My older brother had biceps and calf muscles like halved apples tucked under his skin, he had a great jump shot that required nothing of him other than a tiny hop and a flick of his wrists, and the gap between his two front teeth – the one that everyone in my family had, that you could wedge two nickels into and still have room – grew close enough together between fourth and fifth grade that when school started up again, none of the kids in his class remembered that they used to tease him about it. I followed him around (and did my best to walk and talk like him), but Danny always said that he wished he were more like me. I was a quick learner, and had skipped kindergarten and second grade. At that rate, he said, I’d be done with school before him.
By the time I was eleven and my brother was fourteen, he had quit treating me like a little brother and more like a peer. If we did something knuckleheaded together and one of us got hurt or broke something, our mother would look at me, a full foot shorter than my brother, and ask if I had properly thought the situation through beforehand.
That was around the time I began to forget what my father looked like. I had to look at pictures to remember the salt-and-pepper eyebrows and the creases that decorated his cheeks, proof that he did in fact smile from time to time, just not in photographs. I knew my father’s chin by heart, the way his jaw was set; I only had to look up at my brother to remember those. It didn’t bother me most of the time that he was gone, but my brother had memories that I didn’t, a trip to the air museum in Palm Springs, during which he’d ridden our father’s shoulders for a closer view of the World War II fighter planes, and an elaborate train set they’d assembled together over a period of months, complete with tiny, fake trees and a general store the boxcars sped past and around.