Sunday, March 22, 2015

How did it get so late so soon?

At the World Center for Birds of Prey, 2007 


His nickname for me was "Spug" or "Little Spug."

When he answered the phone, he'd always say "Hey there, kid!"

When I was born, he had just turned 22 years old. That 22 year age difference always felt like less.

As we got older, I'd always joke that I'd be getting him a cane for his birthday. As I hit 18 and 21 and finally 30, he made the same jokes. He always sent me hilariously mean birthday cards, in his horrible handwriting. I'll never get to actually get him that cane now.

I used to read all of his 1960s-era science fiction books from when he was a kid. They were ridiculous Jetsons-type picture books for the most part. He would tell me the story of the year my grandma, who hadn't yet quit vodka, wrapped up these books (which he already owned) and gave them to him for Christmas.

For Christmas in 1994, I actually got him a lump of coal for Christmas.

I remember sitting on the couch and watching Star Trek: TNG while we ate salads of iceberg lettuce in 1950s-era bowls, which my grandma had pre-salted for us. I remember Whorf. It was my first exposure to Star Trek. I couldn't have been older than 7.

We used to spend hours going through Stephen Biesty's Incredible Cross-Sections (the 747 Jumbo Jet was my all-time favorite) and Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections: Man-Of-War.

We used to study maps together. He always had them around.

Once we took a drive north of Boise, to nowhere in particular. On the way, we saw a bald eagle flying along a river. It was a moment I'll never forget.

He's the one who got me into genealogy, and showed me how I could trace our family back to the Mayflower, the Plantagenets, Charlemagne. He also taught me about our Mormon ancestors, and the Butterfields, including the one who wrote Taps. He taught me the joy of my ancestors.

Some of my favorite memories involve the times he let me watch him play The Red Baron on his computer, and taught me to fly the plane using the joystick. He also helped buy me my first computer in 1991, a 286 that ran DOS, and taught me to play games like Cannons, Arachnophobia, Star Trek, Othello, Monopoly ... I can't thank him enough for this, because soon enough I moved on to SimCity, SimFarm, Carmen Sandiego, and eventually, to writing my first novel in WordPerfect at age 11.

When he and my grandparents came to live on "the farm" in Hillsboro, Oregon, in the early 90s, being closer to him was a huge and awesome benefit. When I was in 8th grade, he would take me to his office and let me use The Internet, which at the time was a brave new world. I would look up X-Files related stuff and print it all on his work printer. I'd print out hundreds of pages.

We'd spend ages and ages in bookstores together. After the age of the book had faded, he bought me my first Kindle, and he and I would make up for being Christmas Slackers by sending each other tons of books after Christmas had passed. I'll never send him a book again.

Once, we went to Powell's City of Books in Portland, and we lost each other. He had me paged over the intercom. I was so endlessly embarrassed. My name! On the speakers!

We always had a lot of things in common. Along with my grandma we formed "the Gemini trifecta," which led me to joke that when we spent time together, "everyone was talking at once and no one listened to each other." The truth was -- we were a really easygoing bunch when we all got together, we told a lot of jokes, we had a lot of wit, and we made sure never to get too serious or emotional. In hindsight, we should have gotten more serious and emotional. 

He introduced me to Jimmy Buffett, who I always gave him a great deal of shit about. He is the reason I went to the Caribbean in February; he loved the Caribbean. His days diving in the Caribbean were in the past, but I always wondered who he was on vacation. Our last conversations happened via text while I was in Mexico; I told him it made me feel closer to him, to be there, knowing it meant so much to him, hoping it would mean something to me, too. And we joked about Margaritaville. I said I would call him to tell him all about the trip. I was supposed to call last week, but I have really bad laryngitis, so I told him I'd call him when I got my voice back. I'll never be able to tell him about my trip. I'll never know who he was on vacation.

When my dad died, he was there for all of us on the awful journey from California to Utah. He was the one who held us all together, even though he'd lost his brother, his best friend. And afterward, we banded together, the young people left behind. He stopped smoking cigarettes, only smoked the occasional cigar, and started trying to take care of himself better. He made his own jerky and his own iced tea.

He showed me Close Encounters of the Third Kind on LaserDisc.

At my LDS baptism, when I was 11, I was so nervous before the ceremony. He was the only one there who was able to calm me down, even making me laugh, by joking that my grandfather resembled the Good Humor ice cream man.

Our status as the night owls of the family was pretty legendary. We'd be up until 2am, and we'd both sleep in until 11 -- that is, until they got the dogs. Then he would get up early with the dogs, and often he'd stop for doughnuts before I got up.

He loved doughnuts. We'd always go to the store together and pick some up. Shhhhhh, it's a secret.

When I was in high school, my parents went on a cruise, and he came to stay with me for a week. He ended up dressing me up in all of his Zulu War items. I can still remember how heavy the helmet was. He let me hold a bayonet that night. Don't tell your mom! 

He and my dad went to see Das Boot: the directors cut in the theater together. I think it was a million hours long, but they were so damn excited. They loved that movie.

He was a lefty, and before a certain age, we'd always sit in the wrong places at the dinner table and spend the meal slamming our elbows into each other.

The last time I visited, he brought me into his local gun shop, and I'm pretty sure he did it just to make me uncomfortable. He thought it was hilarious that I was such a crunchy, granola-eating hippie, and though we'd debate politics regularly, he never made me feel bad about my positions.

When I was a small child, he would baby-sit me, and famously showed me Jaws as a toddler and taught me that we call people we don't like "dildos." Not sure he baby-sat much after that.

He was complicit in the scenario that led to me watching Twin Peaks with my dad when I was 7 years old (only child problems, haha). After that, we'd always talk to each other in Twin Peaks references: "Where pies go when they die"; "The owls are not what they seem"; he used a Twin Peaks mug for the rest of his life. He loved it when I told him that "Every time I see a cookie wrapped in plastic, all I can think of is Laura Palmer!"

He was really good at finding good Chinese restaurants in the middle of suburbia.

A long time ago, he was given a pretty priceless Star Trek item at a convention -- basically, a hand-typed document written before TNG began airing, documenting the scope of the series, who all of the characters were, the style guides, things like that. He gave it to me in 2012.

He never, ever judged me. Ever. Even when the rest of the family felt like they were.

Every time I visited, we'd take the dogs on long walks. We'd talk about Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and I could trust him with information I could never tell my grandparents. He kept my secrets 100% of the time, even when I was living in sin in San Francisco with various boyfriends. He helped me keep them after the web of lies my father constructed about me began to unravel.

He grew up with my father. They were brothers. He was 8 years younger. They had so many stories that only the two of them knew, and they could make each other laugh so hard they couldn't talk. They had wonderful childhoods together. Now they're both gone. How are they both gone?

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And yet. They are both gone. And I think that's all I can say, for now. My heart is broken.



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