the day he was born, i was smack dab in the middle of a raging case of the chicken pox.
the first photo of us together has me on a couch, newly four years old, speckled hairline to toenail in scabs. noel’s cradled between my older brother nate and me, eight sleeping pounds of beautiful, pink baby. my face is alight with the discovery of this creature called a veryownbabybrother (who we get to keep! forever and ever!). the universe very well may have turned a cartwheel.
noel learned to run at nine months. when he was still little and All Systems Go and his good sense had yet to catch up with his body, we’d taken a family trip to a lighthouse on the tip of the island.
we stood with fingers curled over chain-link fence, the wind off the ocean damp and clean. noel dropped to all fours beside me, and i watched with mounting consternation as he began to worm through the space beneath the fence. a small shelf of rock lay before us, giving way to dark water that slammed and shuddered. it felt like a snatch of nightmare, off-color and slow-motion, where my parents can’t hear the panic in my voice over the wind and their own half-shouted conversation. so i knelt down and grabbed one wriggling toddler foot and held on with every molecule of strength i owned, and even a few i didn’t.
after twelve eternities, my mom glanced over and yelped, dragged noel back under and through to safety. only then did i cry.
years later, i was maybe a freshman (noel: fourth grade) and saddled with the responsibility of watching the little bro while my parents were out. i was strictly told not to call it babysitting, as that could mortally wound his nine-year-old machismo.
i don’t remember what we fought about that afternoon, but he told me i was lucky he didn’t beat me up, and i laughed, which it turns out was also bad for the machismo. he gesticulated and hollered and more-or-less challenged me to a brawl, and i told him i didn’t want to hurt him (again: mortally wounding). in my memory at least, he came at me with arms flailing, and in allegiance to the Expected Conduct of Older Sisters Everywhere, i pushed him, a hearty shove that landed him squarely on his hindquarters.
the look of betrayal in his eyes pierced me clean through. i’ve never forgotten it.
fast forward several years and we’d be up late talking romance and friendship and terry brooks. i helped coach his soccer teams. we made up songs in the car and finished each other’s stories and told jokes no one but us had the good sense to find funny. a few summers later he and nate sang in my wedding, so tall and dapper in their suits.
there’s something to be said for having that person who looks at you like you hung the moon. that lucky girl--the older sister in me--was born the same day noel was, thirty years back. today he lives in a yurt and feeds the homeless and is entirely too far away for my liking.
so cheers to you today, poley. i totally saved your life :), and you've totally made mine. a case of Divinely orchestrated symbiosis if i’ve ever seen one.