The only scar on my body is on my left hand, not on my thumb or index finger but on the finger between the pinky and the middle finger. I don’t believe that finger has a name. The scar is small and starts right at the tip of the finger and slopes down about an inch. I got this scar when I was a freshman in high school, or maybe a sophomore. I don’t rightly recall. I just remember I had acne, unfortunate, frizzy hair, and I bore a slight resemblance to Kirk Cameron. Brenen was about six or seven at the time. He had a mischievous, toothy grin, downy soft blond hair, and a fondness for causing me trouble.
It was Christmas Eve, and I was outside in the cold and bitter Indiana night replenishing the woodpile for the fireplace. This was a chore that I loathed so much that still, to this day, I cringe when I hear the word replenish. See! I just cringed. This job required me to go onto our back porch and carry large chunks of wood into the house for the fireplace. Well, I say chunks of wood, but really, in my mind, they were humungous, cumbersome logs.
Brenen loved playing jokes on me and decided it would be funny to lock the back door. He stood in the garage and giggled in delight, waving at me as I struggled to grasp the door handle and juggle the slabs of wood embraced in my arms. When I realized he had locked me outside, I became agitated. As I pulled on the door, I dropped the wood. I impatiently tapped on the door a little too hard, shattering the glass and cutting my finger.
What happened next seemed like a blur. There was a visit to the emergency room, stitches, and an apology from Brenen—one of hundreds of apologies that we traded through the years because naturally, as brothers, it was our duty to give one another as much grief as possible whenever we could.
And the grief started from the very beginning. When he was born, Mom and Dad brought him home from the hospital and the first thing they did was sit me on the sofa and introduce me to Brenen. Looking back, this was probably a lot like introducing two house cats for the first time. Nervous that we may not get along, Dad delicately lowered the fragile, wrinkled bundle of joy into my arms. Our parents seemed relieved when I smiled with approval. I marveled at Brenen tiny feet and hands. It was amazing that these were the same feet that kicked at our palms whenever we touched Mom’s pregnant tummy, and these were the same little hands that I imagined tugged on his umbilical cord, signaling to Mom to send down more food, just not meatloaf. Brenen always did hate meatloaf with a torrid passion.
After nine exciting months of anticipation it was great to finally meet my new sibling, but there was one teensy weensy little problem: I really wanted a little sister. “He’s alright,” I said, looking down on him. “But I kind of wanted a sister instead.”
And then Brenen threw up on me.
In a panic, I stood up and practically tossed Brenen in the air. If it weren’t for Dad practically catching Brenen in midair, his tiny little body would have fallen to the floor.
His body didn’t stay tiny and little for long. Within months Mom entered Brenen in the baby contest at the Fayette County Fair. We went to the fair at Roberts Park on a sweltering August day and baked in a tent that smelled like pig poop while sweaty, pink-faced mothers paraded their babies across the stage. Brenen was awarded a gigantic first place ribbon for being the biggest baby in Fayette County. That blue ribbon hung on his bedroom wall for quite some time and, many years later, even as a teenager, whenever he pouted because he didn’t get his way, I would remind him of his title: “You are still the biggest baby in Fayette County!”
Much like Doogie Howser, Brenen was a smart child. It was little known fact that when Brenen was a child, he was a scientist. Brenen was a fartologist. With all the seriousness of a Nobel Prize winner, Brenen would explain a process that he titled “The Fart Cycle.” According to Brenen, gas trapped in the body would travel from head to toe in the body until it found either an open mouth or unclenched butt cheeks. Trapped in the backseat with Brenen when driving home after dining out was sometimes torturous and, as I shielded my face to avoid breathing his stink bombs, he’d smile that toothy, mischievous grin and shrug. “Sorry,” he’d say. “It’s my fart cycle.”
Of course, there were other ways that Brenen and I tormented one another. We’d scream and throw our toys at each other. We’d wrestle and pull each other’s hair. We’d pinch, smack, and bite one another, too. And if I weren’t there for Brenen to bite, he would bite himself. It’s true. Sometimes, when Brenen didn’t get his way, he’d angrily clamp his mouth around his own arm and bite as hard as he could. We never really knew why he did this. He did it once in the Village Pantry when I refused to buy him a pack of Garbage Pail Kid cards. With a line of people behind us, Brenen stood at the cash register and gnashed his teeth into his own arm as everyone watched with amazement. I was so embarrassed that I bought him two packs of cards.
Brenen loved to embarrass me. When we were much younger, our parents made us take baths together. We disliked those baths but tried to make the best of them by dragging every toy we could into the bath tub with us. We’d forget our disdain for these baths after a while and end up playing until our skin pruned up and all the bubbles died. It was during our very last bath together, while noisily splashing around in the bubble-filled tub with our Star Wars action figures, that Brenen suddenly became silent. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Little did I know, Brenen was quietly and discreetly pooping in the bathtub. Imagine my shock and horror when I went to grab what I thought to be Chewbacca from the bubbly water and it squished through my fingers. And now you know why that was our very last bath together.
It took some time but, after a while, Brenen and I stopped our brotherly bickering and started conspiring. Instead of getting one another in trouble, we started covering for one another. We became protective of each other. On one summer day, when Brenen came home crying because of a run-in with Jason McHenry, the neighborhood bully, it was me who confronted Jason. I angrily marched over to the McHenry’s house. While a frightened Brenen stood behind me and peeked around my waist, I stomped my foot in their front yard and told Jason to leave Brenen alone. Mrs. McHenry came out onto their porch and yelled at me, coming to her son’s defense. I didn’t like Mrs. McHenry; even though her son terrorized the neighborhood kids on a regular basis, she always stuck up for him and insisted that he was an angel. Also, the big mole above her lip gave me the heebie-jeebies. So I called Mrs. McHenry ‘a mean pig’ and Brenen and I took off running back to our house.
In the sixth grade, I became a Channel Five Weather Watcher and Brenen was my assistant. Meteorologist Pat Berry sent me a package of weather tools like a rain gauge, a barometer, and some other things I had no idea how to use. Brenen and I collected the data from these weather tools and, using an old toy chest as a desk in our high tech weather station, we documented the data and called in our readings to the station. We were even on TV once. Pat Berry stood in front of the Doppler radar and said, “Today’s Channel Five Weather Watcher Spotlight falls on Connersville, Indiana, where Tyler and his younger brother, Brenen, called in the temperature there at a balmy 87 degrees.” A photo of Brenen and I momentarily flashed up on the screen and I recall being slightly embarrassed because it was from Christmas morning and we were still in our pajamas and had bed hair.
Anyway, Brenen was eager to help and I thought he actually had a vested interest in meteorology until one day, during a brisk summer storm, Brenen went missing. We looked everywhere for him: under the beds, in the closets, and in the garage. Mom and Dad finally found him. He was standing on the back porch with his pants around his ankles and his hands on his hips, peeing into the pouring rain. “What on Earth are you doing?” my dad shouted.
“The rain makes me have to pee!” he said matter-of-factly, again with that toothy and mischievous grin.
Like myself, Brenen developed a love for music at an early age and it was an integral part of his life. His tastes varied; he even went through a rap phase during which he talked like Snoop Dogg and insisted on adding “izzle” to every word. Mostly, Brenen favored classic rock like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. He often said that he was going to become a famous musician. He was willing to show anyone his chin-resting-on-his-hand pose that he intended to feature on the cover of his debut album, and it was behind his Fisher Price drum set that he penned future hit songs like “It’s Alright If You Don’t Want To Play” and “I Love You But I Can’t Marry You Because I Have Gas.”
These are just a few of the many memories I have of Brenen. None of us have to look far for ways to remember him. We all have our own stories about him and how he made us laugh and how he touched our hearts. We will smile knowingly when we hear Led Zeppelin songs being played on Q95. And we will definitely remember him when our Fart Cycles act up after a heavy meal.
And the biggest reminder we have is his three-year-old son, Zaden, who was a spitting image of Brenen when he was a tot. Incidentally, thank goodness Brenen developed a more sophisticated taste in baby names because when he was younger, he had imaginary children whom he named Blour-Blour and Refrigerator.
And as for me, as I grow old and my Kirk Cameron hair thins and my memories start to fade, all I have to do is look at the scar on my finger and know that my little brother is not far away at all.
What you just read is an excerpt from Four Boyfriends & A Funeral, the fourth book written by Totally Tyler. Click here to purchase.