A Brothership Memoir
Kelsey Timmerman’s story. He is 37.
Written by Michael Brockley
Potential is universal; opportunity is not.
– Wes Moore
A boy I know from the slums of Nairobi delivered his neighbor’s from genocide by speaking the language of his country’s outlaws while he stood in the crosshairs of their guns. I believe in community. Ubuntu. Humanity shared. I am because we are.
I volunteered to become a Big Brother after writing Where Am I Wearing, after serving at Teamwork for Quality Living. I met my little brother’s mother at the B. B. B. S. office. Chatted through the awkwardness of why a stranger would want to be matched with her son. Big Brothers Big Sisters smoothed the rough edges. Found common ground for a mother who wanted a life for her ten-year old son beyond staying home with video games and Percy Jackson novels. He liked to read, and I was a writer, a Millennial eager to play at being twelve-years old again. He read Where Am I Wearing in two days. We played pass. I pretended I was Joe Montana and that he was Jerry Rice. We bonded over ping pong volleys. Didn’t keep score. In my new brother’s eyes I could wear sunglasses at night because the sun never sets on cool. I’ll call him Matt.
On our first outing we ate grinders at Mancinos. We watched Avatar and superhero movies. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Matt taught me how to be a father to my newborns. I looked forward to watching my children grow up from the wisdom he shared with me. We talked about whatever boys discuss with men. Brag and bravado. Football. We speculated about driving fast cars on gravel roads. About ice cream headaches and dodgeball tactics. He dreamed of being a surgeon, an entrepreneur. His funny accents made my daughter laugh.
He was a ten-year old boy and the very next day a freshman. His calendar crowded with the high jinks of teenagers. My days packed with author visits across the United States. With a son I could never be twelve for. That summer my father and I brought Matt to a model airplane fair. Matt lethargic and grumpy while model airplanes buzzed through the southeast Muncie skies. A morning after too many beers. I lectured him about choices. He had friends with muscle cars. I had lost my sunglasses. We never saw Thor or Daredevil. Skipped the final Harry Potter. Matt, who read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was too cool for school. My lectures failed him. He’d text me on the night road, southbound to Muncie on I-69 from Fort Wayne. My daughter crying in the backseat. My son asleep beside her. Matt miles away, stranded somewhere after curfew. My little brother, one of the first to suspect my son had autism. Miles apart in the Indiana night. A few months later, a kid he walked home with opened a door that was not his to open. The police caught them with property they didn’t own. If I’d been arrested, my parents would have lawyered up to let me spend the night in my own bed. I might have served a few months probation, been grounded and lost my cell phone. I would have graduated from high school, studied anthropology at Miami University and graduated cum laude. Had the chance to become a touron. I did.
I visited Matt at the YOC, a school for kids without options, a school for kids under lock-and-key. He wouldn’t talk. Shame, I guess. I bought him mocha frappes from McDonald’s. We played Scrabble on a $75.00 board. He started talking to me again. I promised to be there for him. Told him I believed in him. But he mouthed off to his counselors. Lacked respect in a place where wise guys earn demerits. Prolonged his sentence beyond a year. He started drinking again after his release. Or maybe not. We drifted apart, and Big Brothers Big Sisters suspended our match. Today he texts me while I’m delivering my underwear spiel on a stage in Pella, Iowa, or putting my children to bed. He’s worried about the Donald Trump insanity. The dark national road ahead. He dropped out of school. Listed me as a reference when he signed the lease for his first apartment. “He’s a good guy who’s made some bad decisions,” I told his potential landlord on the phone, “He needs someone to believe in him and give him a chance.”
None of us chooses our brothers. I volunteered to enter his world of demigods and lightning-scarred wizards. We forged our brothership over a Scrabble board and phone conversations between Burkina Faso and Middletown, U. S. A. I didn’t choose Matt. He didn’t choose me. But we ring true when we’re together. We are truer now than when he was ten and I was twelve as we turned button hooks on passing routes during our Big Brother outings. I want to leave an ubuntu America for my brother,
Michael Brockley is a school psychologist who lives in Muncie, Indiana. He has participated in four Facing Projects and treasures each opportunity to play a role in Facing Project events. In addition to Facing Project poems, Michael’s work can be found in such poetry journals as Panoplyzine, The New Verse News, Third Wednesday and Flying Island.
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The Facing Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. The organization’s model to share stories and raise awareness is in cities across the United States focused on topics such as poverty, sex trafficking, mental health, immigration, and more. Facing Project stories are compiled into books and on the web for a community resource, used to inspire art, photography, monologues and—most importantly—community-wide awareness, dialogue, action, and change toward a more understanding and empathetic society.