My brother enlisted in the Marine Corps a couple of weeks ago. He is 21 years old and the youngest of my parents’ four children. I left home when he was barely seven and there are some days I forget he is an adult now. Most of what I remember about him is from his early childhood.
When he was three, my sister and I taught him how to spell his name. Anytime he saw a stranger he had the same delivery: “Hello! My name is Michael. M-I-C-H-A-E-L. What’s your name?” He addressed the neighbor as, “Hey Cowboy!” He was an elderly man who would manicure his grass and tend to his garden in a huge straw hat. To Mike, he was Clint Eastwood.
A couple of years after that he made a friend at school, a little girl. He was excited to talk about her when he came home one day. I tried to get him to describe his friend but he didn’t have the words. He managed to tell me, “she’s like you but more,” with a finger on his cheek. The only other thing he could tell me was, “her hair is like yours but different.” I handed him some crayons and told him to try to draw her. He drew a little black girl with braids in her hair.
I still hold on to these memories of his innocence.
As the years went on and my brain fully developed, I matured into the person and parent I am. I realize now I should have encouraged him more when he needed it.
One year, he ran away from home.
The initial panic and shock wore down just enough for me to understand that I had felt like running away so many times before as a teen. I hated the constant criticism about my weight and overall appearance. The pressure of doing well in school crushing my psyche every morning I woke up. When he ran away, I knew I could’ve ran with him. Maybe I lacked will, or maybe he lacked reasoning. My parents found him that night.
Mike is all grown up.
At Christmas last year he drank entirely too much alcohol. He never listens to others – even when they’re telling him something for his own good. Makes his decision to go to boot camp so ironic. When he initially expressed interest in the Marines, my dad was worried. He called to tell me Mike was thinking about signing his enlistment paperwork. I tried talking to him, but Mike already had his mind made up. He didn’t want to consider joining the Air Force or the Navy. Semper Fi – do or die
As a veteran I understand his life is changing forever. He is changing forever. I will miss him – the soft spoken, well-mannered, stubborn young man I knew. I don’t know when I’ll see him again, but I will always remember the days he was my baby brother.