He was 71

I don’t know why this is the memory that sprang to mind when I started thinking about my older brother, Charlie.

Mom and Dad had bought a new refrigerator, so we had a big cardboard box to play with in the yard. It became a spaceship. Bruce and I were the intrepid space explorers, and Charlie was outer space: He moved the box and jostled it to simulate the journey.

Upon landing on another planet, it became quiet — almost … TOO quiet! We had made a little window flap, and I pulled it open to see Charlie with a bemused, affected look on his face.

“There’s some sort of creature out there,” I said, and took another look. Yep, there was the same funny look.

Charlie and I made fateful decisions at that point. I decided when I opened the flap a third time, I would lean forward as if pressing my face against the glass of the window. Charlie decided this would be the time the alien monster attacked, so he threw a fist at the opening window.

What I next remember is sitting on the floor of our makeshift box, holding my profusely bloody nose and laughing hysterically. I think Charlie was a little mortified but couldn’t help laughing with me. Mother was not amused, but the three boys always remembered that space mission.

I think the memory came to me because the “alien” look on Charlie’s face was actually a familiar one: his eyebrows arched, a playful smile, and a look in his eyes that suggested a shared joke — something devilish was in progress, and we were the only ones in on it. (I may have picked the selfie that I use as my website portrait because it reminds me of that look.)

Nineteen years ago, two weeks after the best times ever with my older brother including a memorable trip to a minor-league baseball game in Camden, New Jersey, and one week after I started my dream job editing the Door County Advocate in Wisconsin, word came that Charlie had had a debilitating stroke, and I rushed back. He was unconscious for many days, and I had said a final goodbye before coming home to the Badger State, but he woke up, although he never fully recovered.

Monday he needed to go to the hospital; Tuesday morning Connie called to say they’d told her he was fading fast. It was over a couple of hours later.

The world is a little more surreal today. I’d grown accustomed to Charlie being not quite the same guy, although he never stopped flashing that mischievous smile. I don’t know if I can grow accustomed to his being gone altogether.

I miss him.

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, Dejah and Summer, and Blackberry, an insistent cat. Author of Full, Refuse to be Afraid, Gladness is Infectious, 24 flashes, How to Play a Blue Guitar, Myke Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes, A Bridge at Crossroads, The Imaginary Bomb, A Scream of Consciousness, and The Imaginary Revolution.

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