“Any story that starts will also end.”
— the prophet ann patchett
Hi, Rick. You don’t remember me. We went to Davy Crockett Elementary School together but I was a couple of grades behind you, not being clever enough to keep up. I think I swiped a fish stick from you at lunch once. Sorry.
They say it’s time to say goodbye, but I have no idea how. I don’t want the story to end, so I’m looking back instead.
Remember when we were kids? We became the Smith Boys in the days of the Pinky Outpost, our little fort behind Granddad’s store. It was the three of us against the world, even if the world didn’t know it. Being a pack of introverts, we had only each other, and we were inseparable. Dirt clod fights, Monopoly, Destruction Derby Croquet, skateboards behind bikes. Dr Pepper and expired chocolate bars, shared wardrobes and toys and cartoons. It was a pretty great childhood.
In our teenage years, we all became aspiring hippies in a small West Texas town. I don’t think we pulled it off, but we would’ve fought the power if we had ever figured out what exactly the power was. You became a radical college newspaper journalist; I was a failed garage musician; Mike was Jesus Christ Superstar driving an ice cream truck. Who could ask for more?
Eventually, we had to pretend to be adults, with you leading the way. You got me a job, and then another job. You passed the magic of the Land Cruiser on to Mike. Kids, houses, Shiner, Mike’s collection of Kerrville wrist bands. We were desperados. The years flew by.
As we got older, you were always the ringleader, the guy we’d wait for in anticipation of hijinks. Reporter’s notebook in your back pocket, press badge in your shirt pocket, ever-present ASU cap, twinkle in your eye. Always in search of a story or an adventure or a diet coke. “Can I call you back? There’s a strange man knocking on my door!!!” You have no idea how many times we’ve laughed at that story.
I’ve never been happier than than the times we’d sit in the patio, you’d cross your legs, raise your eyebrows and give the “tell me a story” look. Of course, we’d never have anything, so you’d uncork a yarn. And another. So many. Why didn’t I write them down?
We spent so many years so far away. All that missed time. I’m sorry I let you down. You once asked me why I wouldn’t move back home. I didn’t think there was anything there for me anymore. I was wrong. I always thought there would be time.
And now, here we are, still apart. Deadline is coming up and I’m not going to be there, and please know it breaks my heart. I’ve written that phrase a million times, never really understanding what it meant. Now I do.
I want to be there to make dumb jokes you won’t hear, and sing Butch Hancock songs in the off chance you’ll jump in on the chorus. One last song before taking a bow and turning out the lights would be a fine way to go. I remember the time you free-versed West Texas Waltz at a Club Sandwich. Punk-cowpoke-rap before it became a thing. I’m glad I was there.
I’m sorry I won’t be there when the curtain closes and you have to go. But please know you’re not leaving. You’ll live on inside your two brothers. As long as we’re around, you will be too.
Mike and I are lucky guys. You were always there when we needed you, with a smile and a screwdriver and a kick in the butt when we needed one. I guess that’s what big brothers do.
We’ll try to be strong. It won’t work. But we’ll figure something out.
After all, we’re Smith Boys. You taught us that.
I love you. Safe travels.
your dear and worthless brother