He called me pelona as a kid.  I don’t have a clue why, and I never asked.  We were five years apart, fought like banshees, and maybe calling his kid sister baldy, which is what pelona means in Spanish, was fun.  For the record, I had a full head of curly hair.  Maybe he was paying tribute to Curly of the Three Stooges who was rather baldy.  My brother did have a pretty fine sense of humor.  As mature adults (as opposed to when we were both young, immature adults), we worked out our differences.  This didn’t stop him from finding other nicknames for me though, like the occasional little jalapeño moniker.  But then there was the throwback to our early days, and the one that stuck for most of our later years:  Resortitos– the Spanish diminutive form of resortes which means- wait for it- spring coils.  Yup, so I was both his baldy- and curly-headed sister.  Go figure.

My Brother with his dog, Colonel.

But aside from my brother’s sense of humor, I believe his courage was second to none.  I often told him that I found him to be the most courageous person I knew.  Truth.  He was intelligent; his memory was something else, especially with numbers, and something I always envied (says the woman who writes things down multiple times in order to commit them to memory, if she’s lucky).  But of his many traits, his courage continued to floor me.  My brother’s life was a difficult one from early on.  I didn’t know until many years into my adulthood that he had been bullied in his teenage years, and sadly, like many teenagers, he coped somehow.  My recollection of those times are filled with memories of his teasing, his love for his German Shepherd dog, and the varied horned lizards he often carried in his shirt pocket or on his white, t-shirted shoulder.  Soon after high school graduation, my brother  joined the Navy where he served on the USS Enterprise; it remained one of his proudest achievements.  In my eyes, however, that wasn’t his greatest achievement.  As a young man, he did what many before him have done, drank to excess and got into trouble.  This went on for some time, and honestly, I couldn’t figure him out, and I found his behavior excessive and unacceptable.  Years passed in this way.

The realization that you don’t know something, or better said in this case, someone, as well as you think you do, can hit you like… a freight train, a ton of bricks, a mac truck; pick your visual.  This was me when I found out my brother had been diagnosed years before with schizophrenia, and we were just finding out. HIPAA, you know, and a good dose of ignorance on our part, had kept our brother’s secret.  My funny, intelligent, lovable brother had been living with this disease for years and was just now, after so much time, asking his sisters to help him navigate through life.  Don’t get me wrong, he continued to be fiercely independent, opinionated, and unmovable when it came to his health and life’s decisions.  But at least, as a family, we could now, maybe, help to better navigate the VA system, advocates, medications, and life’s curves in general.  We did our best, and not enough.  But my brother, he gave it his all.  Every day, he woke up and went to bed with the knowledge of the nightmare that living with schizophrenia can be.  These are my words, not his.  He never described it as such.  In fact, he called it his “condition.”  For years, he was fine letting people believe that he was an alcoholic rather than speak about his affliction.  Later on, he became more comfortable.  He would turn down the occasional invitation to somewhere with his “thank you, but I don’t go out much because of my mental condition.”

My brother, he owned this disease; he fought it every second; he wrestled daily with having a better day, no a better morning, or afternoon than he did the day before.  His days were never easy.  Some days were just not as hard.  And through it all, his sense of humor remained.  He made me laugh; he made us all laugh.  And, he gave me strength and courage.

His tocayo, his buddy, who talked with my brother on the phone, and visited with him at his best and worst moments, wrote of my brother:  “I will cherish his memory for as long as I live and thereafter.  My tocayo was a good and gentle soul.  He carried his cross with honor, and as such, was an example to me.” Tocayo, you honored our brother with your friendship.

My Brother, you still give me courage.  What I would give to hear you call me pelona or resortitos just one more time.

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