Brother To Both
During our years that had not yet passed the single digits, my older brother Peter and I shared a tiny bedroom adjoined to our parents’ bedroom. It was about the size of a moving van. The woodwork was painted white with green trim. The Playmobil toy company released a tractor in the 1980’s that was this exact green. Either Pete or I received this tractor as a birthday present while we were vacationing on Wingaersheek Beach in Massachusetts. I realize I will alienate some with the German toy reference, and thus demolish this bit of description. A “John Deere green” will suffice. Our six-drawer dresser and even the window latches were glazed with this same color combination. Our beds were separated by four feet of savage, untamed shag jungle, our common room. There was a nightstand that looked like a 1960’s funny car, the kind those inconspicuous Munsters drove, with wooden legs where wheels would be. A lamp fabricated from a fire engine-red lantern always sat atop the funny car’s roof, illuminating the vast nine feet by twelve feet cavern. The walls were printed with floral wallpaper, small, white, belled flowers with large flame-shaped leaves. During my moments in space, one pattern in the paper resembled a caveman. The flowers arched to form the crown of a head, while one of the leaves clothed him in animal hide. I wonder if Pete ever saw the same Neanderthal in the foliage. Upon entering, one could only assume it was a child’s room. No one should ever paint a room that way for any other reason.
It was in this room that our mother so gently whispered in my drowsy, early morning ear, that we had “lost Dad.” My brother was sleeping four feet away. I am glad he was there.
Unavoidable in nature, Pete and I did indeed grow older. We graduated from the moving van (thank Christ), and traveled down the hall to a larger room. It was within these walls that we became separate people. We shared these luxury accommodations until Pete went to college, and during the summer months until I went to college. We were paving the road to adulthood in our grown-up lair of blue, green, and maroon stripes and antique furniture. Our beds were positioned foot to foot, and had an echoing canyon between them in comparison, a real man’s room. Luckily, the canyon was not too intimidating that we could not giggle and snicker ourselves to sleep. We clocked a good deal of mileage out of our elementary school music teacher. He lived in an apartment in the Bronx, I believe, with his mother. He was quite fond of donning a matching denim wardrobe, complete with denim communist laborer-type cap. But could he play the recorder! He tore up that basement classroom like some kind of hetero-questionable minstrel. There are worse ways in which to fall asleep than mid-snicker. We giggle and snicker to this day.
As we each were becoming more defined, our differences began to manifest. Pete was always the more conscientious student. I would stroll into the room at about eight o’clock pm, retire on my bed, and more often than not, curled in a nest of loose leaf paper and poorly functioning erasable pens, be asleep by eleven o’clock. If V, starring Mark Singer and Michael Ironsides, was on the television that night, equations went dry and The Tudor’s bloodline stopped dead in its tracks. There is a great episode in which Diana, the lieutenant of the alien species, eats a guinea pig. I was always in strong admiration of Pete’s academic prowess. He probably thought the opposite. I had a penchant, in those days of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, for allowing my temper to get the better of me. Throwing selected objects against walls was the chosen purge. My preferred ordinance: books and replica cap-firing weapons. Books’ pages flutter and flap when the bindings to which they are anchored are hurled through the air. The sound of a frantic rush of air through hundreds of sheets of paper is quite satisfying. I merely wanted to illustrate the miracle of flight, you see. Cap guns of that period were incredibly realistic. Always black and to scale, with only the smallest red plug in the barrel to indicate its non-function as a firearm. Many boasted removable magazines as well. What great toys for children. My brother and I had a small arsenal. They were well manufactured with a considerable metal content, providing me with top-notch projectiles. My gaskets would rupture over the standard teenage angst: grades, SAT’s, and the all-consuming inadequate time allowed with my friends. I attribute my juvenile anger to the molting of an emotional and passionate individual. I never saw Pete replace a fuse, his head hung in shame. I was often dreadfully embarrassed. A grumbling grizzly bear smashing its way into our room, its great paws flailing, an oaf in the presence of grace. He didn’t seem to have any adversaries to combat. How?! We were different. I felt leagues from him.
We were twins in a tapestry, woven from closeness in age and years of residing under the same roof. The mummy has snagged a bandage and is unraveling as he walks away. However, there was still a bond, albeit a rare one, in our theatrical endeavors. Because of our two-year age difference, we acted in a total of two high school performances together, infrequent, but prized by me. The Laughathon (I know) was a cabaret of improvisation and stand-up comedy. I was a member of the improv troupe, while Pete delivered stand-up. My brother can tear up a morgue. When he was a senior and I a sophomore, he was cast as Joseph and I as Joseph’s brother Issachar in that wondrous “technicolor dream coat” epic. We had a talking Styrofoam Sphinx head and Phillip Knorn, a German exchange student that sang a western ditty. If, for a moment, we peel back my sarcasm, a silver second will be revealed to which, to this day, I can transport myself. Joseph and his brothers engage in some sort of celebratory welcome. There are numerous embraces and awkward back pats. Due to the scene’s improvisational, rather frantic blocking, Pete and I never exchanged even a glance. We couldn’t physically get to each other. During one rehearsal, we did. Timing prevailed through the mass of teenage thespians, and my brother, in fiction and in life, took me in his arms. Perhaps it was partly our seeking of “the moment,” as acting teachers will chime, but it has left residual emotion. He might not even remember. We weren’t afraid to cross mediums, either. Recently resurrected from the cumbersome corpses of camcorders, a motley cast has had the pleasure of viewing its work in an archive of previously unreleased home filmmaking. Pete has a collection of very talented friends who are funny as hell. I, the younger brother, was lucky enough to clamber in the footprints of these titans. These filming sessions were important to me. I daydream about working with Pete one day on some creative something. It was the subject of a drunken telephone message I once left him.
Pete soon left for college. This provided a geographic distance between us, yes, but also a necessary separation, which induces growth. As I continued the latter portion of my high school career in flannel shirts and camouflaged army pants, Pete’s hair grew passed his shoulders within the gothic walls of Yale University. We would see each other on holidays and during summer hours, but these days are no longer fresh in my memory. I can only recall glimpses.
My senior year of high school was particularly turbulent. A dear comrade of mine, whose older brother was a friend of my older brother, decided he had had enough, and took his own life. That is a tale that requires a tome all its own. At one of the wakes, Pete and I met at a moment, he gripped me around the shoulders, and we wept. O, we wept. I wept in his arms, and he in mine. The mummy will never fully diminish into a cloud of ancient dust and a jumble of brittle bandages.
It was a thrill for me, during my last days at Pelham Memorial High School and my first at New York University, to travel to Yale to see my brother perform. Damn that’s a beautiful school. Whether it was improv, Durang, or Shepard (he was in The Right Stuff, you know), there was this tall, polite, well-spoken gentleman I kept running into. He was a fellow improvisationalist of my brother’s, and had once created a rather jarring prosthetic on Pete’s back for one play. Met him often, I did. David Charles Scarpelli was his name. If my memory is true, they both came to visit me at college. We sat in my dorm room in the West Village and discussed cockroaches. I liked him, my brother’s friend.
I took my leave from N.Y.U after three years as an acting major, and moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn with my girlfriend at the time. This was 1995. I was somewhat of a mystery to friends and family at this time. My friends that were my age had a remaining year of school, and I was living in a cave (again) with two cats, and later one of those cats’ six kittens. The kittens slept in a big pile, intensely adorable. I wanted to work, and live. I was, however, planning a sojourn west to San Francisco to visit Pete and his roommate, D.C. Scarpelli. This was, perhaps, 1997. I was employed at a comic book store in Manhattan’s East Village. I worked until one o’clock in the morning, and nestled myself next to my girlfriend by two o’clock. Yes, there are a few dedicated fucks who do buy comics at that hour. My brother and I had a telephone conversation to finalize my travel plans. I remember this call having taken place at around eight o’clock am Eastern Standard, but that would make it five o’clock on the West Coast. I doubt my recall. My girlfriend and I would fly to Los Angeles and rendezvous with two of her friends, then drive north to San Francisco. The posse: my blue-haired girlfriend, the ethereal L.A. resident, an amateur astronomer with tattoos on his scalp, and myself, red hair and a neck full of chains which would oxidize and turn my skin green. Just as I was saying goodbye, Pete interjected. Quoted closely, “Mike, before you come out here, there is something you should know. David and I are…are a thing.” Now, I am no Holmes, Poirot, or Encyclopedia Brown, but I had suspected for some time. I am sure someone was surprised somewhere in Brooklyn that morning, by what could be any number of things, but it was not I. I quickly communicated this to my brother, which I think was welcome relief. He told me I was the second family member he confided in, which to this day, harbors great meaning for me. He never had to worry about me. This trip to California had just acquired another layer of significance.
The quartet headed west, to pan for homos. This was my first experience with California, and I have returned several times since. I did not spend enough time exploring Los Angeles, but my initial opinion was that there was more asphalt than inspiration, more fruit smoothies than soul. My retrievable memories of California were not bred there. For the moment, allow me to pass the exit for San Francisco. I will return. Big Sur, south of San Francisco, was extremely beautiful. I was awed and somewhat fixated by driving a snaking cliff which had an ocean crashing on a palm beach at its base, and a deep green coniferous forest spreading above it. A bizarre environmental mix, its parts in such close proximity. Headlights beamed a total of three feet before our vehicle due to the all-swallowing fog. It was frightening and exhilarating. It really is an abandon. What the fog delivers before you, you will hit. The four of us abandoned something else while we were in Big Sur. One evening, we decided to visit some natural springs that were slightly elevated in the mountains. Before the ascent to the baths, visitors are met by an employee. All are made aware that swimsuits are optional, and the utmost respect is demanded from all who wish to soak. There was going to be flesh, of all descriptions, in the dark. Don’t let your rubber ducky stray into foreign waters, beneath which uncertainty lurks. The natural spring water is heavily sulfuric, accompanying the soothing temperature with an odor. Decadent Romans lounged in the flatulent baths.
San Francisco. A younger brother arrives on the dawn of a new freedom for an older brother. He needs to hold his elder and hold his elder’s boyfriend and assure them that his love and support is theirs. The younger brother sips from pride’s goblet, and toasts the bravery of two fine men.
Pete and David were excellent guides. We enjoyed the San Francisco standards, the Golden Gate and Haight-Ashbury, but Alcatraz was a special treat. It rises from the bay, its chipped bones and salty, scaly skin forever battered by the elements. I think it is beautiful. It is thrilling to walk corridors so seldom explored by guests. It is my intention to never be anything but a guest. So far, so good. My brother had previously mentioned the audio tour, something I ordinarily find obtrusive. Apparently it was something to hear. He was right. One listens to who are claimed to be actual former Alcatraz guards. Elderly, somewhat rickety voices share the lore of the big house, supported by sounds of chambering rifles and chow lines. “Now Capone, he-he was a fighter.” I could not resist having my photograph taken while seated on a cell toilet. I wore my “depressed in a prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay” face. Patrick McGoohan approached my cell, twirling a nail clipper. David commented “bravo” after the shutter snapped. It made me feel wonderful. We were getting to know each other.
One evening, Pete and I took a walk along the beach in the cool, misty Pacific darkness. It was just the two of us. The sand was saturated and dense, but only somewhat firm. With each step, our feet sank several inches, displacing sand out from under us. I was unaware of what was occurring in the muscles of my lower legs. As we defended our beachhead, we discussed San Francisco, Brooklyn, girlfriends, boyfriends, our family, and even student loans, albeit an undeserved blip in the conversation.
We spoke of our father, for the very first time.
I am able to return to the tide pools and return to the breaks with ease. We walked for what seemed several hours. The dunes eventually became a bit difficult and uncomfortable to navigate, but it did not stop me. I was too engaged with my brother. (Please allow me an aside. Later, as we headed back to Los Angeles, the gaggle stopped off to take a tour of the Winchester House, the home previously belonging to the Winchester Family, of the arms company. Following Mr. Winchester’s death, a psychic advised Mrs. Winchester that if she physically kept building onto the house, she would live as long as the construction continued. The product of this soothsaying was an amalgam the likes of which an architect with Attention Deficit Disorder would design. Doors opened to solid walls and staircases ascended to nowhere. However, I owe what were probably hundreds of craftsman my many thanks. The stair risers were a mere four inches high, perhaps providing a more comfortable climb for the Widow Winchester’s twelve gauge legs. My legs were so riddled with cramps I could barely conquer the four inches.) This was a premier, this mutual purge with my ally whom until then, I felt isolated from due to natural differences and geography. Something significant was happening. As the ocean was brushing our ankles, I was reconnecting with him. When human loss is intimately discussed among those who mourned, a great chamber is unlocked, its aged bolts and shanks falling into a rusty heap, allowing the mourners to finally pass over a threshold once barred by a powerful discomfort. I suppose most of life’s painful experiences are housed behind heavy oaken doors. Our personalities rejoined, as did our souls. Pete told me something most incredible and most unbelievable. During my more fiery years, he actually admired me. A hermit crab attempted to move in to one of my molars as my jaw lay in the sand. Admired the grizzly bear, with claws protracted, leaving a trail of mauled literature, cracked handgun barrels, Dorito bags, and campsite beer cans? It was true. He said he admired my strong will (bullheadedness, in youth) and the stance from which I defended myself. Is there anything more strengthening than to be admired by those whom you so deeply admire? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Differences at an early age can drive wedges between two people, their splintered shards aimed in opposite directions. Later in life, those differences can become a surprising education, from which both will benefit.
Two wolves, separated in the wilderness from the pack and each other, recognize familiar, searching howls, and once again run on the beach, side by side.
I hoped that the California excursion provided David with security. Security in knowing that Pete’s younger brother Michael wanted to be his friend.
On the Thirtieth of June in 2008, Pete and David were married in San Francisco. Whatever the hell goes on in Washington, D.C., one of this planet’s great mysteries, I do not know. I am, however, impressed with San Francisco’s legislation. It is imperative that more states follow its example. I am not going to wave a flag within these scratchings here, but will certainly attempt to visit a love I believe to be fortified and unshakable. Even though an entire country lies between us, Pete, David, and I manage to share a little time. I think the clasped shackles of a covert relationship raked their skin a bit, but those stresses did not keep them from healing. I witnessed them, mature and liberated, move to the east coast for a month to comfort David’s ill father and aid in his recovery. No cobblestone stays firmly seated forever, but Pete and David keep the carriage steady. That takes true commitment. They are both successful artists, a palette consisting of writing, acting, graphic design, and photography. They produce several of these endeavors together. Joined in love and joined in art. Is there anything better?! Knowing that my dear brother has David’s hand to hold in celebration, and David’s arm to grasp in rescue, grants my wishes. I am not worried.
David is now my brother. His happiness and safety are my concern. I gladly bear this responsibility upon my shoulders. Should the weight of this responsibility sink my feet deeper in the sand, I will find a way to take another step.