Brian J. Doyle | We Did

Brian J. DoyleDID WE PUNCH AND HAMMER AND JAB EACH OTHER as children thrashing and rambling a large family in a small house filled with brothers and one older sister with sharp bony fists and no reluctance to use them?

We did.

Did we use implements like long whippy maple branches and mom’s bamboo garden poles and dad’s old sagging tennis rackets and redolent pieces of oozy lumber stolen from the new house going up down the block and brick chips and new sharp-edged asbestos shingles torn off the garage roof as ammunition and weaponry with which to battle and joust with brothers and occasionally the Murphy boys next door each one burlier and angrier and Irisher than the one below him?

We did.

Did we occasionally use snowballs meticulously packed as tight as possible and then placed carefully in the freezer for hours or days as stony ammunition and rocklike weaponry despite the cold hard fact that said snowballs should have been registered with the United Nations especially the time one of us saved a few until June and hammered the Murphy boys in the most lopsided glorious victory of all time on our street?

We did.

Did our mother actually say more than once you will put your eye out! and finally we bought individual glass eyes at a sale from the estate of an ophthalmologist and faked a terrific raucous brawl so that our mother came running only to find her sons roaring about their lost eyes which were bouncing and rolling freely on the linoleum floor which caused our blessed mother to shriek which caused our calm large muscular father to come running, which caused the collective entirety of his sons to spend many hours in penitential labor and one of us had to go to confession as the mastermind?

We did.

Did we play football so hard in the yard that more than once one brother’s helmet went flying and more than once a finger was broken and one time tempers flared such that a picket from the old red picket fence was used for assault and battery?

We did.

Did we play basketball so intently and furiously that more than once a nose broke and eyeglasses broke and teeth were chipped and skin was abraded and ankles rolled and fouls were delivered with violent intent, which was repaid in full in the fullness of time?

We did.

Did we many times wrestle our oldest tallest brother to the ground, often using our youngest brother as a missile aimed at his feet to get him off balance, and once the tree was toppled, jump upon him with cheerful violent alacrity, and pile on with as much emphasis as humanly possible, sometimes jumping off the couch to cannonball down upon him, while ignoring the plaintive murmur of our youngest brother trapped at the bottom of the pile, mewling like a new kitten?

We did.

Did we occasionally reach or lurch or lunge across the table during meals to commit crimes upon the bodies of our brothers even though dad had said and he meant it too that the next boy who reached across the table with bad intent would lose a finger?

We did.

We did these things, all these things, and more things too, and you would think the accumulated violence would brood dislike, or bitterness, or vengeful urges, but I report with amazement that it did not. Yes, the trundle of years and the fading of memory are at play here. Yes, we are all much older and slower and have lost the language of pummel and lash. Yes, we have all witnessed and endured pain and loss in such doses that the thrash and crash of our brotherly years seems minor now compared to the larger darkness.

But there is something else here; in some strange way, in some way I don’t understand, our crashing and tackling and wrestling was about love. Maybe we did not have words then for what we felt, and had to use our sharp elbows and long whippy maple branches as halting stammering tongues. Maybe the apprentice years at love are always rough and bruising. Maybe we were trying to say something gentle when we were ungentle. Maybe we use our hands to say things when we have no words for the things we want so desperately to say. That is what I have tried to do with my hands this morning, brothers. Remember the crash of bodies, and the grapple in the grass, and the laughing pile on the rug, for that was the thrum of our love, brothers. So now let us arise, and haul our youngest brother out from the bottom of the pile by his thin flailing legs, and restore him to a semblance of his usual shape and volume, and proceed to dinner, laughing and chaffing and shouldering, and it will always be this moment somehow, brothers, just before dinner, just before the tide of time rises, in the instant of silence just before dad says grace.


This memoir was originally published in The Sun magazine and is reprinted here by permission.


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