I have known Jimmy his whole life, and he has known me for his whole life…and I have known only a few young years without him. I remember my mother being pregnant with the twins, Jimmy and Lauri. She was a petite woman, maybe 5’4” and 120 pounds…but she was as a big as a house with those two little ones nestled inside her. It was early June 1968 when the doctor finally heard two heartbeats….twins. That explained why she was so big. Ten days later they were born 6 weeks early (typical for twins). Jimmy came out first, the older brother by 15 minutes. Laurs lingered a bit. Premature, they had to stay in the hospital for a week in incubators….weighing only a couple-three pounds each. I remember going to the hospital, to the garden outside where one at a time my father lifted Juls and I up to the window so we could peer into the nursery and catch our first glimpse of our little brother and sister.
I taught Jimmy how to play sports, football, baseball, basketball….rough games of smear-the-queer (hey, I wasn’t socially conscious when my age was a single digit). I kicked his ass, taught him how to ride a skateboard, a bike….and I played sergeant to his private, he and the other little boys my little platoon. I also gave Jimmy a hard time. He was a little goober with a lazy eye that had him in thick glasses with a patch over one eye. He wore his pants up near his armpits with his belt pulled so tight we called him Sinbad-the-Sailor (after the Saturday morning cartoon caricature). He would neurotically rub his head on his bed and make a snarled mess of his hair and my mother would brush it out as he protested with loud cries and screams. He was sensitive and we teased him relentlessly.
Jimmy and I were friends for a long time, until we weren’t. He was in high school and I am not sure what all informed it, but we had a split. Home was a complex mesh of comfort, familiarity, pathology…..alcoholism, my dad’s inability to connect or be kind. I took the brunt of my dad’s criticism and antagonism, but Jimmy was not that far behind. We were rough around the edges then, tough, angry….Jimmy and I more alike than not in our sensitivity and emotion and neurosis. I remember the day we stopped talking…we fought, although I don’t remember about what. He was insulting me, mean-below-the-belt insults, sitting on the stairs, baiting me, saying “why don’t you just hit me? Come up here and hit me! Right now!” We were yelling. My mom was there….I looked at her and with controlled rage said, “you better tell your son to shut his fucking mouth before I come up there and hit him…cause he’s big now and I will hit him hard so he doesn’t get up.” She told Jimmy to shut his mouth. I turned and left. After that Jimmy and I didn’t talk for a year. We lived together, but we didn’t talk.
My mom finally decided to get sober and insisted we all go to some family therapy session together. We did. We all sat in that little room with couches and pillows to hug, the seven of us, wanting to be supportive but also sighing and trying not to look too interested. Mike, the counselor, asked my mom what she needed from the family for support for her sobriety. The first thing she said, “I want Marie and Jimmy to start talking to each other again.” Jimmy and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, “ok.” We’ve pretty much been the best of friends ever since.
I have always been the big sister. The tough big sister. Jimmy has always been the antithesis of macho. He was born a skinny dude and has had the experience in life that comes with that biology and being male. His strategy has always been to lay low, don’t confront, make people laugh instead. When he would hear a scary noise in the backyard at night, he would come into my room and wake me….ask me to check on things. I would check it out. Don’t worry Jimmy, it was just a cat in the wood pile. He would go back to bed reassured.
There was the big kegger party I said Jimmy could have if I chaperoned and controlled the door (when the folks were outta town). I got diverted because Juls’ dog got hit by a car and I had to go with her to the emergency vet (a whole other story unto itself). I returned a couple hours later to a house teaming with drunk teenagers and cops everywhere. It was completely outta hand. The cops left and I continued to clear the house of all nonessential party friends and family. One guy was resisting and being belligerent as I pushed him to the front door. A dear family friend said, “hey why don’t you just leave you are not wanted here?” The guy hurled a really un-cool insult at her….that was it, you don’t insult my kin, insult me, but not them. I shoved his ass through the front door. He lunged back at me and I shoved him again and slammed the door on his fingers, breaking three of them. He was a big guy. He was coming at me. He was drunk. I wasn’t gonna fuck around. Jimmy’s friends were all around me and I knew they would have my back. He left injured and filled with rage…kicked a huge dent in the family wagon. Jimmy turned to me, “You don’t understand, that guy is crazy. He’s gonna kick my ass.” A few days later, said crazy guy approached Jimmy at school, fingers in a cast. Jimmy’s heart pounding….the guy says, “hey dude, I am sorry I was such an asshole. Tell your sister I am sorry.” Jimmy lived. No ass kicking. Although he feared it, people weren’t inclined to hurt him.
Then there was the time right after my breakup with my first girlfriend Tanya. I was devastated….could barely function…could barely get up in the morning and put on my shoes and socks. I was working at the homeless shelter….sitting in my office, unable to move, I called Jimmy. I don’t know what to do, Jimmy, I can’t move. I’m coming to take you to lunch….he was there in 10 minutes. We were poor back then and I remember Jimmy bought me a hamburger at some fastfood place and I was so touched by this simple generosity. We ate. He gave me tough love. Told me to stop analyzing. To accept she just doesn’t wanna be with me….whatever the reason. It no longer mattered the reason. It was a turning point. My little bro being my big bro. I was wounded and small and he was right there for me. He always has been.
There are countless stories I could recall and write about my little bro…but these came to mind on this day that Jimmy is moving his things into the front room of my little house in Oakland. I read this to Jimmy asking him to confirm my memory was accurate….he opined a little on the timing but said yep! That’s the way he remembers things too. He offered that I should add the story about knocking out his teeth. So here goes.
We were little kids playing football on the front lawn, I gave Jimmy a hard tackle and he slammed face first into the grass and his two front teeth flew out of his mouth. He got up, bloody, crying and ran into the house with me following feeling bad for hurting the little guy. My mother grabbed his face and assessed the damage and then turned to me seething with anger and said, “You get out there right now and find your brothers teeth!” I tried to comply… crawling around the front yard on my hands and knees, poking through the blades of grass….it didn’t happen. The teeth were gone forever….an offering to the gods of childhood football games. There are a few family pictures with Jimmy with no front teeth. I had knocked them out before their time….but eventually his grownup teeth came in and all was well and my mom forgave me.
So tonight we had a little welcome to the hood party for Jimmy. A few of my friends came over and we ate artichokes with garlic butter and drank sangria and sat around the fire pit telling stories. Then we bbq’d steaks and chicken and gathered round the table to eat….and the evening moved towards the predictable, Jimmy going off on some monolog that had the rest of us near pissing our pants! He was the only man at a table of queers….and he had us all laughing till we cried….Revi begging for mercy as she sprinted to the bathroom!
Jimmy and I are gonna be good roomies. He asked what the rules are….put down the toilet seat. He agreed. We move very easily with each other…we can talk about anything, like little boys in many ways, talking about sex or poop, whatever….nothing is sacred and our jokes are ridiculously crude and irreverent at times. But we talk easily about the serious stuff too….about feelings and relationships and all that shite so many men struggle with. Not Jimmy. He is very comfortable in his own skin.
I cringe at the thought of trying to use words to articulate the love and respect I have for my brother, for such a gesture would fall so grossly short. Suffice it to say, I love him unconditionally, feel the same in return, and respect him enormously. And lastly, something that I think speaks volumes, I regularly crave his company.