the one other people fixated on—our difference.
The contrast began but did not end with our
physical appearance: his hair was red and his
skin pale, while I had our mother’s olive complexion and black hair. our personalities and
interests formed as distinctly as our features.
As a teenager my major obsession was sports.
I trained for basketball and track in the humid
clamor of the school weight room; I pored over
copies of the Sporting News after I finished my
homework at night. Dan focused his efforts on
the wood shop, becoming skilled enough to
hire on during summers with his shop teacher,
The bond that links your true family is not one
of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s
life. Rarely do members of one family grow up
under the same roof.
—Richard Bach, 1977
with whom he built furniture and cabinets. As
a wrestler, he viewed my passion for basketball
as something of a retreat from manlier pursuits.
Insofar as my teenage mind believed anything
with bedrock conviction, it was that the fast-break style of the Los Angeles Lakers in the
Showtime years was the pinnacle of team-sport
artistry, and Dan responded by claiming that
the Detroit Pistons—known as the Bad Boys,
for their intimidating physicality and brutish
antics—were his favorite team. Sports fandom,
I see now, was an incidental part of his life, a
wholly reactionary stance. he spent the weekends tinkering with cars, an investment of time
and energy that confounded me, since he would
smash them during races at the county fair each
August, undoing all his hard work in a few loops
around the track.
our divergent life choices after graduation
surprised no one, each of us serving as a foil
for the other. he entered the blue-collar work-force, installing fiber-optic cable, while I, sensitive and brooding, went to college thinking I’d
become a writer. People no longer joked about
how different we were. After a certain point, it
was too obvious to be funny.
During winter break my junior year at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, I
took a week and drove to Albuquerque, to look
in on his life in new Mexico. Dan had lived
there for two years, and although we’d seen
each other a couple of times around the holidays, I’d yet to pay him a visit in his new home.
he was to be married that June, and I figured
I ought to meet his fiancée before the week of
their wedding. When I arrived, it seemed we
were the same oddball brothers, only more so.
We eyed each other warily, him in pointy-toed
cowboy boots and a big white ten-gallon hat,
me decked out in the uniform of the aspiring
campus radical: East german army pants and
calf-high combat boots, aggressive sideburns
sculpted on my cheeks.
My future sister-in-law was a severely pale
kid with dark hair, dark eyes, and nail polish of
such a deep purple it was almost black. The key
word here is kid. She was only seventeen and
hadn’t yet graduated from high school. She’d
be legal to buy a pack of cigarettes just weeks
before the wedding. She showed an adoring
deference toward Dan—a kind of puppyish
infatuation in her eyes and in the tilt of her
head—that I knew would one day fade, and I
hoped it wouldn’t curdle when it did. She was
inordinately curious about me, as if every word
out of my mouth might contain a clue to certain aspects of Dan’s past and personality about
which she knew little, or at least not enough.
Dan wanted to introduce me to his new-found passion, hot-air ballooning, so we woke
early one morning and drove toward the mesas
north of the city. The dawn sky was turning
pink. The air was crisp and cool. We drank coffee from a thermos and rubbed our hands to
warm them. With the woven-cane basket out
of the truck bed, Dan unrolled the balloon on
the mesa and pointed a big fan at the balloon’s
mouth. he turned on the propane burner, the
balloon began to inflate, and as it did Dan
tugged the cloth here and there to keep it from
snagging. he walked around with rapt attention, like a sculptor teasing life from stone. Bit
by bit the balloon swelled.