My brother died Jan. 7, 1984. On this anniversary, I find myself grateful that he was in my life. He left a positive mark on me and left plenty of amusing family stories.
I’ve already written plenty about the darker side of dealing with his death. You can read about it in “Death of a Sibling” if you’re interested. In this post, I just want to celebrate a few things:
1.) Michael is lucky because he was recently joined in Heaven my our old neighbor, Al Marley. They must be trading some rousing stories about all the ocean adventures they shared.
2.) My kids are at an age where they can appreciate stories about their uncle Mike, including the yarn about how he switched the hot and cold water pipes in his hospital bathroom during one of his asthma attack stays because he was pissed at the medical staff.
3.) I’m at a point in life where I no longer have to obsess about how his death shaped the man I became. I’m fine with who I am and how I got here doesn’t matter as much anymore. The important thing is what I do with the future.
I do think he would have been amused as hell by my attempts to copy him after his death.
He probably would have been amused to find me hanging out with Sean Marley and listening to Motley Crue and Def Leppard. He would have noticed my widening girth and got on me about it. Despite his asthma he was a fanatical weight lifter. He’d be on my ass to join a gym. Just not his gym. Me hanging around his gym would have been gross.
Right after he died, I did join his gym, Fitness World. It was just down the street from our house, a short walk down a side alley. I wasted no time trying to be him, and lifting weights in Fitness World was as good a place as any to start my charade. I lasted maybe a week. Everyone there expected me to be him. I should have figured out then and there that there could only be one Michael S. Brenner.
Later in my teen years, he might have punched me in the face or broken my other middle finger (he had broken one of them in the back of my father’s van one day when I flipped him off) for wearing his leather jacket. It was a true biker’s jacket, with the zippers on the sleeves and scratch marks from a few falls he had off his motorcycle. He was one cool-looking motherfucker in that jacket. But when I put it on, it was two sizes too small. I wore it anyway.
He might have been jealous of the palace I made out of the basement apartment at 22 Lynnway. At the time of his death the place was being renovated and the plan was for him to move in there. Instead, my father rented it to a guy who was nice enough but always seemed to be fighting with his girlfriend. Since my bedroom was in the basement level at another end of the house, this often pissed me off. Sometimes I heard the make-up sex, and that pissed me off even more. It’s hard to get lost in your quiet, dysfunctional mind when people are making a racket on the other side of the wall. The guy moved out by late 1987 and I moved in.
He might have been annoyed when I decided not to pursue a career in drafting. I wanted to be a writer instead. The poetry I was writing at the time would have sent him into fits of laughter. It would send you into fits of laughter, too.
He was going to be a plumber, and he might have shaken his head back and forth in disgust at my inability to do anything useful with a set of tools.
What he would have thought of me in the 1990s, or of Sean Marley, for that matter, is probably not worth exploring. Had he lived a lot would have been different. I don’t know if Sean and I would have gotten as close as we did, and had that been the case, his death in 1996 wouldn’t have sent me into the self-destructive nosedive I found myself in.
He probably would have been pleased to see me get my demons under control in the last decade. He might even appreciate my decision to be open about it in this blog. But he might not have told me so.
One thing I’m pretty certain of: He would have loved his nephews, and they would have loved him.
Today, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’m blessed with the best wife and kids a guy could have. In my work they pay me to do what I love, which is pretty rare. I have many, many good friends.
Michael is probably staring down, approving of it all.