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CHILD, Lee

Killing floor

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Joe was the only constant thing in my life. And I loved him like a brother. But that phrase has a very precise meaning. A lot of those stock sayings do. Like when people say they slept like a baby. Do they mean they slept well? Or do they mean they woke up every ten minutes, screaming? I loved Joe like a brother, which meant a lot of things in our family. The truth was I never knew for sure if I loved him or not. And he never knew for sure if he loved me or not, either. We were only two years apart, but he was born in the fifties and I was born in the sixties. That seemed to make a lot more than two years’ worth of a difference to us. And like any pair of brothers two years apart, we irritated the hell out of each other. We fought and bickered and sullenly waited to grow up and get out from under. Most of those sixteen years, we didn’t know if we loved each other or hated each other. But we had the thing that army families have. Your family was your unit. The men on the bases were taught total loyalty to their units. It was the most fundamental thing in their lives. The boys copied them. They translated that same intense loyalty onto their families. So time to time you might hate your brother, but you didn’t let anybody mess with him. That was what we had, Joe and I. We had that unconditional loyalty. We stood back to back in every new schoolyard and punched our way out of trouble together. I watched out for him, and he watched out for me, like brothers did. For sixteen years. Not much of a normal childhood, but it was the only childhood I was ever going to get. And Joe was just about the beginning and end of it. And now somebody had killed him. I sat there in the back of the police Chevrolet listening to a tiny voice in my head asking me what the hell I was going to do about that.

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