I pulled you out of your crib when
you were six weeks old to put you
in your walker, like I did my dolls.
I was three. It is amazing that you
lived to see your first birthday
with me as a sister.
At 15 months you saw our brother
hit and killed; you were not
wearing a mask; there was blood
everywhere;you must have seen
everything. What did it do to
your little developing soul?
At three you were still being
potty trained. I remember Mom
screaming and raging at you as
she cleaned you up the first night
we moved into the apartment on
Walnut Street. That rage would
be the hallmark of our
It would haunt you throughout
your life. You came by your anger
and violence honestly. Handed
right down, mother to son. Of
course, she was the adult child
of an alcoholic. Too bad good
therapy was not available to
our social class. (And might
not have been welcome if it had
You were a beautiful boy with a
beautiful smile. People often
thought you were a girl and I was
a boy because you smiled so
damned much and your hair
grew so fast.
Something happened when they
put you back in second grade
because your reading wasn’t up
to snuff. It was the year of the
divorce. You were eight. But you
had a growth spurt that made
you six inches taller than your
new classmates. It was hell
being the one who stuck out.
Your nose, my precious brother,
flat and somehow bridgeless,
made you feel like the ugliest boy
in the world. You were adorable,
my love. I wish you could have
Kids made fun of your nose and
you threatened to give them one
just like it. The fighting began.
Being put back made you feel
like you were the dumbest boy
in the world. You would never
overcome that, to your dying day.
You were my faithful, adoring
little brother. We had such
adventures, crawdad hunting,
climbing trees, rescuing kittens.
Even then you told the funniest
stories, complete with wonderful
Warner Brothers Cartoon
You were a sweet
While you were still in school,
you started collecting weapons.
Knives, Chinese stars, nun-
chucks. You lived with such fear.
Later you would advance to
guns. Mostly you used your size
and your fists when conflicts
arose (and didn’t they mostly
arise from within your own
You were in and out of school for
the next eight years, always in
trouble for fighting with someone.
Your freshman year you got in a
fight with someone for throwing
an ice cream cone at the back of
your head. You were told you
could never come back to that
high school. It was the only high
school in town.
When you were 18, you tried to
go back. The teacher said you sat
in the back of the class with tears
streaming down your face. You
couldn’t do it. Later you would
get your GED while incarcerated.
You had a “big brother” for two
heartbeats. You had people try to
take you under their wing. But
no one could unbreak your heart.
No one could figure out how to put
the pieces of you together again.
Not even me, much as I loved you.
You were 15 when I went off to
college. You felt so abandoned,
you moved out of the house and
in with a girl exactly my age. You
never explained this to me until
we were well into adulthood.
I had no idea.
A man from our church took you
into his auto shop and taught you
the business, one of the best things
that ever happened to you. You
stayed in that business all your life,
rebuilding cars from the ground up.
You drove an old jalopy that looked
like it was held together with duct
tape and would have been rejected
by any self-respecting third world
country, but I think you drove it
to prove you could keep any vehicle
alive if you willed it. Also because
it used to belong to our dad, and
you were secretly sentimental.
You were in and out of jail and you
almost went to prison. You were
never a better letter writer than
when you were in jail. One time
when I was in grad school and you
were in the joint for 30 days, we
exchanged one letter per week.
I sent you a letter with a Doodle
Bug stamp. That was your babyhood
nick-name. You made the mistake of
sharing this with your cellmate.
Never lived that down.
When you grew up, you were
simply known as “Dude.” That
was back in the seventies before
people were using “dude”
ubiquitously as it is used now.
I asked you not that long ago
how you felt about everyone
taking your name in vain these
days. You smirked.
As an adult, you were six foot two,
280 lbs, and covered in tattoos. An
old Sunday school teacher of ours
saw you at a gas station once and
started to get right back in her car,
but then she recognized you and she
said, Oh, that’s just Eric. Sweet little
You had a rough start of things, but
grew up to be a funny, loving, fun-
loving man with a lot of hard-won
wisdom. You were loved by everyone
who knew you.
You were a self-proclaimed redneck
who lived in a trailer with two pit
bulls, a rat terrier and a girlfriend
who was almost as decorated in
tattoos as you were. (Oh, I forgot the
boa and 15 rats you kept to feed it.)
You loved guns, Trump, and the
confederate flag. You had a sign
in the window with a picture of
a gun that read, We don’t call
In your thirties you once complained
that I used to beat you up when we
were kids. I don’t remember that!
I remember that we would wrestle
and I would win. When you
complained I said, You should thank
me, Dude, because I made you the
bad-ass that you are! But of course,
you did that all by yourself.
Evil Knievel was your idol when
you were a kid, and you were
always doing wheelies and all
kinds of stunts on your dirt bike.
You broke your arm when you
were eight, riding down a hill full
speed ahead on a bike that had
no brakes. It was never clear to
me whether you knew this at
the beginning of your descent.
At any rate, our apartments were
at the bottom of the hill and as
you came upon them, you put up
your arm to shield yourself from
a square iron pole, breaking your
arm in not one, but two places,
on either side of the pole. That
was one thing about you, Dude,
you never did things halfway.
As an adult, you continued living
dangerously with motorcycles and
cars. A few years ago, you had a
horrible accident driving a four
wheeler in the woods in downstate
Virginia. You plowed down a tree
while you were trying to outrun
your buddy– You were airlifted
unconscious from the scene by
helicopter. You had broken your
femur in two places, too, just like
your arm, made sure it was good
and busted. But you had a real
good time until you ran over that
Besides being a badass on wheels,
you were also very protective.
One time I was visiting from college
and a friend of yours asked, Is that
your sister? You said, NO! That is
not my sister, don’t even look at her!
It was so sweet, you didn’t want
your friends flirting with me.
Another time when all three of us
were adults we went to Pizza Hut,
where I happened to mention
something terrible someone had
done to me years ago, which I
thought you already knew about.
After a moment, you went out to
smoke a cigarette. And you didn’t
come back . . . and you didn’t
come back . . . And suddenly our
sister and I both realized, OMG
he has gone to get his gun! We
jumped in the car and raced across
town to stop you so you didn’t land
yourself in prison.
We got there just in time. Had a bit
of a verbal shootout, but nobody
died that night and nobody ended
up in jail. So it was a win-win for
You were protective and loyal, and
you loved your sisters.
For all your scariness, you were
really tender hearted. When
Grandma died in ‘97, it liked to
have killed us all with grief. And
here were you, all big and tall and
tough and when you got that call at
work you said you sat down in the
middle of the burrito factory and
cried like a child.
On the other hand, you were also
the funniest person I knew. I
recorded one family conver-
sation back in 2000 where I said
something snarky to Mom and
our sister said, ‘Lisa you’re writin’
yourself right on out of the will.
Mom laughed and said, What will??
And you said, in your very best
hillbilly accent, You know that
Tupperware set you had yer eye
on, well forgit it!
And you could tell a story! You
could tell a tragic story like your
accident in Virginia as if it were
a comedy, have us laughing till
we cried. From hilarity, not from
pity. You really loved to make
The poet Mary Oliver asks, What
will you do with your one wild
and precious life?
You died suddenly on September
17, 2017, quietly and in your sleep, at
Your life was shorter than we wanted
it to be, but you filled it to the brim
with the people and things you loved.
You lived hard.
You worked hard,
you played hard
and you loved hard.
Your Harley, The Beast, was put
on display at the funeral, where all
your friends could pay their respects.
I’ve never seen so many rough-
looking grown men cry.
And most of the funeral procession
was a cavalcade of motorcycles who
revved their motors as loud as they could
to honor you on their way to the cemetery.
Mom is convinced that you are up in
heaven driving a Harley alongside
Jesus as your Biker Buddy.
Oh, Dear Little Doodle Bug,
I dearly hope that that is true.