My brother’s birthday
by Donald K. Sanders
September 8 is my brother’s birthday. Michael is in his 62nd year, so he’s not a young cadet. During his life, he has been many things to me; sacred things. He has been my best friend for my entire life, through thick and thin. Until he met his wife, Anna, we had nothing else to call our own. Anna gave him stability, love, and children, lovely children.
Anna gave me love as well when she introduced me to Therese, the girl that was to be my wife and, in time, would give me children. So, at the beginning, there was the four of us. Some might say that there was the two of them and the two of us. What I mean is, the two of them, our wives, were sober, honest, and God-fearing. They were as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar.
It was quite different for the two of us, Michael and I. When we met these two women, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to either one of us. I can tell you right now that things would have been very different for us if we hadn’t met them. We would probably be dead or living in a dumpster without them. They saved our lives.
My brother and I, were born in Tennessee, in the middle of the last century, a time when things were popping in this country. There was the struggle for human rights and a holy man named King, who brought us the teachings of Gandhi. The Korean War was going full bore and Elvis was just becoming aware of his potential. Popping.
I can remember almost all of Michael’s birthdays — that’s how much we have been together. The few of his birthdays that I don’t remember was a time of great worry for me because I was not with him. I could not watch over him to keep him out of harm.
I remember Michael holding on to my Mother’s leg as she tried to get out the door of the orphanage where she would leave us. Michael was screaming, “Take me with you, take me with you.” All I could do was watch him suffer until we were separated to different parts of the orphanage. That year, I missed his birthday, and the next, and the next. I don’t really know how many I missed, because I don’t remember how long we were in that place.
We were with our mother in our late teens, at East Peoria Community High School. We were both two years older than our classmates and somewhat more rough around the edges. In his freshman year, Michael threw an M-80 in the toilet at school. He threw it in, flushed the toilet, and blew it right off the floor, flooding the bathroom.
He was thrown out of high school in his first month there. This explains why he was a Marine in Vietnam when he was 16 years old. I missed his 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th, and 21st birthdays, partially because after high school, I went to Vietnam to get him and bring him home. Within a week of my arrival, in country, he was shipped out stateside because you cannot, by law, have two brothers in a combat zone unless they both sign a waiver. Michael did not sign the waiver.
The next time Michael and I saw each other, we were not the same people we were before. We were harder and more solitary. We looked at each other differently. He had lines in his face that weren’t there before. He was a heavy drinker, a habit I would soon pick up as well. I was very lucky in that at a certain point, I would get sick and start throwing up.
Michael wasn’t that lucky because he could drink straight whiskey all night, drink after drink. Soon we were doing drugs and chasing women. It didn’t seem to matter if the women were someone else’s, we’d chase them anyway. We didn’t care — who’s going to mess with a couple of drugged-up Vietnam vets. More than once people have shoved guns and sawed-off shotguns in my face for that very reason.
I moved to California to get away from all of that and maybe to get a fresh start. Michael soon followed. Our professional life was better than average and we worked on many high-rise buildings in San Francisco and freeway bridges throughout the state. Other than our families, these buildings and bridges are all there is to know we were here on this Earth.
The booze and the drugs were always with us and as I look back on my life now, I can see what a waste it is. The money we spent on drugs and booze might have gone a long way if used for our families. It’s too bad I can’t take back the time — things would be a lot different.
So as I say “Happy Birthday to my brother Michael,” all I can say to you is what I know is true, “A life free of dope and booze is a good life.” One day you will be as old as my brother and I, and you will know that the words I speak are true.
Happy birthday, Michael.