A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity – Proverbs 17:17
Today is my brother’s birthday. I met Brian many years ago at the exact time that I needed him most. He told me his name is Boo. I told him my name is John, because that’s the truth. We bonded over our mutual love of working out the fact that we were single fathers for a long time.
We met as bouncers at a teen club in Chattanooga, TN. Sounded like an easy job, I mean they were only kids right? How hard could it be to keep a bunch of kids in line? Except then the gang members who couldn’t get into adult clubs started showing up.
I have a vivid memory of standing side by side with him faced off against a crowd of angry gang members. God kept us alive that day. Other bouncers showed up, then the police. We made it out of there. We started calling each other brother that day.
I remember standing with him as another one of the bouncers, our friend Willy, lay stretched out on the floor after being beaten by the crowd during another pointless fight over dancing. I remember Boo standing over me after I was thrown face first onto the asphalt while trying to be nice about taking someone down after they refused to be patted down. I never made that mistake again. This face is way too pretty to abuse like that.
I remember playing pranks on his dad. One time, we tied his father’s door shut and banged on it, laughing as he struggled to open it. We laughed even harder as we ran away when he leaned out of the window with a BB gun. I remember driving up to Tennessee ready to fight when I heard that someone had hurt his mother. I remember Boo giving me a piece of cake she had just baked after I finished convincing the person who had hit her that he should never do that again. His mother loved me for defending her, but she loved me more because my insatiable love of books encouraged her son to start reading again.
I remember when I needed to go to Marine Combat Training to learn to use a compass and dig a six foot deep hole with an entrenching tool. I hadn’t slept at all the night before. Boo and his wife, Tracy, drove me all the way to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina from their home in Dayton, TN.
I remember driving my stepsons to meet their biological father in Chattanooga when I had to go for a drill weekend. He cancelled while I was still on the road and too far away from home to turn around. I called Boo. He had just driven thirty minutes from work to get home. When I told him what I needed, he turned around and drove back. He watched the kids all weekend long, because I had the only car and my wife had no way to come get the boys. No questions asked. By the time we picked them back up, his love of made up words like conjubalate had rubbed off on them.
I remember standing by his side as we watched his mother struggle for her last breaths. We laughed about how I almost got a speeding ticket driving way too fast in the rain to get there from North Georgia to Chattanooga. I remember going to the hospital when Boo was suffering from severe blood loss. In the middle of it all, he tried to get his wife to kick everybody out and give him a sponge bath. “We need to enhance our relationship” he said. I left the room.
I remember not being there for him when he lost his house. I couldn’t. I was shooting artillery outside Fallujah, Iraq. It bothers me anyway. He and his family lost their home and had to move to a different city to start over. Where they lived didn’t have enough room for everyone, so By the time I came back, he had almost clawed his way back. Despite his own struggle, he volunteered to go to New Orleans with other linemen to restore power to that city when Hurricane Katrina hit. I was there with the Marines and our only regret was being so close and not being able to get to each other to grab a workout at an abandoned gym I found. By that time, both he and I had realized that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us and had orchestrated events to repair the relationship between us and Him. We both committed to follow Him and His Son through the guidance of The Counselor They sent us.
I remember my wife, Naomi, and I Cabbage Patching and doing the Reebok at Boo and Tracy’s ten year anniversary. We were nice with it Son! No Electric Slide though. That’s a stereotype.
I remember being there when his father died. We laughed about the door tying incident and other pranks. Boo’s father died without any last words to his children so I remember consoling Boo and his brother Karim with the words King David gave on his deathbed to his son Solomon in 1 Kings 2.
The action didn’t stop there.
I remember driving to Maryland to pick up my son. Somehow or other, we talked our way into lifting at Gold’s Gym for free then ended up at a party where most of the people were convinced that we were professional strongmen. We handed out a bunch of advice but left before they asked for a demonstration. Twice, we’ve driven from Tennessee to the Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH, both competed in our chosen sports of powerlifting and strongman, become passionate about the Animal brand and what it represents to underdogs and outcasts everywhere. I took the picture when he met Grant Higa and Brandon Curry. He took the picture when I met Frankie Edgar, Frank McGrath and Flex Lewis.
I remember when my eldest was invited to compete in the World Championships in Telfs, Austria, Boo talked members of his church into holding a car wash to raise money for tickets. That’s after collecting donations at work from whoever would give.
Above all, I remember that he is the brother I wanted when my mother and I lived in a duplex on a dusty road in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa. The brother I asked for later when Mommy and I lived in a two bedroom in Maryland. The brother I searched for when I hung out with a crowd that was much rougher than I could ever be in tough neighborhoods near D.C. I have driven a car into the side of his house, he’s blown up the motor in my first Jeep Cherokee. We’ve stood in the cold to hand out presents to poor children together and complained about how the movies never get Batman quite right. We’ve both started garage gyms that we use to share our faith and have long conversations about this or that piece of equipment. We drove six hours once with a power rack hanging off the back of a pickup. We’ve argued and hung up on each other and been at each other’s sides in hospitals praying over our mutual loved one. Good times.
I always wondered why God never gave me the brother I kept asking for. He did. He made him four years before I was born in a small Tennessee town where scholars had once debated evolution versus creation and a trail bears witness to long cried Cherokee Tears. I just had to find a job at a hole in the wall teen club to finally meet him. Happy Birthday Bruh. Conjubalate for me.