You probably don’t know that there are two of us Myers boys. Well, three, actually, but the youngest is like 8 years different in age, and belongs in the “kid brother” category, so I’m not writing about him this time. Also, my mother went into labor with him while we were out at the El Rancho drive-in theater, and I never have seen the end of that movie. The movie: Children of the Damned. My parents named him Michael Myers. There were omens galore which he never managed to fulfill, a good thing I guess, and he grew up to be a decent human being and father.
My other brother is Jim, James Clayton Myers Jr. in full, and he was born a little over a year after me. I have no memories of a time without Jim around, and since we weren’t particularly rich, I shared a room with him throughout my entire childhood and youth. Jim and I were buddies, pals, partners in crime, an inseparable team, and we did almost everything together. It’s not like we were twins, though, we were clearly different: I was the morose bookworm, Jim was the redhead with the goony grin. I was the one with the black sense of humor, Jim was more the wry and dry wit, taking after our father.
We were “the boys”. My sisters were “the girls”. We were package deals; when we were farmed out to visit relatives, Jim and I were always one pair, Caryn and Tomi were another, and I can’t recall a time when I spent the night with my grandparents alone. I didn’t mind, Jim and I had a blissfully comfortable relationship. While I sometimes (often?) bickered with my sisters, never with Jim. We were collaborators, an interessengemeinschaft working our way through childhood together.
It was a good childhood, too. Some of my happiest moments have Jim at my side. There were those Friday nights we’d stay with my Uncle Ed and grandmother, Ed taking us out to buy a stack of comic books, and we’d sprawl out on the living room, swapping issues back and forth, waiting for the late night Creature Features to start. Grandma would work quietly on her crossword puzzles and bail out long before the good shows started, and while Ed professed a desire to stay up late, too, he always passed out on the sofa early. What I remember of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff was that they always shared their dialog with loud snores from the couch.
We weren’t always lounging about lazily. We had bikes. We had parents who let us roam freely. Our kingdom stretched from Southcenter to Auburn, and Federal Way to Covington. On a whim, on a Saturday or Sunday, or all summer long, we’d mount up and decide to, say, pedal to Auburn 6 miles away to get a can of cream soda. Or charge laboriously up to East Hill (we lived at the bottom of a narrow valley, so everything east and west was basically bicycle mountaineering) so we could see how fast we could go coming down. We were idiots.
Our most common trip would be going out Green River Road, which naturally enough parallels the Green River, and we’d find a likely spot and go wading. We’d collect hellgrammites, which we’d winkle out of their shell and use for bait, or we’d gather crawdads — buckets of crawdads — to bring home for a boil. Our father was appreciative of that.
We went fishing with our dad, both in the Green and on charter boats on the coast. Oddly enough, a difference between the two of us was that I always loved seafood, but Jim is a picky eater, and never touched the stuff. He also had a wobbly stomach, and would get seasick on the boats, and couldn’t bear the sight of blood. I teased him for years about the time we caught a beautiful 15 pound steelhead, Dad let me carry it back to the car, fish blood was running from the gills all over my hand, and Jim puked all over Dad’s tackle box. I didn’t appreciate then that it was really just a symptom of a gentle and empathetic soul, and that maybe I was being callous about an animal’s death.
Our last grand adventure was the summer after I graduated from high school. My parents’ present to me was to loan me the family station wagon for a week, and let me drive off and explore. Of course Jim and I went together. Why wouldn’t I want my brother to come along?
We circumnavigated one of my favorite places on Earth, the Olympic Peninsula. It was raining and gray the whole time, which was delightful. We car-camped along the Hoh River, long cool nights with fat water drops rolling off the cedar trees and smacking hard onto the car roof. We made the long hike from Ozette to Cape Alava and down along the coast to Sand Point and back again. It rained the whole time. The archaeological excavation was a damp gray mud pit. There was a threat of bears all along the forest walk. The coastal hike was treacherous, requiring that you keep track of the time and tides to avoid getting caught. It was exhausting for a couple of casual day-trippers. It was great! I wish we could do it again, but no, nevermore.
That trip was a hard punctuation mark on our youth. That Fall, I flew off to college. A year later, Jim joined the army for a brief stint. The fellowship was broken.
We weren’t saddened by it — I think there has been and always will be a deep trust in each other. I’m his brother. He’s my brother. I’ve always felt like we could embark on another adventure together, any time. We just put it off and put it off, and now we’re a couple of old geezers who’d probably be wheezing if we tried to ride a bike around the block, let alone do a 9 mile hike through a soggy wilderness. We were just doing some solo side quests with our life for a little while…like 40 or 50 years.
I did the predictable thing and went off on a peripatetic academic journey, married my high school sweetheart, had a few lovely children. Jim also met a girl, Karen, who was bashful and sweet as peach pie, and reminded me so much of Jim. They were a perfect match, doted on each other, and married and had 3 sweet kids, Rachael, Charlie, and Evan. They settled in Southwestern Washington state, making me jealous, living near the ocean and the legendary PNW forests.
He had to be the surprising one, though: he became a commercial fisherman! Now I feel silly for teasing him. He still doesn’t like seafood, but he was out there in the North Pacific, braving the ferocious storms, all to bring home crab for the rest of us. There’s a strength there I wasn’t aware of even after living cheek by jowl with him for almost 20 years.
He needed that strength, though. Karen acquired a nasty melanoma, requiring years of cancer treatment and surgeries. She had an arm amputated. It was a long slow struggle, but when I saw her in those last years, she was still able to laugh and she and Jim were still in a loving relationship. And then she died.
Jim was devastated. I can’t even imagine coping if I were in a similar situation.
And then, another surprise. A few years later, he found Julie, and he remarried. She was another delightful person, outgoing and full of laughter, active in her church, and devoted to Jim, and he was so grateful for her.
She had her own needs, though. She suffered from depression, and was also terrified that anything would happen to Jim. One terrible day, Jim hadn’t been feeling well, and went to the doctor to get checked out, leaving Julie at home alone. The doctor found the worst: he had prostate cancer. Before he could get home, Julie, frightened by the news and not wanting to face the loss of her husband, killed herself.
No. Not my brother. Not the people he loved. He is a good man, he lived a good life, and now, in our twilight years, he is struck by tragedy after tragedy. If I believed in a god, I would think that god has been bargaining with the devil again and is afflicting a modern day Job.
I saw Jim last year. We stayed at his house for a day, and it is a lovely place, nestled in a bit of isolated forest near Grays Harbor. His obsession is tractors, probably a bit of a more popular choice than spiders, and his hobby was clearing trails through the overgrown woods to make his plot of land more accessible. He let my granddaughter drive the tractor for a bit, and she was thrilled. He was quiet and still had his muted sense of humor about it all.
He sent me a hat, to show that we still had a lot in common.
He is the stronger of the two of us.
He is in decline from the cancer right now. He can’t walk. He’s in pain, and is receiving palliative care. His kids are taking turns taking care of him — they are good people, too — but we heard from his daughter this week that he’s too exhausted to receive visitors or answer the phone.
We had our last conversation last week. His voice was reedy and strained, but he still has all his wits about him. He said he had regrets, that he worried that he may have hurt people’s feelings with his sense of humor. I assured him that no, he was not an unkind person, and everyone knew it, witness the wonderful women who had been his partners. They knew a good man, a kind and respectful man, when they met him.
He laughed and said he was just the luckiest person in the world.
We’re reduced to texting now and then, when he feels energetic enough. I wrote to him in my formal, stilted, academic style, and I feel terrible that I can’t just say what I feel, the appreciation and regard that I have for him.
I am not demonstrative in my affections, and I’m sitting here feeling guilty because I don’t think that I ever said that I love you, not once in my entire life. I want you to know that I do, that you’ve been an important part of my life, and I can’t imagine a world without you. It’s too late to tell you how if feel, I know.
You are my oldest friend, my good brother. I wish I could see you again.
He replied this morning.
Not everything needs to be said but it’s understood
I really must stop crying now.