N, right, removing staples from F, left.
I spent half a dozen formative years on Linda Avenue—years of evolution and change. My mom, single at the time, bought the ugliest house in the best neighborhood she could afford, a house with broken windows and asbestos siding but sitting kitty-corner to one of the best public elementary schools in the nation. It was a smart move, but not without its challenges. She worked her butt off, delivering papers before I woke in the morning and getting me off to school, then spent her days sanding floors, replacing walls, stripping woodwork, fixing appliances, and planting boxwood shrubs. She also, I presume, kept tabs on my delinquent teenage brothers. Like many geniuses, they had rocky adolescences. They have grown into admirable men.
My brother F is truly—and I do not exaggerate—the funniest man I've ever met. He will make you wet yourself. He has incredible conversational timing, tremendous intellectual curiosity, and a broad understanding of just about everyone and everything. Children love him. Dogs adore him. I admire him more than I've ever been able to say.
He is an adrenaline addict, and has more metal in his body than a modern 4-door sedan. When we were younger, he hurt himself skateboarding, then motorcycling. Now it's motorcross, but as he approaches 40 I'm hoping he'll handle his dirtbike with growing care. He has nearly died more times than you'd believe, and he has sprung back faster than experts say is possible. When he was told that the road rash on his badly damaged hands would cause permanent fine motor loss, he learned how to play the guitar. He's back to 110%. He is invincible.
My brother N is an artist, a professor, a sailor, an urban farmer, and a restoration carpenter. He is smart, soulful, and full of super-human insight. With it, I think, comes super-human worry. He would like to have fixed a world that can't be saved. He understands the population crisis, the catastrophe of our human presence on Earth, too well, and he carries a burden with him. Stupidity pains him, and he sees too much of it. He surrounds himself, however, with friends. He has collected amazing, kindred spirits. His partner E completes him.
N is funny, smart, warm, and empathetic. Incredibly creative. Skillful. Imaginative. Deep. A loving brother, never unkind, he would provide a great shoulder to cry on if I wasn't too awed by him to cry. He is a demigod in my eyes, a brilliant genius too awesome to approach with everyday complaints.
I love them both.
This is the lot of the baby sister, I think: to see her older siblings at unattainable heights, to admire and revere them. As we grow into adults, I'm touched by their reciprocal respect for me. I hope to deserve it.
postscript: The house on Linda Avenue, thanks to my mother's diligent attention, was the prettiest restored craftsman on the block when we sold it in 1991. Go, mom!