I didn’t have the words for it that day when they put me on the spot to give you a toast, and I don’t know why my words seized up like they did. Perhaps it was because of a sudden fear of public speaking, or because in that moment my words felt insufficient. But I missed my opportunity that day to honor my big brother with my words. And now, Matthew, you’ve jaunted off across the country and I feel paralyzed with missing you and these words are at the forefront of my mind.

A big brother is certainly something every little girl should wish for, and I had mine. He wasn’t a superhero and I didn’t worship the ground he walked on. My brother was quiet when we were young. I remember his awkward glasses (which I coveted) and his nose pressed into books. I remember the iguana in his room and the shad over his window covered with “boogers” because of his nighttime habit: flicking them across the room. We played in the bathtub with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (that swam!), built forts in the creek bed, jumped on the trampoline, and posed for pictures with our Christmas tree ornaments. Once, I flung fresh cow patty all over us during a daring joy ride on the go-cart we had received for Christmas. He fumed at me for the duration of the day.

I remember my brother crouched behind home plate and on the pitcher’s mound, intent on the task at hand. I fell asleep to every single Braves’ game of my childhood, either staring blankly at our tv or listening to Skip Caray’s voice on the radio in the car. On the volleyball court, it was the hits from my brother that I was proudest to dig, and in the backyard playing catch, my palms stung when I caught a ball from him, and I smiled proudly when he took his hand out of his glove, wincing in pain.

We took trips together, walking along the Cape of Good Hope, Lewis and Clark’s trail, or along the Aegean Sea, or in his beloved Bronco across the back roads of Henry County, fishtailing because of his crazy driving. To this day, I order ginger ale with ice on the plane because it’s his favorite, and I cannot imagine a plane trip without that taste.

When I reminisce, it’s about all of those details. And they say that we remember not what someone did or said but how they made us feel. My brother was not my hero or my savior. He was better than that. When I fell and hurt myself, he asked if I was ok, if I was bleeding, and whacked me on my head and said, “Ok, now get up.” When we nearly drowned off the coast of Italy, it was him that put the rope in my hand and boosted me out of the water ahead of him. If we were down several points in a volleyball game, he looked at me and said to do better and keep my head in the game. When I walked through a terrifying period of depression, he told me to suck it up and keep living.

My brother does not save me, he teaches me to be brave. I will always remember him as the one who boosted me towards my best, and who truly believe the best in me. He believes the best in everyone he meets. We have walked through many hills and valleys together, and his eyes are still the ones I search out in the crowd for approval. And I know, subconsciously and consciously, that he approves, because unlike me, Matthew sees the best in everyone he meets. He is loyal and unwavering in his friendship and encouragement. He has an unstaggering faith in the goodness of people, and he has proven this countless times along the way.

Matthew drove across the country to move to Denver, Colorado just yesterday. I am astonished at how much I miss him already. In a month’s time he will have more friends than I could make in a lifetime, and he will continue to inspire me with his courage. I admire you, Matthew Eric Oakley, for who you are. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for believing in me.

Christmas 2009. With our childhood favorites

Christmas 2009. With our childhood favorites.

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