In Tribute to Rudy

On Saturday, July 10, 2010 My baby brother left to go to war. Again.

My brother, Rudy, is the epitome of a gentle giant. Rudy is about 6’7” tall, 250-300 pounds, and the nicest person I know. Artist and author, Rudy has always been more the bohemian artist than a military man, but he is, at 23 years old, already a veteran of one war and about to become a veteran of another war. I never expected to see my brother in uniform, even though my family has a very strong military background. Aunts, uncles, and cousins all have joined and our grandfather served in WWII.

Rudy & Me at his Basic graduation

Rudy is the creator in our family. He is an artist and a writer. He’s never been published (but give him time!), but has done a lot – definitely more than I have (though he always encourges me to write more, too). He’s created and drawn multiple characters and he’s written several stories by himself and assisted several people in collaboration. He’s currently working on his first full length book.

When I was 7 my baby brother, Rudy Johnson, was born. While my mother was pregnant, I was kinda nervous that she would not have any love left for me after the baby was born. Right before my mother went to the hospital to have Rudy, a friend of her gave me a tiny little Pound Puppy named Spike. When he gave me this puppy he said to me, “You have a lot of responsibility coming up. You’re about to become a big sister. You’re going to have to teach your little brother a lot. Since he’s not here yet, I got you this puppy so that you can practice. Remember, he’s a puppy so you have to keep him safe.” That was when I honestly knew my life would change – and it would be for the better. I still have that Pound Puppy named Spike. He sits on top of my dresser in my bedroom and reminds me that I’m a part of something special. I’ve had that stuffed animal for over 20 years now.

After my mom came home with Rudy, I was fascinated. I never had that jealously that usually plagues sibling relationships. He was like my very own living and breathing toy. He was cute and cuddly, laughed at my antics, thought I was wonderful, and smelled like baby powder. The minute I held him, I lost my heart. Whenever we went somewhere, I wanted to be in charge of Rudy. I pushed his stroller and I held his hand. We gave him a nickname – Rudy the Pooh Bear, Pooh for short – and my mom and I wrote stories and recorded songs about all the adventures that Rudy Pooh got into.

Rudy at 16 and mom

When Rudy got to be old enough to crawl, I had been regulated to doing the dishes by myself for the whole family. The amount of dishes a family of four can use in the course of a single day is outrageous – so doing the dishes by myself in the kitchen was very lonely. I think Rudy could sense how sad it made me. He would crawl into the kitchen and sit with me for a while. Eventually we turned it into a game. Every night as I washed dishes, Rudy would sit on a little stool in the kitchen with me. We would boo the dirty dishes and cheer for the clean dishes. He would clap for me and make me feel special. It made being in that kitchen so much easier, cause with Rudy I was no longer alone.

Once, when the family was snowed in during a blizzard, I drug a little pallet out of my room to place by the stairs (my bedroom was upstairs) because it had gotten very cold in my room. The next morning when I woke, I found that my brother had toddled out of his downstairs bedroom early that morning to go find me. He’d pulled himself up the stairs and when he found me at the top of the stairs, he sat down on the stairs by my head and went back to sleep. Horrified and amused, in order to keep me warm and my brother whole during the blizzard, my mom moved me downstairs to share Rudy’s room that same night.

By the time Rudy got to be old enough to start kindergarten, I’d already taught him how to read. Always a voracious reader, I had a few old text books in my possession. At first, I had no real intention of teaching him how to read. I used to read him a lot of stories – but I was a kid myself so after a while the stuff he had got a little boring. I wanted something with a little more meat in it. But I couldn’t read my baby brother the romance novels I snuck from my mom! So the next best thing was to teach him to read my old text books. I had a 2nd grade spelling book and several old reading books, so we started with the spelling book. I taught Rudy his ABC’s and then how to spell. As we progressed through spelling he slowly learned to read. Of course, this brought him issues when he started school cause the teachers had nothing to teach him at first!

I was extremely possessive of Rudy. He is MY brother and I dared anybody to mess with him. Only I had the right to piss him off or annoy the crap out of him. Just because I was enamored of him didn’t stop me from being a kid. I certainly had the being an annoying sibling part down pat. But even then it was in a friendly way. We have what we call the “Big Sister Handbook” and the “Little Brother Handbook” (never written, of course – maybe that should change) in which was described all the extremely annoying things we were allowed to do to each other. I even complained once that he was breathing too loud, lol! At the time Rudy thought I was serious (I was), and he sadly started to go play somewhere by himself. But being annoying was his job, too. Mom told me that as he turned away I got upset and said, “Where do you think you’re going?! We got stuff to do!” And we went off – happily together. But it also meant that we protected each other, too. I once tried to ride to school on his school bus (he was in elementary and I was in middle school) because there were some kids who were messing with my brother and making him cry. I was going to ride with him and kick ANYBODY’S ass who would dare mess with MY brother. Suffice to say, the bus driver was not amused.

Not to say Rudy hasn’t spent time protecting me, as well. When he met my fiancé for the first time (Rudy was visiting on leave from Korea), he threatened my fiancé’s life! God, I love my brother.

Years and years later, my brother is now an adult. He’s married now – in fact, his engagement was the first time I ever felt jealously towards my brother. But not at him – rather at this woman that was taking my brother away. He’s MY brother, damn it! He was married in April 2009, only a few months before he had to leave to begin his tour of duty in Iraq. He was gone for a little over a year. His wife, Samantha, is pregnant at this moment, so my brother will soon become someone’s father. And a great father he will be.

Rudy on his wedding day

My brother is a member of the US Army. He has completed one tour of duty in Iraq. When he came back, he was told he’d get a full year stateside. Unfortunately the troop surge made that a pipe dream. Even though his first child is due sometime in January, he just left the US to begin a tour in Afghanistan. He’ll be there for at least one year.

His time at war really hurts. Both my family and his new family. I’m sure his wife is not excited about having her first child while her husband is half the world away. The military has him based in Texas, so he was already far away. I only had about two days with him before he left.

Rudy being sent into harm’s way really makes me feel powerless. And sad. And angry. I’m his older sister. I have always felt it was my job to protect him. I may not be able to do everything, but I’ve almost always have been able to do something. But in this instance, I can do nothing. Nothing except watch and wait and pray. Pray that my brother soon comes home to us – sound in mind and body.

Every morning when I get up, I look at that Pound Puppy named Spike. I think about what it means to be a big sister. I think about how much I want to be able to protect my brother from the terrors of this world. But I know I can’t. I can’t wrap him up in tissue paper and put him somewhere safe. I can’t keep him on top of my dresser. But that doesn’t stop me from want to do all those things and more. It doesn’t stop me from crying and feeling depressed about my baby brother going off to war. It doesn’t stop me from feeling like a failure as a big sister.

I’m proud of my brother. Prouder than words can say. I support our military men and women. Like Rudy, all of them are sacrificing a lot to accomplish their mission. Like Rudy, all of them are leaving someone at home. And those of us who are left behind? Guilt and frustration and sadness, loneliness and pride are our share in abundance. But when we talk to our soldiers we try our best not to let that pain show. Not to increase their already too heavy burden.

Rudy Johnson, I love you. Come home soon.

Rudy & Me at Christmas

Advertisements

Pictures Needed

Help!

I’m looking for photos of people (men, women, and children) with their dreadlocks in formal styles. Up-do’s, down and loose, it really doesn’t matter. I’m looking to create a photo gallery of pictures that represent the range of options people with dreadlocks have when getting ready for a formal event.

If you do have photos, please send them to: thenaturalbride@gmail.com. Please remember: if the photo has been taken by a professional photographer, I will need the name of the photographer (and if possible the website) to give photo credit.

Remembering Annette

Annette's Homecoming

I had to attend a funeral – or “home coming” – today. The funeral was for a friend of my fiancée and I, Annette Turner. I say “had to” because I don’t do well with funerals (though that is true for a lot of people) and I have decided that when I pass (if I have the opportunity) I would like to be cremated – and have the money that would go to having a funeral for me go to a party for my family and friends. I mean a real party with cake, ice cream, food, drinks, lots dancing music and tons of laughter. That’s how I try to live my life now, how I hope to live my life in the future, and how I want to be remembered.

Annette was a very loving person. She could be very annoying and a bit of a know it all – but she was extremely kind and likeable. She was a single mother of two – and both of her children attended (or are currently attending) college. She spoke of her children often, with love and pride. She tried to mother everyone – and wanted the best for her friends and family.

My fiancée and I were both lucky enough to be a part of Annette’s circle of friends – she was to attend our wedding in September – and she joked and laughed and picked on us as if we were her children. She scolded and gave advice in equal measures – and this is very difficult for me. It’s hard to quantify someone’s effect on your life in simple words. Quite frankly it’s almost impossible. All I know is that Annette was important enough for me to get up early this morning and go to a funeral. Honestly, in some ways my attending her funeral was very selfish of me. I didn’t want to believe her gone and so part of the reason I went to her funeral was to verify for myself that this wasn’t some sick joke. There I sat, surrounded by people in mourning, and with them I cried. I cried for her children and I cried for my fiancée and I cried for myself.

Annette's Obituary