Nearly 21 years ago, my brothers Danny and Ross were killed in a car accident. That event was obviously a huge trauma in my life, and not many days go by that I don’t think about them and wonder what their lives would have been had they not been taken from us at such young ages (Danny was 20, and Ross was 18).
For some reason I thought I would tell you about them. I’ll start with Danny because he was older. All my life I knew my brother as someone who was fearless and full of adventure, such that he always got into trouble from an early age. I remember when he was about 6, an older boy pushed him off a trampoline at his school and told him little kids weren’t allowed. Danny picked himself up and beat the crap out of the other kid. He would not allow anyone to push him around, and most people learned not to mess with him.
But on the other hand, he had a very tender heart and was always giving of himself. My mother says that when he was little, if she gave him a cookie, he would break it in half and give half back to her because he wanted to share. He was always collecting stray kittens. Once he brought home a pathetic little orange tabby with a gooey, swollen eye and some kind of insect infestation. “And he only cost $10,” he said happily. The vet had to shave the cat, which Danny lovingly bathed and cared for the bad eye. He named it Spike. Even in college he brought home a stray kitten and kept it in his apartment until he had to move, and then he made sure the cat had a good home.
Danny knew how to get on my nerves, and he often did so intentionally. For some reason, whenever we would go swimming in our backyard pool, he would eventually grab hold of my neck and try to hold me underwater. He wouldn’t succeed, but he would not let go until I would have to punch him repeatedly, at which point he would go into the house crying and tell my mom that I had, for no reason, beaten him up. And then he would smirk as I got punished. It makes me laugh just thinking about it. Once the Boy Scouts left some boxing gloves at our house, and we decided to test them. Within a few minutes we were beating each other to a pulp, both of us crying.
As teenagers, we were friendly but didn’t do too much together, as our circles of friends didn’t really overlap. I worked a lot, and he and Ross were at the beach in their spare time. After I got home from my mission to Bolivia, we went on a trip to Mazatlan together, a belated graduation present for him. We had a great time swimming and surfing and riding around on motorcycles. The last night we splurged and had lobster for dinner. The appetizer was a shrimp cocktail that tasted slightly funky. That night we traded places on the toilet and didn’t get any sleep.
That summer we worked together at a restaurant and were together all the time. We would get up early, go to the beach to surf, take a nap in the sun, and then go home, shower, and go to work. We became really close that summer, and then when we headed back to school, we lived in the same apartment building, his apartment directly below mine. At school (we both went to BYU), he excelled, getting such good grades that the university gave him a retroactive scholarship and refunded his tuition.
When I was dating my wife, Danny was very much taken with her. He kept telling me I should hurry up and marry her, so I did. We were in his apartment when we set the date (on a Far Side calendar, his favorite). At the wedding, the photographer was a rather weathered fellow in a shabby suit. Danny kept saying, “Smile for the hippie,” under his breath, and everyone was laughing.
That summer Danny gave me a leather bomber jacket (I still have it) that my parents bought him for his birthday. He said it was too pretentious for him, so he gave it to me. When fall came, he came by and asked if he could have it back, because he didn’t have a warm jacket. He would show up at odd hours and sit and talk with my wife for long periods. I knew he was lonely, and he really did like her.
The last time I saw Danny, he and Ross and I went swimming at the Richards Building on the BYU campus. We didn’t swim for long but instead talked for a long time. A few days later my dad called to tell me that they had been killed. When I saw him in the casket, it didn’t look like him, though he was wearing his thrift-store sharkskin suit. The expression on his face seemed so fragile, so childlike. Sometimes I can’t bear to remember that.
So I choose to remember the tough but tender kid I knew. I loved him.