26 June 2013


I got to hang out with my brother the other day. For most people, hanging out with a sibling is a normal occurrence and typically does not deserve any sort of abnormal attention. For my brother and me, however, this was a rare occasion.

Growing up, my brother and I hated each other – and I mean we HAAAATED each other! We fought and yelled and pinched and hit and cried and screamed and bled and I, to this day, still apologize to my mother for all of the stress that we caused. We were awful kids.

Two years and three days separated us; I am now 30 and Josh is 28. We have both emerged from the large city of Tampa, Florida, the suburban Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and small town of Salem, Ohio, to travel the world. Ten years ago my brother joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He left home as a troubled teen with no motivation, a very short temper and absolutely no thought for consequences to any action.

In a structured environment where orders were always followed, my brother went from being a scattered, Attention Deficit Hyperactive kid to a thoughtful, orderly, man who now wants to care for his family and literally repay his mother for the damage he caused throughout those 18 years.

We haven’t seen each other much in the last decade. When we did see each other, typically over holidays, we weren’t always nice to each other. I continued to play the big sister / I-am-another-mother-to-you role by lecturing him about any misjudgments.

Yesterday was weird for us. We hung out. We talked. We didn’t argue or get angry at one another. We had a family outing and we paid without fighting over who was going to pay for what.

I was excited to see my brother for the first time in just over two and a half years but I also had a bit of a cautious mind. Someone recently had asked about my relationship with my brother and I admitted that we didn’t really have one. We talk a few times a year, usually over some sort of instant messenger or e-mail. We only see each other once every few years and we never fully get along.

When I picked up my brother Monday, I was not surprised he was still sleeping. I mean, we arranged a time, I gave him an extra 15 minutes and I called him to say I was on my way. “Have you showered?” I asked. “No.” Yeah…same kid. “Go ahead. I’ll wait,” I said and I plopped myself on the living room couch.

We drove back into Salem and made our first stop at the best coffee shop in town to see the owners, who have a great admiration for my brother. They opened the shop just before he enrolled in the military and they have watched him grow just like the rest of us. They were excited to know he was coming to town. They were also MIA when we arrived.

We got some coffee anyway and chatted for a little while before walking around town. Throughout the day I just kept looking at my brother. He sounded differently, both the deep, scratchy tone in his voice and the language that he used – words about planning for his future, career paths, being scared of civilian life.

He looked a bit different, too. He had the same muscular physique that he had obtained while in the military but his facial features were more angular and he looked older than I remembered. His persona and his quirks were still apparent but I thought to myself:

My little brother is a man. This is weird.

Josh has about a month left in the military. After 10 years, he is about to be done and he has no idea what he is going to do. He does have a few ideas for college and he has an interest in an area police unit but he has not yet taken any steps to pursue any of his four defined options.

At 28, my brother will be learning how to find a place to live, budget, pay rent and expenses, shop for groceries and obtain a drivers license, which he never needed because he was stationed overseas for most of his 10 years.

“I’m really scared,” he confessed. “I am going to lose the structure and I don’t know how I am going to function in civilian life.” Hearing him say those words broke my heart and, at the same time, made me proud because I heard him say out loud the fears that have been in my mind for so long. The military provided a way for him to succeed. He became a leader and a teacher. He had a reporting structure and consequences for his actions, both good and bad. He had meals provided and a solid abode, though not the prettiest.

Because of my brother’s behavioral and learning disabilities, he needed firm structure and discipline in order to succeed and he found that in the Corps. Now that the Corps is no longer an option, he is craving some sort of structure. Once out of the military, he would be on his own. We hope to find an organization specializing in assisting troops assimilate. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, please post them in the comments below.

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