I originally wanted to say that my tale of love began in August of 2013, just three weeks before I arrived, unpacked, got my room key, and met my floormates at Georgetown. However, it would be wrong to start my narrative at that point, because all that transpired a few weeks prior to my NSO experience was actually the result of something much larger than anybody could imagine. This story actually began on July 22, 1996, the day my brother Joseph Elone was born.
Well, that isn’t exactly true either. We all know that the first few years of our lives only exist as memories looked at through an opaque window; sometimes we can see small glimmers of particular, disconnected events, while a majority of our earlier years fade out with the grace of a falling leaf that blows just beyond our grasp. We can see its general form, and maybe even spot what type of leaf it is for a split second, but it falls and disappears before we ever have a chance to examine it, explore its veins, petiole, or tips. Therefore, even though my story begins with Joe’s birth, it’s best to move forward in time to my middle school years, when I was in eighth grade and my brother in seventh.
It was a sunny, upstate New York spring day and my brother and I walked back home, neither of us speaking. I was a timid, skinny child, making me a perfect target for the traumatic abuses of uncontrollable middle school children. That day I had been called everything from “f-g” to “n----r,” and I left school dazed and unsure of my race, sexuality, and sense of self. My brother was different; he was big-boned, so nobody ever wanted to fight him, but they would still call him “fat ass” and make other references to his weight, which put him in an equally bad mood.
That night we did our homework and ate dinner silently with our parents. Afterwards, we went to our room and both sat down on our beds, reimagining the horrors of being made fun of for things that we had no control over. The tears began to flow from both our eyes, and we saw for the first time that day how depressed the other was feeling. No words were needed; we got out of bed and gripped each other in a tight bear hug, forgetting the world and its miseries while helping each other pick up the pieces inside of us that had been broken. We decided to play each other in “Call of Duty” and “Gears of War” on our Xbox to make us feel better, but we both seemed to know that it was the hug that truly began the healing that both of us so dearly needed.
For the rest of middle school and most of high school, we pushed and motivated each other to improve ourselves, forming a brotherly bond that no other amount of love could transcend. Joe picked up weightlifting, striving to sculpt his body like an Olympic strongman. I chose to run track and field while also doing a bit of weightlifting of my own to add muscle to my frame. Once my brother began playing guitar, aspiring to start his own rock band, I too decided to pick it up, envious of Joe’s growing talent. I played folk music, and sometimes we both would test each other by doing improvisational sessions in our room. During this point in our lives, we would both help one another when needed, increasing our sense of self-esteem while becoming the closest friends that either of us ever had.
One day, in late June of 2013, only a couple of months before I left for college, my brother was sitting on the front steps, looking out at the street and listening to music. I saw him and sat next to him, telling him how happy I was that the school year was over. He agreed, and we talked for some length about our professors, classmates, and friends. In the midst of our conversation, however, my brother took off his headphones, placed a hand on my shoulder, and looked directly into my face. He said two sentences, “I’m proud of you, bro. Thanks for being the best brother ever,” but at that moment, for a split second, I never felt more proud and honored. It was a feeling that most only have once in their lifetimes, yet makes their entire life worth living.
Two months later, on my mother’s birthday, my brother collapsed in front of those same steps, and died later that night from an infection.
I guess one can argue that this is more a tale of loss than of love, but I disagree. My brother was the closest person in my life, and even in death he continues to stand by me. And so, every time I see my brother in my dreams, hear a song that we used to play on the guitar together, or hear young children talking about the new “Call of Duty” game, I am thankful for the life that I have been given, thankful to have had Joe in my life if only for a short time, and thankful that I did not fail him as a brother. Joe, through his life, showed me that we are our memories, leaves falling through space to whatever is at the bottom, good or bad. But there’s no need to fret, for so long as we have another leaf near us that gives us joy, if only for a second, then there is no need to worry about hitting the ground, since that is where we will be with our loved ones, and I with Joe, for eternity.