Last Word: Happy Brothers Day

John Denver was the love of my life. With round glasses, shaggy blond hair, and wholesome songs about nature, he embodied everything a 7-year-old girl could ever want from a man who’d one day sing with the Muppets.

Countless hours of my young life were spent yodeling along with John about mountain mammas in West Virginia and thanking God he was a country boy.

That is, of course, until my brother ruined it.

[Illustration: Wes Rand]

With nothing better to do one summer day, David, five years my senior, found me in the backyard as I played with Ken and Malibu in their swanky plastic house with the pull string elevator.

“You know,” he said, “John Denver changed his name when he got famous. That’s not his real name.”

Convinced that he was lying, I vehemently argued that “John Denver” was indeed John Denver, future husband to me, Mrs. Sarah Denver. The man I would one day marry and together we’d enjoy a lifetime of sunshine on our shoulders.

“No, his real name is Henry Deutschendorf,” he corrected. “So if you get married, you’ll be Sarah Deutschendorf.”

Sarah Deutschendorf?

Over my shrieking protests, he repeated the name again and again until, on the verge on a complete breakdown, he delivered the final blow.

“Oh yeah, he does drugs, too. What do you think ‘Rocky Mountain High’ is about?”

I lay on my back in the grass and cried as Dave walked away, satisfied with completing yet another successful mission and already working on the next one.

And there was always a next one.

Once, my brother spent an entire morning carefully folding pieces of notebook paper into perfect little munitions. After he’d accumulated a considerable arsenal in his school pencil box, he spent the rest of the day deftly firing them all at me from a giant rubber band stretched across his fingers as I ran screaming through the house.

Though well-executed, it wasn’t his best work. The pièce de résistance came with his inspired use of the Kodak Instamatic.

As a kid I suffered from a nearly incapacitating fear of lightning. With the proficiency of a meteorologist I’d watch developing weather like it was my job. If there were dark skies, watches, warnings or mild fluctuations in barometric pressure, I’d be holed up in the basement praying for survival from the impending apocalypse.

So great was my anxiety that even a camera flash was enough to send me into a full, sweaty panic. Subsequently every indoor photograph taken in my early childhood is of me looking down or my face pressed into someone’s arm.

Using my disability to his advantage, Dave liked to spend his free time calling me into his room under the pretense of having something he wanted to show me. He’d quietly wait on the other side of the door with his camera and when I walked in, FLASH!

Dissolving immediately into tears, I’d lock myself in my room for the rest of the day. Eventually after enough time elapsed, I’d forget. When I was least expecting it, he’d call out my name and naively I’d go to find out what he wanted. FLASH!

I give him credit, he never tired of the game and because of it, there’s an entire collection of photographs of me standing in his doorway wearing an expression of shocked bewilderment in all of them.

Finally, I caught on and refused to oblige when he’d call. But he was relentless in his pursuit.

One afternoon he called my name over and over. “Please,” he said, “I swear to God, I promise I won’t use the flash. I just want to show you something. I swear on my life. I swear to God.”

If he was swearing to God and on his own life, then I had no choice but to believe him. So I went. FLASH!

I wonder if condemning his soul to hell for all of eternity was worth getting me one last time. I’m guessing if I asked him, he’d probably say it was.

In honor of Mother’s Day this month, I’ll probably get my mom some flowers and invite her over for lunch to thank her for everything she’s done for me.

I’m thinking of doing the same for my brother. However, instead of roses, I’ve been busy folding notebook paper and recently purchased a pencil box. I also plan on charging my camera battery because there’s something in my room that I want to show him.

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