I've been thinking a lot about what to say to my brother this year. "Thank you for your service"? (Over text message because he never picks up his phone, which I try not to take personally?)
I want to acknowledge what he did, or what was done to him, or what he was made to do, without turning it into some kind of ra ra ra you mess with the bull now feel the horns an eye for an eye etc etc. There isn't a flag hanging outside my house or a yellow ribbon decal stuck on the back of my car, and I doubt I'll be watching the parade. In fact I'll probably be at the Genius Bar requesting a repair of the iPhone I accidentally smashed to bits in a parking lot. I suppose it's appropriate: he'll think of the friends he lost in combat and I'll think of the $110 I lost because I dropped something. My life is easy and his is immeasurably difficult. I know, we all have our struggles and demons. But there are orders of magnitude separating us.
Cracked glass triggers a memory: he punches through the picture of his Recruit Training Battalion that my father had framed for him as a surprise one New Year's eve. That's how he felt about being a marine. Victimized by his own decision, maybe. Enraged at himself. We all hated that anger at the time, but now I think it was a symbol of strength and willfulness, a sign that he refused to be broken down and rebuilt in someone else's protagonistic image.
When my brother was about to enlist a friend of ours said something like "this isn't fucking Braveheart." My brother looked to me to sort out his confusion. My parents called me l'avvocato, the lawyer, because I always took his side, pled his case. I told him to join.
My Aunt scoured the internet for news of my brother's location, which we didn't ever know, while he was away. One day she came upon a picture, marines dug into the side of a road, armed to the teeth. She zoomed in. There was our name on the back of a helmet. I wrote over it but it still shows through.
I'm sorry for everything that you've lost, I want to say. Not thank you, or way to go, or job well done. And I want to say that I am sorry for every selfish part of myself, that is like every selfish part of every other person, that means there need to be jobs like the one you made yourself do. And I'm sorry for being ungrateful and naive and wishing that job away when I'm supposed to be celebrating it.