Saturday, April 12, 2008
::Disclaimer:: I have never before written about this event that has so touched my life. Please forgive me if I sound dramatic or disorganized.
Most of us go through our days, never really experiencing anything truly spectacular. We live pretty normal lives that contain the occasional struggles and obstacles, but so few of us ever have to experience the very real threat of our own mortality and then live to tell the tale.
My youngest brother is not one of those people. Those of you who knew me two years ago know that my family was rocked by the tragedy of my youngest brother being burned in a horrific grass fire that took the life of his partner. I've never been more afraid, and I've never cried as hard as I did when I saw his face and arms bandaged, covering the burns he'd received during that blaze. Of course, being the character he is, he still managed to ask me if I wanted to see the ones that covered the burns on his butt.
It was a tragic few weeks. In the days after the fire, his partner fought for his life in a hospital while my brother went home to his family. Though bandaged and in pain, the emotions he endured were probably much worse than any physical sensation he felt. After his partner died, he wondered--I think we all may have wondered--why was he alive? It wasn't fair. They both had children and wives and families who loved them. Why was one taken and the other spared? Some chalked it up to God's will and some believed it was the irrational forces of the universe. Whatever the reason, my little brother survived and would have to live with that question for the rest of his life.
Now, he'll probably never read this, so I can say what I want, but Larry Joe is the most sensitive, selfless, loving person I've ever known. He was the baby of our family, and I often felt a fierce protectiveness over him. I would try to beat up my middle brother if he made my little brother cry. I watched over him like a mother when our own mom worked late nights and early mornings to support our little family. The day came that he decided to move in with my dad and my middle brother (Who could blame him--living in a house with two women versus growing up with his brother and father?), and I felt like something was missing from that point on. I worried about him constantly. Was he okay? Was he being picked on? How were his grades? Was he happy? I never worried about my middle brother because, to me, he was the strong one. But Larry Joe needed protection and special care.
Sitting here almost twenty years in the future, I see the irony of it all. The person who will forever be a beautiful little 9 year old in my eyes is now a grown man who has garnered the respect of a community, if not an entire state, for the second time in his early adulthood. The silly little boy with a tousled blond mop of hair is now the one who does the protecting and saving.
This past fall, I had a little meltdown, and all my fears and sadness about his near-death experience erupted. As it is becoming a habit of his, he swooped in and helped me deal with it all. I held his hands that are scarred by that day in March of 2006 and begged him to never leave me. Because he is who he is, I think it bothered him more listening to his big sister fall apart than it bothered me letting all those emotions out. I find myself going to him more and more for help and advice rather than the opposite. In some ways, the roles have been reversed, and now, he is a rock for me.
Knowing my youngest brother, I'm sure he doesn't like being called a hero. He is a volunteer fireman, an EMT, and an employee for the sheriff's department because he loves being there for people. If there is a possibility he can lend a hand, he is there. And every time I see him, I can't help but to look at that hand--scarred, smooth, discolored--that serves as a badge of a hero.