by L.T. Fawkes
My big brother Matthew has always been awesome to me. When I think about my life in a certain way, it seems like I’ve spent most of it watching Matthew live his. I’ve always admired his intensity, his flamboyance, his skills . . . I even admire his flaws. Like when you catch him drinking straight out of the two-liter Coke bottle he grins at you like this is the best thing ever and holds the bottle out to you so you can try it.
He’s the closest I’ll ever come to a super hero, but he’s not cocky. Instead of cockiness he’s got a quality . . . I guess you’d have to call it innocence. Most of all, I admire his innocence. Every day the rest of us are tinged by a lot of little corruptions. Not Matthew. Maybe he’s always moving too fast to be tainted that way.
Matthew is only two years older, but when we were kids he always seemed more like an adult than a kid to me. It was the way he was with me. I can remember when we were very small he’d put his hand flat on my back and come close to me and I’d look up into his boy face and he’d say, his brown eyes wide and bright and earnest, “Good job, Nathan. You did it.”
How, if a neighbor kid got a little rough with me, Matthew would give him that steady gaze and say in that even voice he has always, from the time he first learned to speak, used when he’s angry, “That’s my brother you’re pushing around.” And in those rare cases where his mild warning wasn’t enough, he can fight. He’s fearless in a fight. He’s never lost a fight. I doubt he ever will.
Matthew’s magic, perfect, bigger than life. I’m almost his double, only the mold was a little worn when I was cast. I’m slightly less-perfectly shaped, slightly less graceful, my features are a little bit coarse where his are fine.
Where he has an instinct for success, I have to labor. Where he can do everything, I have to be selective. There are some things I just can’t do well, no matter how hard I try.
Since I’m so nearly like Matthew but so obviously not exactly like him, there’ve been those who tried to get between us because they thought I had to be jealous of him, but the fact is, I never have been. That’s because he’s so generous. He’s never had anything or done anything that he wouldn’t share with me, and he’s always shown much more pride in my accomplishments than in his own.
I remember the Homecoming game in high school when I was a sophomore and Matthew was a senior. Matthew had been the quarterback since his own sophomore year and he was a star. He electrified everybody. Even the other teams’ crowds.
I made varsity sophomore year and Matthew and I had tried to convince Coach to put me in some other position so we could both start, but quarterback was the position I’d learned because of all the work Matthew had done with me, so I was second string quarterback. Matthew’s backup.
I didn’t mind running the scrubs at practice and riding the pine during games. Sure, I’d have liked to be playing, but it was so cool watching Matthew. God, but he had style.
So there we were at the Homecoming game, and it was a bruiser, Matthew on the field matching the other team point for point and me on the sidelines watching, when all of a sudden he got popped, blind-sided, and I heard his bone snap from clear over on the sidelines. I got to him before anyone else.
His leg was sticking out at an odd angle and he was holding it, rocking back and forth, his face twisted with pain. The doctor and Coach ran up, and behind them a couple of the guys with a stretcher, and the doctor took one look and sent somebody to tell the EMTs to get the ambulance ready to go and roll down the gurney.
Matthew didn’t want the stretcher. He threw one arm over my shoulder and one over Coach’s and we carried him off the field. All the way to the sideline he talked in my ear.
“It’s yours now, Nate. 86 can’t beat Willis on a long pass. They’re weak on the left. 15 thinks he’s a one-man blitz. Remind Pecarek every play to keep 15 off your back . . . ”
Coach said, “He’ll do fine, Matthew.”
All I remember saying is, “God, Matthew. Your leg’s broken.
We put him on the bench. He wouldn’t lie down to wait for the EMTs to bring the gurney. Coach started telling me the next play when all I wanted to do was stay by Matthew. The EMTs came running down the hill and Coach told me to put on my helmet.
Then I heard Matthew say, “I’m not leaving ‘til the game’s over.”
By that time our mom and dad were down out of the stands and for a minute everybody was talking at once. Then Matthew said in that even voice that nobody argued with, “Tell that guy to turn off his gumball. I’m going to watch Nathan blow them off the field.”
Coach and the doctor looked at our dad, leaving it to him to talk some sense into Matthew but our dad knew how things were. He said, “It’s Matthew’s call. If he wants to stay, he stays.”
That was that. Matthew sat on the bench until the end of the game. His face got paler and pastier and he was grinding his teeth because of the pain but he stayed.
At the top of the fourth quarter there was a bad call against me and Matthew got so mad he would have jumped off the bench except our dad had his hands on his shoulders and held him down.
In the middle of the fourth the play was supposed to be a shovel pass but I saw the safeties were up and in so I told Willis to run a post and I told the guys to keep ‘em off me because we were going long. I said, “This one’s for Matthew.
I threw the bomb and while the ball was in the air I heard Matthew yell, “What a pass. Look at that kid throw that ball.”
We got the touchdown to tie, missed the extra point, recovered a fumble on the kickoff and scored on a field goal to win.
Matthew was swaying and the doctor had told our dad he was concerned Matthew could go into shock, but he wouldn’t let them take him until I came off the field. They had him strapped onto the gurney and were ready to roll him up to the ambulance.
I came up beside him and he reached for my hand. He said through clenched teeth, “You schooled ‘em, buddy.
As the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance he said, “Ride with me, huh, Nate?”
I climbed in and sat down beside the gurney. Our mom and dad went to get their car. The EMT pulled the door closed and the air suddenly smelled like sweaty football players. The EMT climbed in over me and started organizing his equipment. I felt helpless and tried not to cry.
Matthew looked up at me. The ambulance started moving and the driver turned on the siren.
Matthew said “I’m a little scared Nate. I’m glad you’re here.
I pushed some of his wet black hair off his forehead.
No, I’ve never been jealous of Matthew. He’s my big brother.