That’s a pretty tired line for me to use for a title for a post about my brother. I realize that. But hey, I’m from Omaha, the home of Boys Town and the birthplace of Father Flanagan’s mission to devote his life to the aid of wayward young ones. Besides, Flanagan was an Irish priest, and I have been neck deep in them since I was a wee lad. So I have the bragging rights, ‘kay? But, I will concede, I can do better than that. Let’s try this again.
“Andy’s in trouble.”
“Well, it ain’t car trouble.”
Thus began Dave Sigler’s tumultuous period in his life as my brother. Everything had been pretty normal before that. There’s four years between us, so we really have never had much as far as experiences we shared until we were both out of the house. Sure, Dave had his moments as the torturous big brother. A few times he pinned me down and dangled a loogy strung from his mouth and inches from my face. My personal favorite would be the tortuous routine he engaged me in when we shared a room at our family’s first house. Dave would lay in his bed, me in mine, and as I drifted off to sleep, purely for his own amusement mind you, would, in the darkness, say “Andy.”
A moment. “Nevermind.”
He would then repeat this exchange until he was sufficiently drowsy and he would drift off to sleep himself. But not before he said, one last time, “Andy.”
I would wait, trying with every fiber of my being to keep from saying, “What?”
But after a few moments, I would say it anyway. And he wouldn’t reply.
He was already asleep.
Yeah, he could be an asshole sometimes, even as a youth. I digress. The about the “car trouble” comment. He was fielding our father’s response after he had informed said father I was in jail in Iowa, of all places, for getting collared for weed. And I managed to stay in some kind of trouble, periodically, for most of my adult life. Sure, some of my legal problems were comical. The Wrigley field incident comes to mind. The incident on Sheep Mountain with Dave providing the comic relief in those instances. But most of them were my fault, most of them involved drugs and alcohol, and most of them were pretty goddamn depressing. I just wasn’t a good criminal. Let’s leave it at that.
Ugh. Let’s try this once more, shall we?
“I want a foot massage.”
Yeah, that’s what he had to say after I did my 9th step (Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others). My mother was weeping. My father had that thoughtful, stoic look Dad’s get sometimes. My sister was … well, Liz was Liz. And after I bore my soul to my family, making an earnest attempt to apologize for the some 2 decades of grief I caused these people, that’s what he had to say.
“I want a foot massage.”
And I said “No Dave, I’m not giving you a foot massage.” Which is actually completely antithetical to the concept of doing your 9th step. You’re supposed to do anything they say will set things right. So the fact that I said “No” really just ensures that I’m going to have to do a Step 10 (… continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it) on this foot massage for the rest of my natural life.
All this is not to say that Dave Sigler doesn’t have a soft spot. He certainly does. About 6 months ago, he sent an email to me, my parents and my SIL about how all of life’s best practices are best summarized by Mr. Rogers. I promptly replied that an emotionally soft moment from Dave Sigler is kind of like a category 4 hurricane. They only come along every 10 years or so, but when they do, they bring down the house. When I was a young upstart of a teenager, I mused that I thought I might one day change my name from Sigler to my Mom’s more Irish-sounding maiden name O’Malley. I asked my brother what he thought.
“I think it’ll break Dad’s heart,” he said and resumed whatever he was doing. He was right, of course.
When I was smack in the heart of what he calls The Waste Land, he was the only contact I had with my family and seldom did I speak to him over the phone when I was at least kind of drunk or stoned. Actually, there was awhile there when I didn’t do much of anything when I wasn’t drunk or stoned. And he knew it, too. He tried once to reason with the blessed little enabler I was shacking with, who was crazy as a loon and often drunk herself. He started to tell me that conversation once after I got sober, but I think my tone and my demeanour clued him in to the fact that I didn’t want, nor would I ever want, to revisit the person I was when I was with her. He was dead. He had become Him. And from now on, He was mine and mine alone to deal with.
We’re night and day, me and my brother. He has always exceled in his chosen profession of education. He’s a great father (at least as far as I know, I’ll get back to you if I hear from my sister-in-law on that), and he has exactly one emotional ligament in his left calf. When it comes to anything touchy-feely, forget about it. When we went for a walk around Walden Pond in Connecticut, he strolled along and ripped on transcendentalism the whole time. Just because he knew it was get my goat (I don’t think Thoreau had goats on Walden. I could be wrong). Recently, I told him in a text that I had taken up studying Buddhism and attending Buddhism services at a local temple. He texted me back that he had just run over his bonsai tree. When I started saying “jagoff” all the time, the chosen term of endearment of the regulars at my neighbourhood tavern in Chicago, he told me to shut up with that. Dave Sigler knows that at the core of the essence of being, there’s healthy personal development and there’s, well, being a jagoff.
You see, all my life, I’ve wanted to impress my brother. I’ve said things and did things solely for the purpose of making him think I was cool. I used to say that some greasy spoon in Chicago was the diner Tom Waits went to when he was in town. I have no idea if that is true. I just conjured it up so he would think I really knew what I was taking about. When he would come to Chicago at all I so desperately wanted him to think it was “my town” that I would try to act like I knew where the best bars and restaurants were. Please. I was just picking stuff will-nilly or borrowing from my waiter friends. I didn’t realize that Dave didn’t come to Chicago so I could show him the town. He came to Chicago to see me. And I always seemed to say things and do things that were so decidedly uncool, I’m pretty sure he left wondering why I was trying so hard. I know from looking at pictures and videos, I’ve been doing that my whole life. Trying to impress him. It’s not lake I made every decision with his approval in mind. Quite the opposite in fact. Dave is a left brain, analytical, solution-oriented man who sees no real purpose in dwelling on that which doesn’t have an immediate solution and the things that don’t have that frustrate the hell out of him. I’m a writer, a poet, a seldom musician and I love my friends and family just as deeply as he does. He and I just show that in very different ways.
Now that I am sober, I feel like I can relate to my brother in the way he has hungered for the whole time. The way he deserves. The way only two grown siblings that have been close and been distant can, both in terms of life choices and mileage. Many people suffer from going it alone, not having the sometimes watchful, often bemused look of an older sibling over their shoulder. I have the privilege of having this look in my life again after almost royally screwing it up. I don’t plan on making that same mistake again.
Dave has two kids and a wife and a career that takes him from one location to the next on a regular basis. Last fall, Mom and Da regaled me with a story about texting with Dave back and forth when he was in some airport on a, like, 3-hour layover. Staunchly against text messaging in principle, I think I was the last person in North America to get it. I’m glad I did. After so long trying to impress my brother, I can just be around the next time he just needs to talk. Or he runs over another bonsai tree.