Letters from a Loving Brother
Footnotes
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“Letters from a Loving Brother,” New Era, Apr. 1986, 44

Fiction:

Letters from a Loving Brother

Dear Libby,

I guess you don’t know me, but I’m Kevin’s brother. I don’t know if he ever mentioned me or not. Did he? My name is Rick. I’m 15.

I don’t know if you know anything about me, but I know plenty about you. Are you worried? (That’s a joke.)

Kevin wrote a lot of neat things about you. I kept all his letters. I was reading them this morning. I like to go to his room and wrap his sleeping bag around me and read his letters.

In one of his letters he said your real name is Elizabeth, but you like Libby better. I do too. Except it reminds me of canned green beans. He said you were the first Mormon he’d ever met.

I’m 15 now. I was 13 when Kevin joined the Marines, and 14 when he was killed guarding the American Embassy in Rome.

Kevin and I were really close. Even my parents said so.

You probably didn’t know it, but he told me a lot of things about you. He told me things he didn’t even tell my parents. For instance, once he wrote and said that your hair is the same color as our dog. Now before you get mad, you should know we have an Irish setter named Lady, and the color of her hair is my favorite color. So if what Kevin said about your hair is true, then I think that when you get a little older you could be Miss America or even that lady on TV’s “Wheel of Fortune.” I like her because she doesn’t talk much. Mainly she points at the prizes and smiles.

Kevin told me a lot of things about you. Are you worried? I know you’re a dental assistant, and that’s how he met you, when you were cleaning his teeth.

Personally if I were a dental assistant I’d never fall in love with one of my patients. In the first place, how can you stand to put your fingers in a stranger’s mouth? And second, how can you respect somebody after you’ve scraped away all that crud from their teeth? I mean, it’s like you know the absolute worst thing about them.

He said he looked up at you, and that you had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen in his life. Do many guys fall in love with you when you’re scraping gunk off their teeth? I never would. No way. Of course Kevin always was a little different.

He also told me that on your first date you went jogging together. That sounds like Kevin. He was always looking for ways to save money. And that you didn’t drink or smoke, but you were a lot of fun anyway. He said that made him curious about you. I guess that’s why he agreed to go to your house and let those ministers from your church talk to him about God and stuff like that.

You must really be something to get him to change religions, because I thought he was pretty good the way he was. And I guess it’s no secret that it set my parents off. Mom said she thought you probably sweet-talked him into it. She says things like sweet-talk all the time because she’s from Georgia. She has all these strange sayings that none of the rest of us have ever heard before.

But about you sweet-talking him into becoming a Mormon—I don’t think so, because Kevin could be pretty stubborn sometimes, and if it’s true what Kevin said about you not kissing him for a long time after he started dating you, then I don’t think anybody can say you sweet-talked him into anything.

I didn’t mind Kevin joining your church if that’s what he wanted to do.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m writing this letter. Actually it’s mainly because Dr. Nelson asked me to do it. He’s the psychologist assigned to my case. I told him about you, and he told me to write you a letter. He gave me a week to do it, and the week’s up tomorrow, and I have to go back to him then, so I’m sitting here in Kevin’s room, with his sleeping bag wrapped around me, writing you. It’s very early in the morning. Actually it’s three-thirty. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night.

I was 14 when he was killed. I wonder sometimes what was so valuable in that embassy. A bunch of old men. Was any of it worth Kevin’s life?

He sent me pictures of Italy. I’ve got one of him standing by an old boat. He’s smiling in the picture, and there’s this beautiful blue water behind him. The picture was taken just a month before he died.

It makes me wonder if at the same time the picture was taken, somebody was meeting in some little room, maybe in one of those houses in the background of that picture, working out a plan to bomb the American Embassy.

Besides being my brother, Kevin was my best friend. Some people said they’d never seen two brothers so close. Even when he was away from home, he wrote to me about things that were happening to him.

He liked to kid around even in his letters. In one letter he’d give me a puzzle, and in the next letter he’d answer it. It used to drive me crazy sometimes. But he was like that. Always fun.

I saved all his letters. I read them every night.

If a guy could have any kind of brother, he’d be the one to choose. To me he was the kind of guy who can do anything. He made me a kite once after I’d broken mine. He just made it out of newspaper and some branches from a tree. Did you know he got freckles on his face in the summer? He was never ashamed to tell people I was his younger brother. Once he even took me along on one of his dates. We went to a carnival, and he let me ride with him and his girl friend on the Ferris wheel, in the same car. It was a little crowded, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Once he took me camping, just the two of us. During the night there was this heavy thunder storm. It didn’t last long, but my sleeping bag got wet. His was dry because he’d remembered to put down a ground cloth. He told me to do it too when we set up camp, but I said it was too much bother. The reason I said that was because the sky was clear then.

Well, after the storm, and my sleeping bag was wet, he didn’t get mad and tell me it was my fault anyway for not putting down a ground cloth. Instead he got out of his sleeping bag and asked me to get in it instead. I asked him what he was going to do, and he said he thought he’d go build a fire and think.

I let him do it because I was too young to realize that it was only two thirty in the morning and nobody in their right mind goes out and sits by a fire for four hours in the middle of the night to think.

He did things like that for me all the time.

All the girls loved him. They really did. In high school for sure, because I was around and saw what was happening around our house. I wish I had a dime for every girl who came over to our house with a batch of cookies for Kevin. It was good for me too, because he’d always share with me.

Did you love him? A lot? I hope you did.

I asked him once why girls liked him so much, and he said it was because he treated them right. I asked him what he meant, and he said you’ve got to remember one thing about girls and that is that they’re people too. And I said well of course they are. Everybody knows that. So he named this really foxy movie star, and asked me if I thought anybody knew what her favorite color was. And I said no. And he said, that’s because people don’t treat her like she is a person. What do they treat her like, I asked, and he said they treat her like she’s a toy.

You can’t do that, he said. You’ve got to find out interesting things about them, like if they ever had measles, or when’s the last time they used crayons to draw a picture, or if they’ve ever baked a pecan pie, or if they play the piano, or if they know how to change the oil in a car.

This is really getting to be a long letter, isn’t it? Well, I’m almost through.

I have a question I want to ask you. I read all his letters this morning. And mostly I understand them all, except the last one, the one he wrote just before he was killed.

And that’s the main reason why I wanted to write you. I’ll copy down part of his last letter for you. I’ll skip the parts you wouldn’t be interested in.

I heard yesterday that an embassy in Germany was bombed. I hope they stay away from ours. Sometimes I get scared.

Rick, here’s a puzzle for you. Ready?

When things get bad and I’m afraid, I turn to another brother of ours. He’s faced it all before. When I get to a place in my life where I need help with a certain thing, then I read his words and they help me.

You and I are real close, and I’ve never really preached to you much, but I wanted to tell you about this older brother of ours. He’s someone I can go to for advice, and he will be there for you too. Because he’s been here on earth before us, and he knows the best way for us to live. And he loves us, even more than I love you.

In my next letter I’ll tell you who this brother is. And where you can find the things to read he wants to tell you.

Love, Kevin

That’s what he wrote. And it’s the thing I can’t understand.

Here I am, after he’s dead, reading his letters over and over again, trying to understand more about him. And then to think that he was doing the same thing about a brother of his.

But the thing that doesn’t make sense is that there is no other brother. There’s just the two of us in our family. So what did he mean? When the army sent all his belongings back to us, I went through everything, hoping to find what he said he had from this other brother that he talked about. But there weren’t any other letters except the ones from me and my parents and you—just that, and an old beat-up copy of the Bible and the book of the Mormons.

What I want to know is—who is this other brother he talked about? And where are the letters from this other brother to Kevin that he said he read all the time? I need to know because I really need help now too, at least that’s what my parents and Dr. Nelson think.

My mother just came in and told me it was late and I should go to bed. I told her I was writing a letter to you. She told me that you came to the funeral. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to meet you then. I’m sorry I ran away and caused my parents more worry. But I’m all right now.

If you have any ideas on my question, please write to me. And would it be all right if we wrote to each other once in a while? Kevin loved you, so you must feel bad too. Maybe we can help each other for a while, and then I won’t have to keep going back to Dr. Nelson.

Your new friend (I hope),
Rick

Photos by Grant Heaton

Lettering by James Fedor