Bully Pulpit: Gift from Heaven

Throughout our childhood in a small California farm town, my brother Mikey, four years older and my only sibling, was super-protective of me, but at times my worst tormentor. Brothers can be that way, especially early in life — bound by love, yet often at war.

In high school his attention turned to pretty women and fast cars. He married young, at 20, and had two wonderful kids, Steph and Nick. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the accident that paralyzed me occurred on Mikey’s 24th birthday. From that year forward we celebrated his day of birth and my surviving a plane crash on the same day.

When I was discharged from the hospital, he came to take me home. He taught me to drive with hand controls, and later, showed me how to do wheelies, flopping on his back dozens of times before getting it right. He was also the guinea pig who tested out the homemade lift my dad had built, suspending himself in midair like a load of cargo over a staircase that led to a pool table waiting in the basement.

But Mikey couldn’t protect me from my own weakness — bitterness that led to self-destructive drug abuse — which eventually culminated in my losing control of my life. When my parents made plans to have me committed, Mikey, the only one I could talk to, championed an alternate plan: I would agree to see a private psychiatrist instead.

Three years later he picked me up at the hospital again after I had flap surgery. He took me to an apartment I shared with a friend and showed me a present he had bought me — a waterbed, for pressure reduction.

It took about 10 years for my life to turn around after my accident. At that time I relocated in Oregon with my future wife. In a brief role reversal, Mikey, then 34, in between marriages and jobs, came to live with us for a couple of months. Always a kid at heart, he would sit on our porch and blow bubbles, fascinated with the rainbow colors. He went to the toy store and bought a model rocket, put it together and repeatedly launched it at the schoolyard across the street, always drawing a crowd of admiring kids.

He had his own weakness, but despite his drinking, he was fun to be around. He usually drank nights, at the end of a day’s work, and kept his loving heart. He worked as a farm manager, a truck driver, and later, a teacher — “Mr. G” to his students.

We ended every phone call — hundreds of them — by saying “I love you.” The last time I called, just after Thanksgiving, he didn’t answer. Steph found him in bed with his little dog, Hildy, in the most peaceful sleep of all.

He was my most faithful advocate, a dedicated big brother for life, a gift from heaven. I know these words aren’t adequate, Mikey, but it’s the best I can do: I love you, Bro.

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