My big brother C wasn't perfect, but he was perfectly C. From the moment he could walk, he delighted in turning my mother's hair gray. He was one of those little kids who would tell any stranger his whole life's story, and who knew everything about them within minutes. He had a curiosity about the world that was just not contained by the fact that he was a kid. There was the time when he was three, when he escaped the confines of the house just to go walking down the beach...at 3 am... in his underwear. He was picked up by the police and returned safely home. Then there was the time when he was six, when he took his 4 year old brother B "thumbing" on the expressway. Again, his luck kicked in and he was picked up by a very nice truck driver who delivered him to the police, who figured out that C and B V***** were not their real names and again delivered him to his frazzled parents safely. There was the crane incident, where he climbed up and fell off, giving himself a concussion and my mother heart palpitations. It got so bad that when she called the Malden police and said "It's Mrs. B******" they only asked "Does he have the dog with him this time?" Then there were the motorcycle rides. Lord, the motorcycle rides. Sometimes he'd give me rides to work, and I'd get there all disheveled and wind-blown because he would pop a wheelie just to make me scream. He was the "cool" brother back then, the guy who would never grow up.
When we moved away from Dorchester and he came to live with us, there was this room in the basement. He immediately claimed it. "The basement?" we all asked. "Why would you want to live down there?" In about a week, we saw why, as his room was completely set up for his friends to come over and play Dungeons and Dragons on a nightly basis.
While you could never say C's wild side was tamed--he would hate that--his life changed drastically with the birth of his first baby, his C******* J**. He was so proud of that baby, and he couldn't wait to show her picture off with every chance he got. He became a Dad, and something changes in you when you become a Dad. When we lost my brother J in 2001 and were all so devastated by the loss that we couldn't function, it was somewhat surprisingly C who stepped up to make all the arrangements, doing what the eldest son and a Dad would do.
We all changed a little then. B and C became closer. Over the years, B has become kind of the caretaker--driving C's girls home, having a place where C could go. I know that in his grief B thinks he could have done better. But you have to know, B, you did more than enough, and you were always a rock that C could and we all could anchor to.
C soon had two little girls to think about, because along came S******* M******. His little peanut, his S****.
His girls became the most important thing in his life. Every time we talked, it was about the girls or the kids. Any person in this room, if asked, would tell you that they were his whole world. Our kids have grown up together, so I've gotten to see more of him in the past 14 years than in probably my whole life--I count that as a blessing, even though sometimes it meant having an extra kid along--like the time I had 5 kids at the beach, and they were totally fine, and then he popped by after work and had them jumping in the high waves and giving me a heart attack. He made up for it by insisting on taking all the kids for ice cream... at the other end of the beach...in 98 degree weather. Or there was the time he took the kids for a walk in my neighborhood and somehow came back soaking wet because he fell in the river--not the kids, C. Or the time he let them all jump off the dock at the lake, just trying to give me some gray hairs, and telling me they needed a little freedom.
He was a Dad, but he was still the wild child, after all.
This past November he got diagnosed with colon cancer. They wanted to do surgery early, and he kept telling my mom that all he wanted was to be able to work so that he could afford Christmas gifts for his girls. She told him that the girls would rather have him for Christmas. We postponed Thanksgiving so he could have his surgery that Friday, and we got to spend Thanksgiving together when he got out of the hospital on Sunday. Despite not being able to keep a lick of that food in his stomach, he didn't want to miss it and even mustered up some energy to play with Rose.
When the doctor said he would need to start chemo, he was surprised. He made sure that he could start the day after Christmas, so that he could have Christmas Day with his beautiful girls. It was a good day.
The night before he died, he wanted to go to the girls' house in Hull. He often took the train and bus there just so he could see them--no easy task. He was a little tired from the chemo meds, and he asked if I could drive him to Quincy so he could catch the bus on time. If you saw the stretch of road he would've had to walk when the bus came late, you would know how much he loved those girls. I told him I'd just drive him to Hull after I got Punkgirl from dance. On the way there, we chatted. He told me the best place to get a car when I need one was not that guy in Brockton --he had good prices because he got a lot of his cars from car wrecks, and that I shouldn't get a car there ever. He knew because he talked to the guy every time he went there for gas back when he was driving, and he knew this guy's whole life story, just the way he often did as a kid.
He joked about how he was sure Rose was really one of his kids because she's a wild child, too. And as usual, he talked about his girls. I remember him telling me how S**** had over 1000 Instagram followers, and how when she got her 1000th follower you would have thought they hit the lottery. He was so animated talking about her. We talked about how C*** was planning for college, how smart she is, and how glad he was his girls were so smart, smarter than him. We got to talking about how mom is turning 70 this year, and I mentioned that B and I had been checking out halls for a party. He said "70 that's right...yeah, we should do that. We should definitely do that, Ma should have a party to celebrate that. I'll give you some money, too, because I'm going to work on the weeks that I don't have chemo." Like everyone in our family, I told him that he was crazy, he should rest instead.
When he got out of the car he did this double tap thing on the top of the car. You know that cool double tap thing. Looking back, from the beginning of that car ride, he was just the cool big brother, the wild child, so perfectly C. I know now, he's with my Dad, and J, and everyone else who has gone on. But when the kids want to jump off the dock, or go into the big waves, or Rose escapes the house one day to go on an adventure, I'll know the wild child is still here cheering them on every step of the way.