When you're 11 years younger than your oldest brother, you get to learn a lot through them.

You learn how to blow air through blades of grass and make it squeal. You learn the hilariously reckless fun of riding your bike around in circles while he tries to knock you off by throwing a basketball at you. You learn the right way to make a snowball. How to eat cherry tomatoes. You learn how going fishing isn't about the fishing but about the sandwiches you pack. You learn how to code.

As you grow into adulthood the 11 year gap narrows. You learn how you can help in ways you couldn't before. You can help him move into his first house, tile his bathroom, grow cherry tomatoes... And yet you're still learning from him. How to get a job, prioritize what's important, how to be a dad.

And as the years go on, the gap continues to narrow until one day it's no more. He relies on you as much as you him. But he's still not done teaching you things.

One day, he teaches you how to grieve.

You came into the world when he was 11. He knows everything about you. He knows how you respond to stress through humor. He knows when the time comes, you'll need humor.

He also knows it's his job to use every opportunity to get your goat...in that playful, poking kind of way that only an older brother knows. He knows how to push buttons that seemingly only exist for him to push.

And so, one day, as you're driving together knowing the inevitable isn't too far away, he'll turn to you and say: "When it happens, I want you fire me off into space."

You'll laugh uncomfortably, wanting to change the subject - not yet ready to have this conversation.

"I'm serious. Find out how much it costs, work with someone - but send me into outer space."

"Let's not talk about this...." You resist.

"You need to do this for me. Fire me off into space."

"You know I'll do anything for you. But this... I'm just going to say no. Let's move on."

And, surprisingly, he let's it go. It's never brought up again.

Months go by and, as prepared as you think you might be, you're not. It's time for the lesson you don't want to learn. Grief. The last lesson.

Or so you think. Only hours after he's gone, a mutual friend - with the confidence only your brother could give someone comes to you and says: "He made me promise something... I'm on a mission. We need to fire him into space."

And instantly the numbness, the shock ... it disappears. He helps you face reality with laughter. Because he knows you. You laugh. You cry. You grieve. You mourn.

But the lessons aren't done. 5 years go by. Not a single day passes without you thinking of him. Multiple times. The lessons, the coffees, the laughs.

And on the eve of the 5th anniversary, you read how NASA is sending a space craft to Europa. There's an open invite to submit names, which will be etched onto a microchip on the ship. 

You submit his name, learning yet another lesson: Try as might, you can never say no to your older brother.


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