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  • Sixty-three!

    As boys we had always been competitive. Back then, Ben was the smarter of the two of us. Everything seemed to come easy to him, teachers loved him, and it wasn't until maybe junior high that things began to change. Sports took up a growing portion of his efforts. In Junior High we were the same height, even though I was two years older. By my senior year Ben was three inches taller and far better coordinated. He played everything. Every team, he was on it! One year, because of a cute assistant swim coach that he had developed a crush on, he was even on the water polo team. Seriously, water polo.

    He was gifted.

    There was this raven on the wire in the backyard. Ben was, I don't know, maybe eleven? He picked up a rock and hurled it sidearm at this poor bird, knocked it to the ground and we chased it, almost catching it, before it found its wings again. Our neighbor lady had a bunch of white ornamental gravel around her roses. After Ben and the raven I carried six or seven of these white rocks in my pockets for a couple of weeks. I never came within five feet of hitting a bird with them. He was just gifted.

    We'd get into trouble. There was one winter that we had a lot of snow, a ton. My first wife was from Michigan and would drag me up there for Christmas every year. We had more snow down here that year than I ever saw at Christmas in Michigan. It was crazy cold out and we're out front building a snowman. After about forty-five minutes my feet are wet and I'm done. Ben was breaking up pine cones in the driveway with an old claw hammer. He used the pieces for eyes and ears. A good couple of hours go by and mom comes in and asks where my brother is. I just shrug my shoulders, no clue. She pushes out the front door in her slippers and Ben is out in the street looking back toward the house, admiring his work. He'd built a whole damned family of snowpeople, but mom just has her house shoes on so she's only maybe ten feet from the front door telling Ben how nice they look and everything.

    Later that afternoon, mom heads out to get groceries and finally takes a good look at Ben's family in the yard. His snowmother and snowchildren were all fine, but the snowfather had a gigantic cucumber poking through just below his waste line. That snowman was out there exposing himself to the neighborhood for a good five hours before she noticed! She made us eat that cucumber in a salad the following night. I nearly choked to death two times because of giggling between bites. Ben told mom that the snowparents were both the same height. He asked how else would people know which one was the dad?

    Rachel would have been pregnant toward the end of their last year in high school and later, during spring break of my first year upstate, Casey was born. I was down here for that one. There you are. He would have been twenty-one, two kids, and the father of so and so could get him a position at the plant. Life happens.

    This whole pill thing started after the accident. That's my assumption anyway. Someone had set a piece of their equipment up on top of a long work bench to get it up to eye level, but it was just too much and one of the legs buckled. All of that weight came right square down on the edge of Ben's boot.

    Later, Ben said that it didn't really hurt that badly until a nurse took his sock off. She held it out to her side like half a loaf of wet bread. They were able to reattach his big toe, but he never really had much feeling in it again. About six months later he gets a settlement check from the insurance company. They go out and buy a German Sheppard pup, an above ground pool for the kids, and whatever was left was spent on a set of breast implants for Rachel. During that first winter a family of raccoons took up residence under the pool, ripped the liner, and it never held water again. Rachel was in her late forties and all of a sudden men are paying attention to her again. She started seeing some guy from their church. It happens.

    Ben didn't tell me about any of this until eighteen months later. He calls me up, wants me to be his lawyer. I was too stacked up and told him that he really should get a female attorney. It was a good enough excuse and I referred him to a former coworker. I didn't want to see inside anyway, you know? Inside of my little brother's personal life...

    Sixty-three seems too young. Our grandfather made it to eighty-four and he drank, smoked, and ate ham and eggs for breakfast everyday. And I don't mean that he ate ham often. He ate ham for breakfast with his eggs every damned day!

    I don't know, sixty-three...
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