It wasn’t always obvious to me what my brothers and I had in common. They were loud and boisterous, whereas I was quieter and more studious. On any given day during the summer, they could be found yelling and diving into the swimming pool, and I would be listening to them from my room as I built a new Lego castle. Despite our more obvious differences, however, we all loved to read, and as we got older, found great pleasure in discussing and loaning books to one another.
My brothers loved to read the Hap and Leonard series by Joe Lansdale. They had discovered him around the same time (although both would lay claim to being “first”), and would spend hours talking about the characters, their favorite lines, the bizarre plot twists. I never made a point of reading them until my younger brother gave me a copy of his favorite installment to the series, Captain’s Outrageous, for Christmas, and told me to be finished with it by New Years. He was so excited for me that I started reading that night, and finished by the next afternoon.
I didn’t care much for the story, and I still don’t. But it occupies a permanent space on my bookshelf because it gave me something far more important than the story of a half-baked caper. Reading this book, I began to understand my brothers in a different way. Their admiration for the main characters spoke volumes about their own desires for fairness and justice. Their raucous laughter over ridiculous jokes told me that they had held on to a sense of silliness well into their adulthood. Their anger toward the antagonist gave lie to a protectiveness that they had never grown out of. Reading this book, I was able to know my brothers more deeply than I had since we were children. I started waiting eagerly for the latest novels to come out, thrilled at the prospect of now sharing in the latest adventures of Hap and Leonard.
A year after giving me Captain’s Outrageous, my younger brother took his own life. It didn’t make sense then, and it still doesn’t. I stopped reading Joe Lansdale, although I kept the book. I won’t get rid of it. Occasionally, the blue-green cover catches my eye and makes me stop to wonder at this painful and wonderful gift. This reminder that, despite everything else, for a moment, because of this book, I understood my brother in a truly honest way. The way I will always prefer to remember him.