Three weeks ago on a Friday morning, the 24 hour countdown to my brother’s wedding day was on. Ale and I had enjoyed a “last supper” the night before, complete with a shot of tequila and a few DVR’d episodes of our favorite shows. We spent the evening, our last together as roommies, the way we’d spent countless other evenings in the two years we’d lived in his house together. It felt fitting to go out in classic Ale/V fashion.
Now on Friday, I’d set to packing up my stuff and cleaning up a bit before some last minute errand-running and wrapping up of details. Ale and I had just finished checking into the hotel where the bridal party and I would be staying that evening; we were driving back from Downtown San Diego with a few hours left until the rehearsal dinner when I asked if he’d remembered to get the good bug spray with the DEET in it. He’d be honeymooning in Punta Cana and ain’t nobody need no Zika in their life.
“Oooooh yeah,” he said, “I got one kind to spray our clothes, one kind to spray our bodies, and one kind that’s so DEET concentrated that you can only dab it on certain points on your body. I figure at this point, if a mosquito gets me, that’s determination and he deserves to get in.”
I chuckled. “He deserves to give you Zika?”
“Hey. I can’t help it if I get the Seal Team Six member of mosquitos. If you get through all of that DEET, sir: good for you, brotha.”
When I think back on my favorite moments with this kid, this interaction is the type I will recall. Driving around town, laughing at nonsensical shit. My brother often gives people a cool and stoic impression, not at all helped by his stubborn refusal to smile in photography (examples to follow). The truth is that while he’s definitely a study in obstinacy and has an undeniable temper, he’s actually quite warm and a giant goofball once you get to know him. He’s always thinking of ways to make the people he loves smile; he loves both to laugh and make others do so in turn. Thanks to the skill and prowess of a very capable wedding photographer, examples of this side of my brother dearest will also follow. You’ll have to pardon any typos in this post as a result – my eyes are still recovering from scouring close to 2,000 photos to find evidence of his smile.
Later that day with my car packed and ready to head over to the ceremony rehearsal, I took a good look around the house I was about to walk away from; I’d only be moving down the street with my parents (like the good Mexican that I am) and I knew I’d be back in this house for dinner, a Dodger game, to watch Power in no time. Still, I succumbed to those “this is the end of an era” emotions that so often surround these momentous occasions. This house was the scene of the surprise birthday party that Ale planned for me. It was where we waged vodka gummy bear wars, ate delicious meals, where we curled up on the couch with snacks to watch our favorite shows and then talk about our day. Though from only a few blocks away, I’d miss this kid. I wondered when exactly it was that we both became adults.
The wedding was a dream. The bride was stunning and radiant, my brother devastatingly handsome. For dinner we had tacos and not a soul in that venue was mad about it. There were a few surprises; that same brother who rarely smiles and does not dance busted out some choreography to Drake’s One Dance at the start of the reception and later to R. Kelly’s Bump & Grind during the garter toss. The crowd went wild at this supermoon-eclipse rarity. Later, just as the money dance was supposed to start, the DJ announced another special performance. As “I’m Sexy and I Know It” blared from the speakers, my brother’s groomsmen, his best friends and closest cousins, emerged from behind a curtain decked in a variety of superhero masks and proceeded to attack him. It was a mess of dry humping, body rolls and ridiculousness. The rest of the night was a blur of dancing and merriment. It could not have been more perfect.
I had the privilege of saying a few words at the wedding, ones I might not have been able to deliver had a double shot of tequila not been handed to me by my cousins when the nerves and emotions I’d kept at bay finally made an appearance hours before the wedding (#notallheroeswearcapes). The rest of this post is the English translation of that speech. It explains why earlier that morning, Ale received a text telling him to look in my bedroom, where he found a note and a gift bag with a set of gold jingle bells inside. They are the words of a proud and gushing sister who counts herself privileged to have spent the last 28 years with the best big-little brother by her side that a girl could ask for.
“First I want to give thanks to Melissa and Alejandro for letting me say a few words tonight, because when I first asked Ale if I could do so, he looked a little nervous. Just because eeevery once in a while I like to enjoy a glass of wine, a little tequila, he looked at me like he thought I was going to hide a shot in my bouquet at church. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” **leans into bouquet and slurps.** Like I was going to get up there and hit him with the, “BROTHER! I fucking love you! MELI! You took BOTH of my rooms away!”
But in all seriousness, let me tell you a story.
Almost 32 years ago, a great blessing was bestowed upon my parents: I was born. We spent a few marvelous years together, the three of us. Then one day my parents got to talking, I think, and said to each other, “Life is, like, too easy right now, right? We need a little drama. I mean look at Vanessa: she behaves so well, she’s going to be very studious and respectful. Let’s try again and see if we get a real troublemaker. And in January 1988, tadaaaaa! *points at brother* Trouble arrived.
At first, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really into this new addition to our family. My parents introduced him to me, he started to cry and I said, “Ummm, thank you so much buuut no. Return him, yeah? Let’s go play!” They didn’t listen.
We learned very quickly how different one kid can be from the next. I loved to read, I played by myself with my dolls. My brother spent all his time running around, scaling walls, sliding down the windshield of my grandfather’s station wagon like it was a slide, always covered in dirt. But we loved each other.
That love was not aaaaalways super obvious. One day my parents had to sit me down and say, “Look kid, when your brother hits you, you have to hit him back.” And I was like, “No, he’s my little brother!” But this kid would sock me, and as soon as he saw me crying would start to cry himself. “No sister, don’t cryyyyy!” One time he took a chunk of gum and stuck it in my hair, and when I started crying proceeded to take more gum and put it in his hair. My parents walked in to find us two crying fools with wads of gum in our hair. They asked what happened; I cried, “He put gum in my hair!” and he countered, “I put gum in her hair!” and off they sent him to his room to be punished.
What my parents didn’t know was this: our bedrooms were connected by a wall in our closets, and in this wall was a small hole in the corner where cables were run though. In this hole, we’d placed a couple of jingle bells; when one of us was in trouble (i.e. when he was in trouble), one of us would climb in the closet and ring the bell. This was the sign for the other of us to come to the closet and close the door so my parents wouldn’t hear. There through that tiny hole in the wall, we’d talk. He’d asked me for forgiveness, I’d forgive him. What started with tears always ended in laughs and jokes and stories.
So, why have I shared this story? Well today, the years have passed. I am getting ready to leave the house that Alejandro has shared with me these two years. Our bedrooms there were also connected by a wall, and what long ago were jingle bells are now cell phones – calls, texts. And the calls/messages from my brother have a specific ringtone in my phone, which I’ve never shared. I haven’t changed that tone in years and that tone is called, “Bell.” That bell serves as a reminder of the past, to remind me that the love between brother and sister cannot be separated by any walls, by distance, by time.
So today, Brother, I congratulate you. I’d like to say to Meli that I love you so much like a sister for making my brother a better man - happy, content, and less angry THANK GOD. Finally I’d like to say to my brother that I am always here for you like you are for me, and if you ever need anything, all you have to do is ring the bell.”
Photos are both from my personal collection and courtesy of the fabulous Monique Feil. http://www.moniquefeil.com