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    Blood and Water

    By David Perry–

    “Are you too good to join the Army? Who do you think you are? I never went to college.”

    After 40 years, the words still sting: big brother reaction to my little brother excitement at university acceptance.

    “Who do you think you are?”

    I worshipped my brother. At 15 years my senior, he was even more of an imposing idol than most “big brothers.” He taught me to swim, and once, when I fell in the pool before that lesson—promptly sinking to the bottom—he dove in and saved my life.

    He gave me my first car and then took me to a snow-laden parking lot at Willow Lawn Shopping Center to show me how to survive a skid: “Steer into the swerve, not against it. If you jerk the wheel too hard, you’ll flip the car.” Two years later on a rainy New York State Thruway driving to college, my beloved brother-bestowed-car hit a nail and blew a tire.

    “Steer into the swerve,” and I did, terrified, but survived.

    My bother saved my life—again.

    “Are you too good to join the Army? Who do you think you are? I never went to college.”

    My brother was a hero, and he knew cars. Drafted into service during that most horrible of late 60s turmoil, he left for the Army along with his best friend Bobby. Their mothers packed Kool-Aid in their packs in case the water was bad where they were going: Vietnam. Bobby’s parents and ours waved their boys away that Richmond summer, the drab olive military van driving down our street. When it disappeared around the corner, the waving stopped and the mothers fainted.

    One day, I thought, I guess I’ll go to Vietnam too. I was six years old.

    Not long after that we found out that my brother got sent to West Germany—a miracle. Bobby did not. He was dead by a Vietcong sniper.

    My brother was never the same.

    “Who do you think you are?”

    In Germany, a general’s car broke down. His chauffeur was flummoxed. My brother offered to help. He fixed the car. The general turned to his driver. “You’re relieved.” To my brother: “You work for me now.”

    Around that time, there was a fire. Tents burst into flames and my brother rushed in. He saved people. He was horribly scarred. He stopped wearing short sleeves.

    “Are you too good to join the Army?”

    My brother came home. He opened a foreign car repair shop—the first in town. He was a big success. I would stop by after school and visit.

    “Hey, little brother,” he would greet me with a kiss. I loved him very much. I was 16. He was 31. Our mother was 55. They discovered cancer. At 56, she was dead.

    “Who do you think you are?”

    My brother used to listen to Peter, Paul & Mary. I played his 45 of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” his favorite. After Mama died, he stopped listening to music. Both of us were sad, but even worse, both of us were mad. I was mad at my mother for dying. My brother—well, he just seemed mad.

    I went to college, and after that, things were never quite the same between me and my brother. I never knew why. I still don’t.

    “I never went to college.”

    Over the years we would see each other—occasionally. Marriages. Divorces. Comings out. Two decades passed. I went to Europe. I traveled. We spoke by phone—sometimes. Facebook was invented. We posted. Trump was elected. We stopped speaking. The political divide became an abyss.

    “Who do you think you are?”

    Over the years—and especially the last year—that conversation has come back to haunt me. Why would my going to college offend my brother? My brother could build a car from chopsticks. I moved to San Francisco where I mastered the art of eating with them. Somehow, I became a “Coastal Elite” and my brother moved to Texas when Virginia “got too liberal.”

    Did I think I was smarter than my brother? No. But, as the years wore on I have often wondered if he thought that I thought that I was.

    “Are you too good to join the Army? Who do you think you are? I never went to college.”

    Since Election Day 2016, contact between my brother and me has been scant: a birthday email here; a texted photo of an antique car there. Rockets sent up from the deck of a sinking ship.

    “I guess you think I’m a deplorable,” my brother said last year during a brief conversant thaw.

    “I never said that you were,” was my reply.

    “No, no you didn’t,” my brother drawled, “and I appreciate that.”

    He’s not deplorable. He’s my brother.

    Today, debarking from a typically urbanite cruise, I whipped out my iPhone and read (yet another) article about the yawning chasm in our familial body politic: Elites vs. Deplorables. Brother vs. Brother. Us vs. Us. “Liberals Aren’t as Smart as They Think They Are” was the headline that got me from shipboard to Uber, and it made me remember that phone call of so, so long ago.

    “Are you too good to join the Army? Who do you think you are? I never went to college.”

    I didn’t think I was too good to join the Army; I just didn’t want to. Honestly, I don’t think my brother “wanted” to either. No one “wanted” to join the Army in 1967. But my brother did, and the scars from those battle-worn years plague him still.

    I am married. I work. I am happy. My brother is married. He is retired. I hope he is happy too. He is a member of the NRA, has a collection of guns and a hundred thousand rounds of ammunition. I am a member of the ACLU, have a collection of maritime history books and a hundred thousand frequent flyer miles. The twains seem unlikely to meet.

    But perhaps this is just the musings of a middle-aged American trying to figure out the divergent siblings of the past 40 years. That mad, sad mystery is truly the only deplorable thing here.

    David Perry is the CEO and Founder of David Perry & Associates, Inc. (https://www.davidperry.com/).