A Brother's Love

By Martin Tucker

When my brother Andy went away to college he left me his motor bike, a well-read copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and a stack of “Hustler” magazines.

I knew he was trying to deceive me. Andy is gay, though he likes women. Deep down, he’s dying to be macho. He’d like to be a marine, do one-hundred-twenty pushups at the sound of a friend’s whistle, crunch a beer can after he’s slobbered it all over his plaid flannel chest.

He can’t do these things because our parents are liberal fanatics. They won’t allow a flag in the house, or anything religious, like a cross or a menorah (they had me bar-mitzvahed in a judge’s chamber by a friend who called in a rabbi friend and blessed me without any paraphernalia). We do have a Byzantine icon in the living room, but that’s art.

I wish I could help Andy. I mean, talk to him like a big brother but I’m his younger brother and he can’t forget that. He thinks he has to guide me through my troubles (I have some, but they don’t amount to much, yet), and the thought he would be demeaned if I give him advice, drives him batty. I feel sorry for Andy—I mean, he’s unhappy—it’s not a tragedy, but it’s like something somebody should repair. He gets morose, I mean.

Because that’s what he is most of the time, and I have to help him out with our parents. I mean I have to pretend it’s nothing serious, just that Andy is a serious guy who takes life pretty seriously. That’s what I tell my parents, I tell them Andy takes life too seriously. They listen to me. You’d think I was a family counselor the way they compliment me on my insights.

But it’s not funny—no, the problem is he acts in rather than acting out. Sometimes I think he’s got a personality that’s stiffer than a dildo, which incidentally I found one night while going through his pockets. He passed out drinking with his buddies who deposited him home with me. My parents were out to a lecture on alcoholism in former colonialist states in Africa.

I guess what Andy left me is what he wants me to remember him as-- a good guy-brother who goes motor-cruising, though he never really turned on the engine to roaring speed.. He used to take the bike on weekends and tell my parents he was going to lake country in Westchester County. They weren’t into driving sports, and they said they loved to think of Andy in the fresh air, a free spirit in the wind of things. They encouraged Andy to write poetry in his head while he was riding forth.over Chappaqua.

So I knew I was going to be experiencing one of my first adult conflicts when Andy came home with a friend—a boy friend—one weekend and acted like it was nothing special. I minded that. As sins go, deceiving yourself is a greater sin than deceiving others. So I knew I had plenty of right to make my brother face up to things. I was his younger brother, but I was bar-mitzvahed so I had some manliness to draw on. Anyway, I love my brother and I want the best for him even if he doesn’t think I don’t know his proclivities.

Especially after today.

What happened was this. I mean, he brought it up at the dinner table. It was the only time I was going to see Andy with my parents—they like us to be independent, they don’t want us at home. They’ll drive us anywhere, even take us to the airport so we can meet other families who’ll pick us up at the other end. It’s their way of proving they’re not interfering, just influencing. And I knew they weren’t going to say anything to Andy. I don’t think they had any idea what was going on with Andy. They thought he was bringing home his roommate.

Ned was effeminate. I wish Andy had picked a different partner. I’m open-minded, I don’t care if someone’s gay, but he shouldn’t prance around. I wish Andy had brought home a real motor bike partner. Young as I am, I understand how two guys can love each other. But what could one see in Ned? He was the most prissy elephant you could find in a human zoo. He weighed, maybe, 200 pounds. He dressed like a washout, though how he could dress otherwise, given his stomach and bulbous ass and elephant thighs, I don’t know. He seemed frightened of me..

Which makes sense, because I looked at him with an expression I couldn’t put into words.

“I want you to feel at home,” my mother was saying to Ned. “Just like it was your own home.”

“Thank you,” Ned replied. “This is such a nice home. Andy tells me how free everyone is.”

“We believe in freedom,” my father said. “As a matter of fact we’re going to an Amnesty International meeting tonight. On torture. Torture is spreading through the world, like a habit. We must stop the disease.”

“Leonard,” my mother interrupted, “don’t lecture the poor boy. They’ve driven 300 miles to come here.”

“I’m not lecturing him, Dolly. Or badgering, which is what”—he turned to Ned but winked at me—“what she’ll say next. But, no matter, you two boys eat now. Next year, or next month, you take up your political responsibilities. If you don’t take up your political responsibilities, the world will erode away. Dolly’s heard me say it a hundred times—what you don’t do is what you erode away.”

“A thousand times,” my mother commented, but she was smiling.

“Mother,” I said, “I’ve something to tell you.”

“What can it be at this hour? You always save your sins till we’re going to bed when we’re too exhausted to do anything about them.” She was in her element because Ned was our audience.

“It’s not about me.”

“Why are you speaking up?” my father asked. “If it’s not about you, shouldn’t the person it’s about speak up? Unless he’s dead, of course.” He was laughing at his joke. He must have laughed in the wrong canal because he started to cough. It was a bad scene. He couldn’t get his breath. Andy thumped him on the back, and my father wheezed. He was okay, though his eyes were filling with water.

“See what you’ve done,” my mother said to me.

“I haven’t done anything,” I protested.

“Well, be done with it, then,” she said.

“All right.” I took a deep breath. “I’m doing this because I love my brother.” I looked round the table and I could see all eyes were on me. Andy was listening keenly.

“Andy,” I said, “I know you can’t speak up. You’re afraid to.”

“Afraid?” My brother looked mystified.

“Just because I’m your younger brother, you don’t have to be embarrassed. We all need help.”

“What are you talking about?” Andy said.

“I know you’re gay, and I don’t care. Or I do care. I care about you. And it’s okay with me. Whatever you want, brother, is okay with me.”

“What are you talking about?” my brother repeated.

“What is the world coming to when one brother turns on another,” my mother said. .

“Mom, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. If Andy is gay, it’s all right.”

“You just shut up,” Andy said.

“Yes,” my father said, “I think it best you shut up.”

“It’s not as if I’m stupid, Andy,” I said.

“You shut up,” Andy repeated himself.

“I better leave,” Ned said, pushing his chair away.

“I’ve got nothing against you, Ned, if that’s what my brother wants.” I was lying. I despised this fat boy, but I had enough problems on my hands with just trying to straighten Andy out.

“Where did you get such an idea?” my father said calmly. “And why did you not talk about it first, with your brother?” My father’s voice was calm now, though I could see my mother was hysterical.

“And sit down, Ned,” my father continued, “we’re just having a family conversation. We don’t keep secrets here.”

“Andy,” I turned to my brother, “I’m trying to be understanding. That’s what they teach us in school. That’s what the little bit of religious education I got from my bar-mitzvah has taught me.”

“Religious education. That’s where he gets this crazy notion. I knew I shouldn’t have gone through with the bar-mitzvah. It’s you, Leonard, who let the cat in,” my mother protested.

“Stop, Dolly. Let’s be sensible,” my father replied. “If Andy is gay, we’ll accept it and love him as we’ve always loved him.” He turned to his elder son. “A difficult question, Andy. For me as well as for you.”

“What the hell is going on?” Andy yelled.

“Don’t curse,” my mother said. “Profanity spreads nothing but rancor and disease.”

“I’m not gay,” Andy said slowly. He looked at me. “Phil, I don’t know where you get these crazy ideas.”

“The dress. I saw a dress in your closet. I know you wore it. And him,” I pointed with my eyes to Ned.

“The dress is Mona’s. She left it here. After she slept with me,” Andy said.

“Slept with you? When?” my mother asked.

“It was Prom night. Phil was away for the weekend. Remember you drove him to La Guardia to visit with Aunt Pearl. He was going to run in an AIDS marathon in Philadelphia. And you talk about me being gay!”

“I was only running,” I said.

“So you say,” Andy said. “Mona had to go to a Sunday school class and she couldn’t go in a Prom dress, so I lent her a pair of my jeans and a sweat shirt. They fit her great, even if they were too big for her.”

“I saw you trying the dress on,” I said.

“Yeah,” Andy admitted. “It was a way of bringing back that night.”

“In our house!” my mother said. “What will Mona’s parents think of us?”

“She said she stayed over at Estelle’s house. She told her mother Estelle was putting her and Justine and Gwen up so they wouldn’t have to drive. You know what a big house Estelle’s parents have.”

“Well, that makes sense,” my father said. “What do you say to that, young man?” he asked me.

“We don’t have to hide from anything,” I answered. “Andy, it’s all right to be gay.”

“Of course it’s all right, but I don’t see why we’re discussing it here in front of a stranger,” my mother said.

Ned was standing up now, cracking his knuckles. He was looking at me with venom. “I’m gay,” he said.

“So what else is new?” my father said.

“There!” I said, feeling vindicated.

Andy sat down. He was composing himself for the big speech. I could see he was thinking of all the things he had to tell us. I knew I was going to be proud of my brother, for coming out.

“I brought Ned here because he needed a weekend of calm. He is troubled. He turned to me and I’m proud of that. He turned to me because I’m straight and all the guys in the dorm are making fun of him.”

“This is a terrible story,” my mother said. She appeared excited as if she had another meeting to go to.

“Phil,” my brother was looking at me, “you’re a wild one, you know. Thank you for loving me, for worrying about me, for your—care and caring. I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m not gay.”

He said it with such a sureness that I could not doubt him. I didn’t know what to do next, to think he was still in denial or to admit to my father, mother and brother that I had made a serious mistake. They were sure to hold it as one more proof of what they called my great imagination. One thing, though, for sure, Ned was gay. I knew right off he was gay but then so did everyone else. And Andy has brought him home to make him feel wanted.

That’s what I began to know, as we ate our dinner. Maybe I did cause some trouble but I was only trying to be a big brother, you know, the kind you read about in magazine stories. And we did have such a good talk later that night, I mean, we were like one big family showing how much we cared about each other. That makes a mistake not such a bad thing.