|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 Hemingways 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, hes dying to be macho. Hed like to be a marine, do one-hundred-twenty pushups at the sound of a friends whistle, crunch a beer can after hes slobbered it all over his plaid flannel chest.
He cant do these things because our parents are liberal fanatics. They wont allow a flag in the house, or anything religious, like a cross or a menorah (they had me bar-mitzvahed in a judges 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 thats art.
I wish I could help Andy. I mean, talk to him like a big brother but Im his younger brother and he cant forget that. He thinks he has to guide me through my troubles (I have some, but they dont amount to much, yet), and the thought he would be demeaned if I give him advice, drives him batty. I feel sorry for AndyI mean, hes unhappyits not a tragedy, but its like something somebody should repair. He gets morose, I mean.
Because thats what he is most of the time, and I have to help him out with our parents. I mean I have to pretend its nothing serious, just that Andy is a serious guy who takes life pretty seriously. Thats what I tell my parents, I tell them Andy takes life too seriously. They listen to me. Youd think I was a family counselor the way they compliment me on my insights.
But its not funnyno, the problem is he acts in rather than acting out. Sometimes I think hes got a personality thats 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 werent 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 frienda boy friendone 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 doesnt think I dont 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 parentsthey like us to be independent, they dont want us at home. Theyll drive us anywhere, even take us to the airport so we can meet other families wholl pick us up at the other end. Its their way of proving theyre not interfering, just influencing. And I knew they werent going to say anything to Andy. I dont 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. Im open-minded, I dont care if someones gay, but he shouldnt 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 dont know. He seemed frightened of me..
Which makes sense, because I looked at him with an expression I couldnt 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 were 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, dont lecture the poor boy. Theyve driven 300 miles to come here.
Im not lecturing him, Dolly. Or badgering, which is whathe turned to Ned but winked at mewhat shell say next. But, no matter, you two boys eat now. Next year, or next month, you take up your political responsibilities. If you dont take up your political responsibilities, the world will erode away. Dollys heard me say it a hundred timeswhat you dont do is what you erode away.
A thousand times, my mother commented, but she was smiling.
Mother, I said, Ive something to tell you.
What can it be at this hour? You always save your sins till were going to bed when were too exhausted to do anything about them. She was in her element because Ned was our audience.
Its not about me.
Why are you speaking up? my father asked. If its not about you, shouldnt the person its about speak up? Unless hes 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 couldnt 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 youve done, my mother said to me.
I havent done anything, I protested.
Well, be done with it, then, she said.
All right. I took a deep breath. Im 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 cant speak up. Youre afraid to.
Afraid? My brother looked mystified.
Just because Im your younger brother, you dont have to be embarrassed. We all need help.
What are you talking about? Andy said.
I know youre gay, and I dont care. Or I do care. I care about you. And its 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, theres nothing to be ashamed of. If Andy is gay, its all right.
You just shut up, Andy said.
Yes, my father said, I think it best you shut up.
Its not as if Im stupid, Andy, I said.
You shut up, Andy repeated himself.
I better leave, Ned said, pushing his chair away.
Ive got nothing against you, Ned, if thats 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 fathers voice was calm now, though I could see my mother was hysterical.
And sit down, Ned, my father continued, were just having a family conversation. We dont keep secrets here.
Andy, I turned to my brother, Im trying to be understanding. Thats what they teach us in school. Thats what the little bit of religious education I got from my bar-mitzvah has taught me.
Religious education. Thats where he gets this crazy notion. I knew I shouldnt have gone through with the bar-mitzvah. Its you, Leonard, who let the cat in, my mother protested.
Stop, Dolly. Lets be sensible, my father replied. If Andy is gay, well accept it and love him as weve 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.
Dont curse, my mother said. Profanity spreads nothing but rancor and disease.
Im not gay, Andy said slowly. He looked at me. Phil, I dont 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 Monas. 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 couldnt 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 Monas parents think of us?
She said she stayed over at Estelles house. She told her mother Estelle was putting her and Justine and Gwen up so they wouldnt have to drive. You know what a big house Estelles parents have.
Well, that makes sense, my father said. What do you say to that, young man? he asked me.
We dont have to hide from anything, I answered. Andy, its all right to be gay.
Of course its all right, but I dont see why were 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. Im 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 Im proud of that. He turned to me because Im 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, youre a wild one, you know. Thank you for loving me, for worrying about me, for yourcare and caring. Im sorry to disappoint you. Im not gay.
He said it with such a sureness that I could not doubt him. I didnt 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.
Thats 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.