Forty-five years ago, you entered my life; a roly-poly butterball made especially for me (or so I thought) to cuddle and play with. I practiced my budding mothering skills on you until you couldn’t take the smothering and smacked me with your chubby fist. When you started going to school, I would make sure you were on the right class line, had your lunchbox and threatened anyone who looked at you weird. I waited for you after school and walked home with you while looking over my shoulder for any potential threats. You put up with me being your second mother for a really long time.
Forty years ago we shared many good times- camping trips with the cousins, scary stories at night. We walked over to the boulevard to go to the rides on Sunday nights when Mom and Dad were bowling. We had to stop on the wooden bridge every time so you could feed the fish. We curled up under the afghan on the other Sunday nights to watch Disney and Wild Kingdom. You had your Big Jim dolls and I had my Barbies and we would have adventures in the Barbie Camper or the Big Jim Range Rover. You would ask me to do something and I did it. I would boss you around and you did it. We had spats but once the tears were dried we were back to playing. We were each other’s best friend.
Thirty-five years ago, I thought you were a royal pain in my ass. You were the little brother that tagged around the park after me and my friends. You wouldn’t let us dress you up in makeup and play fashion show with us, so what good were you? You were constantly butting in to my 12-year-old life so I had to constantly put you in your place. We had some spectacular fights on the living room floor or in the back deck of the station wagon. I loved boys, but I hated you.
Thirty years ago I barely knew you. We were teenagers each leading our separate lives. We passed each other going up and down the stairs to our rooms, but I don’t remember if we even acknowledged each other’s existence. Probably not. I had boyfriends, you had girlfriends. I had Girl Scouts, you had Boy Scouts. We went to the same school but neither of our circles intersected. The only thing I liked about you was you worked at the Big Bow Wow so we got free food. That and you smelled like French Fries.
Twenty-five years ago you were one my closest friends. You were working full-time and going to school part-time and I envied your life. You and Dad were working on transforming that VW bug into a hot-rod and you painted your bedroom walls in zebra stripe. You drove the family Bronco over the footbridge to Hamilton and came home with a tattoo. You started training for the fireman’s test. While running up and down the stairs at the park with weights on your ankles, you got arrested for buying drugs, which was silly because you weren’t carrying any money (no pockets in sweatpants) and your ID was in the car. You called me to come get you at the police station. You knew what I was getting into when I got married but stood up for me anyway at our wedding. We invited you to our parties because you were cool. You would come over to our apartment, eat and hang out. Remember when I permed your hair? You had great hair. You rode your jet ski in the bay and your dirt bike in the park. When you crashed your bike and went for X-rays, they found the tumor. I remember your surgery and how you walked with a cane afterwards because they had to take muscle out along with the tumor. I thought you were so funny, yet so brave when you envisioned a little Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes- your favorite comic) flying in his spaceship zapping cancer cells while you sat there getting the chemo treatment through your port in your chest. You made me spit soda through my nose describing how your mustache hair fell out in your cereal. It looked like shredded wheat even though you were eating Froot Loops. We cried with grief when all your hair fell out, and then with relief when you went into remission.
Twenty-two years ago you became Beena’s godfather. You adored that kid. You took her to the mall to pick up girls. Go figure- you got phone numbers from girls cooing over the baby. You were the one that helped me paint her room and put up the wallpaper. I remember the conversation we had about our parents and life in general. We painted side by side and you told me I was lucky because I had beautiful Beena. I hugged and kissed you that day- the first time in years. When you found out the tumors were back you went out and got another tattoo. We watched over the next months as the tumors got bigger and bigger and chemotherapy didn’t work. You couldn’t eat and couldn’t breath. You lost so much weight I couldn’t bear to see you. We were helpless.
Twenty-one years ago today I raced into Sloan Kettering Memorial to see you but it was too late, you were gone. I lost a piece of my life that night. My parents lost their precious child. My grandmother said she should be the one to go, not her grandson. It was two weeks before Christmas, your favorite holiday. I found out I was pregnant the day before your funeral, which was huge, by the way. So many people liked you, loved you. We named Kansas after you when she was born.
I miss you everyday, little brother. I talk to you a lot, do you hear me? I tell you how much you would have liked MR because you have so much in common. How proud you would have been of Beena, Kansas and Zombiegirl. Oh, yeah…you would have loved Zombiegirl. I know you would have been the fun, cool uncle to the girls. I weep when I realize over and over they’ll never know you and your crazy ways and ideas. My childhood memories will fade because I have no one to remember them with. I regret with every ounce of my being all the fights and arguements we ever had. Twenty-five is too young to go.
I love you, Robbie Arfmann.