Time is sort. In two days, I'll be joining my brother in Phoenix. On Tuesday he faces the first of two surgeries; the second happens on Wednesday. Even if all goes according to plan, my brother's life will be forever changed in a few short days.
I don't talk about Aaron much on this blog. Which is sad because he has been one of the biggest parts of my life. Growing up, he played three roles in my life: big brother, bodyguard, and best friend. I went to his graduation party. His friends had accepted me as their friends. We went to concerts an hockey games together. He got married a few days after my high school graduation and I stood beside him as his wife walked down the isle. But I moved to Boise and he moved to Cheyenne. It's been a dozen years since we lived within minutes of each other. Time and distance has changed our relationship, but it hasn't diminished the love between us.
To be honest, this next week scares the crap out of me. Cancer took my grandpa and I don't want to see it take my brother.
But not to get all somber on you. Some of my best memories are experiences with Aaron. He might not remember these stories, but I do. And they are some of my favorites. These remembrances make me smile and I hope they do the same for you.
By the time I entered kindergarten, Aaron was deemed old enough (he was in 5th grade) to escort me to soccer practice. So he rode his bike as I walked the mile to Liberty Elementary and sat in waiting for my team's practice to end. This was the highlight of my week as I was at the age where Aaron was the coolest person in the world. Only a year earlier, I had killed off his goldfish while he was at summer camp so I was happy he was willing to hang out with me.
After one of those practices, one of my teammates asked me about him. "Is that your dad?"
That would not be the first time someone would mistake him for my father.
One of the other occasions happened at a Nazarene youth event. I was in seventh grade and it was his senior year of high school. It was the one and only year that we were both in the youth group together.
Another church was hosting a concert and teens from dozens of churches across the district gathered for the show. I bumped into a friend that I knew from summer camp. He attended a different church so he didn't know my family.
The church was quiet in the minutes before the show; my brother interpreted the silence as boredom and decided to spice up the atmosphere. Aaron was always a little more daring than I and had no problems purposefully humiliating himself in public.
He and his friend Erik walked to the front of the church sanctuary. They split up - each taking a side of the room. Once they held their positions in front of the stage, Aaron shouted, "Tastes great!" To which Erik shouted the response, "Less Filling!"
They repeated this process until the rest of audience was engaged in the call and response - following the leader standing on their half of the sanctuary. The tagline of a beer commercial chanted in a Nazarene church. Erik and Aaron eventually returned to their seats. I spent most of the show sitting with my brother and when it was over, my friend from camp came up to me and told me, "I wish my dad was as cool as your dad."
"My dad isn't here." I said.
"Oh," he said. "Then who's that?" He was pointing at Aaron.
The Saltbox Tour came through Seattle and Aaron was a big fan of the heal\dlining band - Petra. This was a show that he had to see. He and I were both fans of the two opening bands - Johnny Q Public and Grammatrain. When the doors opened, we were among the first people to flood the floor of the Mercer Arena. We found a pair of seats five rows from the stage.
Grammatrain put on a fabulous show and Johnny Q came on stage after a quick set change. They played a few songs - Aaron and I knew the words to all of them. But we wanted to hear our favorite song: Scream. The had one more song to play and vocalist Dan Fritz began a brief monologue. The whole time he was talking, Aaron and I were shouting, "Scream. Scream." Over and over again. From what Fritz was saying, it sounded like he was introducing their cover of Bob Dylan's Serve Somebody, but we kept shouting our song request. Fritz changed his mind at the last moment. Instead of saying, "Sometimes, you gotta Serve Somebody," he said, "Sometimes, you just gotta Scream." Aaron and I went crazy as their guitarists quickly changed the settings on their effects pedals and started playing the opening riff of our favorite Johnny Q song.
Aaron took me to my first real rock concert as a gift for my 15th birthday. It was the Hardcore '94 tour - Blenderhead and Crashdog with a couple other bands.
The show was in an all ages venue tucked into the backroom of a dive bar off Alaskan Way on the Seattle waterfront. We had to walk through the bar to get to the standing room only concert hall. My eyes were wide open in awe as we passed through. Piercings and tattoos and blue hair everywhere. The performance room was not much different than the clientele in the bar. Ratty leather jackets. Chains. Sewn on Bad Brains and Op Ivy patches. Razor blade necklaces. I went to school with a couple of punk rockers, but I'd never seen such a large mass of hardcore kids in one place.
Aaron and I stood in the back against the wall. The bar's owner came onto the stage and explained some guidelines to the crowd. Moshing was allowed. So was crowd surfing. He didn't care if anyone climbed on stage to dive into the crowd. "But if anyone hits the floor," he said, "the show's over."
The first band came onto the stage and filled that room with screaming and distortion. Aaron and I sat back and watched as the most brutal mosh pit unfolded in front of us. In the years since, I've seen many mosh pits - but as violent as that one.
Unfortunately, I got nauseous that night. After the third of four bands played I could no longer stand. Instead of making me sit through the last set, Aaron sacrificed his enjoyment to leave early and take me home.
We didn't drive straight back to Marysville though. We stopped at Dick's on the way, which was a traditional stop for us anytime that we were in Seattle.
Our hometown had an annual shindig every summer: The Strawberry Festival. Trike races, talent show, pageant, parade, car show, vendor's market, etc. Because of this festival, Aaron loathes strawberries and shudders at the thought of eating that red fruit. Aaron and I, along with our dad, spent a few years as volunteer staff for the festival. We ran the vendor's market in Comeford Park and worked as parade security.
It was a few exhausting days starting on Thursday, working sunrise to midnight Friday and Saturday, then staying through cleanup on Sunday after the last vendor left. But there were perks. We met many wonderful crafts people and the food vendors often gave us freebies. And we usually received free carnival tickets as a thank you for our labor.
After one late night, we stopped at the Taco Bell a block north of the park before heading home. Aaron and I climbed into a car with two mutual friends and parked in the drive through. We explained that we would be placing four separate orders and each of the four of us placed special orders. Small drinks with no ice or large drinks with extra ice. Taco pizzas with no meat and extra guacamole. Tacos with no tomatoes and extra cheese. Tacos with no cheese and extra tomatoes. We sat in that drive through long enough that the car behind us shut off their engine. That car finally got tired of waiting, started their car up and put it into reverse. Just as they started to back up, we paid for and received the fourth of our four orders and drove away.
In the summer of 96, Aaron and I took one of the most ill fated road trips in human history. Aaron was still driving his first car - a Ford Lemon if memory serves me correctly. Our mom had flown out to Cheyenne stay with her parents for Frontier Days so we drove out to join her, determined to roll into the town of cowboys with gangster rap blasting from the car speakers.
The trip started well. As we started east on I-90, we kept a log of the amount and identity of each piece of roadkill strewn along side the freeway. We tore through Eastern Washington with a brief stop in Ellensburg. Once through Coeur d'Alene, he turned I-90 into a racetrack and straightened out every curve of the road as we rushed up into the Silver Valley. The original plan was to drive straight through to Chyenne, but by the time we reached Billings, Aaron was too tired to continue driving so he paid for a hotel room and we crashed for the night.
Billings was the first mishap in a long string of failures. In the morning, Aaron couldn't find his keys. I accidentally locked them in the car the night before.
After a Billings police officer helped us break into Aaron's car, we continued our journey. We drove the rest of the way with only one stop for gas.
The time we spent in Cheyenne was decent. We were offered tickets to go see Garth Brooks or some other big name country star. We would have gone, but mom wouldn't let us because she knew that we both hated country music and the only reason we wanted to go was so that we could start a mosh pit.
We spent a few days with Grandma and Grandpa Budd. Visited a few of the cousins. Enjoyed a few of the Frontier Days events. We left town taking I-80 west instead of returning the way we came.
We stopped in Meridian and stayed with a family that had gone to college with our dad. When we woke up the next morning, news of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics was all over the news. We still had to get home, so stunned from the news we continued our westward trek.
The drive didn't last long. As we passed Caldwell, Aaron's car started making worrisome noises. Something popped and steam poured from under the hood. We rolled off the freeway at the next exit and the car sputtered to a stop at a no-name town south of Fruitland. Lucky for us, the place where the car died was a mechanic's shop. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of mechanic that had the parts needed to get Aaron's car road-worthy. He made a mickey-mouse fix that would make the car functional - but only for a short distance. The mechanic told us that the quick fix would not hold out long enough for us to reach home. We had to stop in Ontario for a real mechanic that had the parts we needed.
If you've ever been to Ontario, you'd know that it's a hot mess of a town. Even with directions to the better mechanic, we got lost. Once there, we had to wait for the repairs to be completed. And then we got lost again trying to find the freeway.
But the car was back into a healthy driving condition so it was nothing but open road between us and Seattle traffic. Except for one more hitch. As we crossed the Columbia river into Washington, Aaron sped up to make up for lost time. He was clocked doing 96 MPH by a police airplane. The airborne speed trap dispatched a state trooper who handed Aaron a hefty speeding ticket.
Yet with all that went wrong, that was one of the best vacations I ever endured.
Through those times, we never knew where life would bring us. We never imagined the doors that God would open for us. The trials that faced us. Or the joys we'd find in our kids. And we never anticipated that our lives would bring us to a hospital in Phoenix and the unknowns that lay beyond the next few days.
If I could ask one thing, please keep my brother and his family in your prayers through these next few weeks.