When my brother, Andrew, was a small boy, he failed a test for gifted placement. It was because when asked “What boils?”, he enthusiastically replied, “LAVA!” They told my parents that the only correct answer was “water”. That story always exemplified his creative thinking and uniqueness from an early age. And our family thought his answer was absolutely correct and he should have gotten a bonus point for identifying a liquid hotter (and therefore more boiling!) than water! (Boiling water is 100 degrees Fahrenheit and hot lava is 1,300 – 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t mess with a Huber…)
He had a passion for learning everything he could about whatever he loved. Dinosaurs. Star Trek. Transformers. Hockey. Science. And fighter jets. My father loved dragging us to air shows to see Andrew’s eyes lights up and get so excited to see the jets, pilots and aircraft carriers he memorized. One time he corrected a fighter pilot on something about an F-13 versus an F-14 about the airplanes and my dad would tell that story with pride semi-regularly. I went along to be part of the fun and to not miss out. But mainly I was a little bored and hot. Thankfully I had my Walkman and mixed tapes to keep me occupied, everything neatly organized in my hot pink fanny pack. No matter how cool of a pre-teen I was badly trying to be, I always enjoyed seeing my little brother so happy.
There were so many happy times we had. Sad times too, but our childhood was quite special. I had a built in best friend who would make up the best games and was always a good sport for whatever antics we’d come up with to avoid boredom. And we were NEVER bored. We’d jump in puddles, turn umbrellas upside down to give our turtle Shelly a ride. We’d turn the white painted metal patio chairs on their sides to create trains. We traveled the world around the block on our bikes calling out the countries as we’d pass. There were parades. Once I dressed him up in my ballerina costume and gave him tennis ball boobs and he gamely walked around the block. I think I got in trouble for that one. You shouldn’t take advantage when people are good sports, and he really was. There were names for the games – mannequin and the infamous “Destroyers” where you spin in circles trying to smack the other players as hard as you can while calling out your offense or defensive moves. “Chopping hands! Punching! Lasers!”.
We bonded over a clever procrastination technique to avoid doing our Saturday chores and hide from Mom. There used to be 2 sofas facing each other in the living room. When Mom was in one side of the house we’d lay around reading or napping on the sofa on that side. When she walked towards the other side of the house, she wouldn’t see us. We’d jump up energized by our ruse across to the other sofa to avoid her when she returned and hopefully didn’t notice us again. Sometimes we hid behind the sofa and had a fort there. I have wonderful memories of lazy days spent reading quietly and avoiding as many chores (vacuuming for me and trash for the Droid). Although I always thought he got out of chores more easily by pretending he didn't know how and was too young. (Mom's favorite baby boy!)
When riding in the car to and from Disney World, our favorite game was to pretend to be the Monorail drivers (he always had the red monorail, his favorite) and we’d spend hours using the middle seat belt as an intercom – switching back and forth to tell our passengers about the rides and whether they should look left or right. This was a better use for the same seatbelt we’d use it as a weapon to clock each other with if we so much as breathed on the other sibling’s side of the invisible line in the middle seat we shared.
We did our fair share of fighting. I remember once biting him so hard on the arm and being so angry that it must have hurt. But we had to make up quickly unless we wanted to play by ourselves to pass the days (that stretch threefold when you’re a child). He made up for this by losing his temper one Thanksgiving when I took his bike without asking. He pulled me off of it, punched me in the eye (while I had glasses) and I got a cut around my eye. We both got in trouble for that one. And we were both really sorry and had equal wrongdoing in that incident. Oh, Andrew.
As a big sister, I wanted to protect him and vice versa. From mean kids, from bullies, from the awkward stages, from heartbreak, from the standard teenage angst and tough moments, and later from the depression and addiction. I’d talk to him about dumb boys or we’d play each other new music. We’d get excited about stupid jokes that we’d laugh hysterically at that never got old. How my dad gets self righteous about mail solicitation and spends inordinate amounts of time angrily striking out his address and writing in all caps, “RETURN TO SENDER! J.P. HUBER”. One time in my early twenties while home from college I found a letter with this, and Andrew and I ran around the house yelling, “RETURN TO SENDER! J.P. HUBER!!!!!” and falling on the floor laughing. Even my dad was gruffly smiling at his own expense. Every time I think of it, even now, I chuckle heartily and it makes my heart happy. We had that in common. No matter what – we both love our parents so much. We were so lucky to have two people who loved us unconditionally and would do anything for us and we knew it. He was a real Mama’s boy too.
Today would have been his 36th birthday. I can’t picture him as 36. Instead he’s always young and beautiful. Not perfect of course. Who is or wants to be? I picture him gleefully yelling “Hoody hoo!” And I picture him talking for so long on the phone when I was driving over the Ben Franklin bridge one time and needed to get off of the phone, but he was so chatty and I loved him so much and was touched that he wanted to talk to me. I don’t remember what we spoke about but he was happy and I was smiling. Mostly, I picture him around eight years old. He had a particular smile he had that looked very peaceful, a slightly upturned crescent. He’d squint his eyes when he smiled and tilt his head up a bit.
Some birthdays and anniversaries aren’t as hard. This one feels really sad. It’s because I’m with my parents, in the house we grew up in, sitting in a closet that we used to lock each other in, and getting ready for Hurricane Irma. It was 25 years ago when we were in Hurricane Andrew, and we got a kick out of the name being his. We volunteered with my parents after the storm in the Broward Mall parking lot and really enjoyed that. He took care of my parents during Hurricane Wilma a few months before he died.
Today Henry was playing with a long piece of red yarn. “What is that, Henry?” It’s LAVA! (heart pang, the good kind). Henry waved it around and it made me think of Andrew, the good times. Uncle Andrew would have gotten such a kick out of his nephew. I think Henry has some of his Uncle Andrew’s imagination in him. On Andrew’s birthday, thinking about growing up and hearing my son start talking about lava out of nowhere – it made me smile and felt like a big hug and a gleeful laugh from our Andrew.