I was only 12 years old when he left. It was a day that I would remember forever. Tears blurred my vision and my chest ached from a breaking heart that muffled silent screams. Even at such a tender age, I understood far too much about the ways of life and, therefore, understood why he had to go. As he prepared to leave, I knew I could not ask him to stay. He was my idol, my playmate, my best friend, and he was my brother. He was only 13 years old himself. Far too young to face the bigness of a world he had not seen. And yet, he was determined to make a better life for himself. Determined to find a way to simply make.life.better. As I sat on the edge of the bed quietly begging him to take me with him, he simply stated, "I love ya', Sis. I'll be back to get you one day." With that spoken, he gently tossed an open package of Marlboro cigarettes on the bed and left. I picked up a lone cigarette that fell out of the package and desperately wanted to light it and smoke it--a terrible habit all of us kids pick up at way too early an age. I stuffed the cigarettes in my pocket and ran out of the house to watch my brother as he headed for the alley behind our house. Wearing his prized cowboy boots, a cowboy hat perched just so on his head, and a guitar hanging upside down behind his back, I watched my brother disappear into the horizon.
My brother's name is Anthony Lee. Tony for short. It would be a year and a half before I would see him again. He made good on his promise though. He came like a knight in shining armor and plucked me and my younger brother out of a muddy ditch where we were hiding after we too ran away from home in search of making.life.better. He became my hero that day--this brother of mine. He was a huge part in forever changing my life in a good, positive way.
I remember one day when we were having a slug fest with each other. We were probably around the 10 and 11 age. At one point, Tony ended up punching me in my head. After he painfully slung his arm around my shoulder, we just stood there, slightly hunched over, trying to catch our breath. That was when he told me he thought he broke his hand. His hand had already started to swell and was turning purple. Oh my!!! We were both so scared and knew we were in big trouble! Being the bright children that we were, we got our stories straight and told our grandmother (that we lived with at that time) that Tony tripped over the cat and fell into the small gas stove that heated our living room. It worked. We escaped danger that day but Tony didn't escape a trip to the hospital and a cast on his hand and arm. I don't recall ever physically fighting with my brother again (well unless you count that small incident when we were 18 and 19 respectively).
I remember another time when I was 14 and Tony was 15. We were both out driving around one night (yes, I know). We ended up at one of Tony's friend's house. This guy came outside and leaned into the car window where we sat. It was fairly obvious that this guy had been drinking. He kept throwing glances and smiles my way and being a typical 14 year old girl, I wanted to barf!!! Mr. Buzz Lighthead made some kind of remark somewhere along the lines of "pretty girl....you and me....how 'bout it". Brother quietly reached under his seat, pulled out a bazooka (I'm pretty sure that's what it was), stuck the bazooka in Buzz's face and calmly said, "That's my sister, dude. You say one more thing to her and I'll blow your face off." Yep, my hero!
Many years have passed since we were that young. We've lived our lives apart for most of that time. Even though we don't see each other often, we can call each other and pick up where we left off. Brother did go on to make his life better by making the lives of others better. He may or may not have lied about his age to get into the armed services early. He may or may not have fought in a war the world knew nothing about. Cold war was a term used during that time. It wasn't cold--it was real. One summer, north Tulsa was burning from an industrial accident and 55 gallon drums of explosive gases were bursting and hurling through the air like fire missiles and burning all houses they were hitting. City buses were sitting on the south side of the north/south dividing line and the streets where closed at the dividing lines. A large scale evacuation was taking place but numbers of people on the north side were leaving their houses with no transportation to get to those city buses waiting to temporarily house misplaced people in the sizzling 100+ degree heat. My brother called a radio station begging for help to evacuate people who had left their houses so urgently. There were barefoot people, handicapped people, mommies with small children, and frightened elderly people. No help came. But Brother had a pickup and instead of getting to a safe place himself, he went around and picked up people in the neighborhoods, drove them to the buses and went back in to haul more people out. He has definitely lived the "other" in brother! He has worked to improve his neighborhood, rallied and petitioned the city to build a park for his neighborhood, hosts yearly neighborhood BBQs, organizes groups to help clean the city, volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and rescues kids that have no one and no place to go and gives them a place to live and food to eat. He didn't want to have any biological children because he so strongly believed there were too many abandoned children who needed a home. He only formally adopted one child but there are countless others that call him Dad and now Grandpa. And on top of all that, he is a brave cancer survivor.
Today is National Siblings Day. It is also Tony's birthday. Although the years (and perhaps the military) have skewed his memory as to the real date and year of his birth, I know how old he really is. Thank you Tony for all you do and for all you have done. Happy birthday brother. I love you to the moon and back!