Life, death and a case of brotherly love

Life, death and a case of brotherly love

“So,” my brother said, “you’re going home for a place to die.”

“Not exactly,” I said, but I could see how he connected the dots.

He’s a pistol, my brother is, a couple of years younger and far more accomplished than I’ll probably ever be professionally.

When he writes, his words are bound between hard covers, destined for the Library of Congress, while most of mine line bird cages and garbage cans or are simply recycled for use as furnace filters.

Years ago his wife and the woman who was to become mine came up with what they thought was a brilliant idea. The two of us would collaborate on a novel that would be a surefire bestseller. To them, it was a fast track to financial independence, a hedge against any and all bad luck we might encounter, a true ticket to paradise.

They had a title — “Gull’s Way” — and the rough outline of a plot, nothing too complicated, just a way to guarantee a Hallmark movie.

I can still see the four of us, sunning on the beach in Ocean City, relishing a week together on the Maryland shore, just conjuring a future that included royalties, residuals and the requisite fame that would accompany the world’s astonished appreciation for our work, bookstore signings, paperback rights and an option for more.

There came a time, not too long after, when I found myself between jobs, and on a whim, he and I decided to get together and see if what the ladies in our lives imagined might actually happen.

In a word the answer was a big fat no.

My brother put it best after a week of head-butting futility.

“It’s like a car with two steering wheels,” he said, rather sadly.

So there was no vacation in Jamaica, no seven-figure advance on the sequel, no financial windfall, though we did get a kick out of discussing the idea of a Jaguar XKE with twin steering capability.

My brother used to write me the most entertaining letters, but those, along with what used to be bimonthly visits, have all but vanished.

Part of it is simply the distance our lives have created, both geographically and philosophically, though we sometimes talk on our cell phones, however difficult those once-a-week chats become.

And part of it is he’s the father of two, whereas my destiny lay in a different direction, probably for the best, since I’m certain that had I ever become a parent, my progeny would surely despise me.

But when I mentioned my and my wife’s increasing desire to move back to our hometown, he immediately pressed me for details, the phone call taking on the texture of a conversation that could matter.

That’s the thing about long-distance communication between Baby Boomer brothers. So much exists in the back and forth, especially when they’re both English majors who truly enjoy verbal jousting.

Think Frasier and Niles Crane, with even more elitist smugness.

When I let it drop that my wife had found a house in our price range and that she was planning to contact the owner, my brother said the sentence with which I began this essay all those words ago.

I’ll turn 69 — God willing — in a couple of months, and that puts me squarely on the back nine of life, not so far from the clubhouse as I used to be, though I hope it’s going to be a while before I take off my spikes and retire my clubs for good. I feel fine, considering a bevy of bad habits, but no one’s ever guaranteed another tee time.

“Six Feet Under,” an HBO series that ran from 2001-05, always began with a death, everything from being hit in the head with a golf ball to being electrocuted in a hot tub, an OD to murder.

It followed the Fisher brothers, owners of a funeral home, and the various interactions they had with those close to the deceased. A lot of the time, however, those who had just died hung around long enough to see what happened after they had breathed their last.

Life after death is hardly a new concept on this astral plane, and theological beliefs aside, no one really knows what awaits us all.

Unlike every other mammal, we live knowing we will die. That’s part of what being human is all about, the certainty that we all owe a death, a surety perhaps best expressed by Jim Morrison, who, while he was fronting the Doors, wrote the following six words:

“No one here gets out alive.”

As an English major at Notre Dame, I once based an entire term paper on that oh-so-obvious premise and managed to get an A-, an accomplishment that still generates a sense of misplaced pride. Of course, when you’re 20 years old and in love with your own words, you don’t quite comprehend how lame they’ll seem 50 years later.

Speaking of the passage of time, my brother wasn’t exactly wrong when he said what he did about my preferring to die back home, rather than down here in North Carolina. It’s just part of the plan.

I can’t leave this topic without thanking my brother for being the one person who’s always challenged me to be better tomorrow than I am today, his inexplicable love of disco notwithstanding.

Sorry for all those times I knocked your glasses off your face.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or at 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to find him on his Facebook page, where English majors aren’t always boring.

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