever brushes his straight, brown hair, and he never parts it. When it was shorter, it lay wildly about on top of his head, but now it just hangs, occasionally pushed behind his ears so that he's be able to see. Both my mother and I agree that he looks better with shorter hair, but either he doesn't agree or he doesn't want to admit that we are right. Long hair makes his face look longer and thinner, then his neck looks longer and thinner, and he looks even more gangly.
My brother wears long pants and wrinkled shirts. Most of his clothes are a little too big for him, and they hang on his rangy body, adding to his crinkly appearance. I believe that all his clothes are permanently wrinkled: only every now and then does he appear wearing something that isn't -- and he looks very nice when it happens to be clean too. My brother really likes plaid, and he wears it a lot. He has many plaid clothes in varied colors and sizes: plaid pants, shirts, ties, jackets, and even a cap. Sometimes he wears plaids of different colors at the same time; most of the time it doesnít matter to him if his clothes exactly match. In fact, this mismatching is so common that his friends joke about him not turning on the lights in the morning when he dresses. I think he tries not to match his clothing.
My brother is my best friend in many ways. For the fifteen years that I have been alive we have shared everything. My earliest memories are of us playing and plotting together, amusing ourselves with myriad games. I remember converting my brotherís room into a pirate ship, our entire house into the inside of a giant's body, and our sandbox into a bird city (complete with labels so the birds knew what everything was). Together, we caused a good deal of trouble for my mother. She wasn't too happy when my brother and I decided to cut my hair one evening when he was about six, I three. I remember being scolded about the dangers of scissors near heads for a couple days afterwards.
Soon enough, he was in high school, and I was going to be there before too long. We weren't playmates anymore; rather, we were buddies. I didn't go out with him and his friends, but I knew them all and was always welcome to join them. But friendships with other people wasn't the main thing between us; it was our own friendship. I started going to him with any problems I had or for any advice I needed, and he was always offered it, sometimes without my asking. I have always considered myself so lucky to have never been thought of as the Annoying Younger Sibling, especially at that time before my brother started college. I began to realize how much I truly loved my brother -- not just as my brother, but as my best friend -- this past school year and summer, when we seemed to get even closer than we had been.
As we grew older, he became my role model in more and more ways. I found myself looking at him to see how to act in situations, how to fashion my life and how to avoid certain mistakes. He has taught me as much if not more than any friend, teacher, adult, or combination of the three about life and how to live it.
I am excited --and yet saddened in a way -- that my brother is going out into the big, wide world now. I am happy that he likes college, but it shows how fast we are becoming adults. When you are a child, you are not worried about anything. But when I see my brother, my friend, going to college, I realize that in only three years I will be in the same place that he is in now. I hope that in that time I remember all that I learned from my brother in the eighteen years that I will have been alive. At this point I can't see forgetting it.
So now three people live in my house, and my dog continues to bark at anyone and everyone coming through the door. But not often is that person a rangy fellow carrying a pair of bear bells that can be heard over the dog's incessant uproar. The lock continues to turn and the door continues to open, but not often do a beaten old pair of brown loafers scuff inside. I am thankful for the times I do hear these sounds, and I am even more thankful for the times I have heard them. I have learned that time is something you cannot fight; rather, you must learn to regard it as one of your most precious resources.