When I was very young, the time when most people have their imaginary friends, I had my brother Leo. We were born 360 days apart. Being born 5 days before his 1st birthday, we were the same age for five whole days each year. It was a special time, and made me feel very close to him, as if we were twins of a sort. While we didn’t share a special language like most twins, we did understand each other like nobody else could. We played together constantly and were each other’s best friend… until he started going to school. Then everything changed.
I suppose people started teasing him for spending so much time with his “Sissy” but he started pulling away. Story of my life, I suppose. Nobody stays. A few times he even made me cry, he was so mean in telling me he was too old to play with me anymore. He couldn’t stand to see me cry, though, so that would usually soften his resolve and we would spend some time together. Then things would go back to the new way of him hanging and playing with our oldest brother instead of me, and them telling me I was just a dumb ole girl who was too little to play with them.
In spite of the fact that Leo never let me continue crying, it never once occurred to me to pretend to cry to make him play with me. I knew it hurt him to see me cry, and even though he was hurting me by being “too big” to play with me, I never wanted to see him in any pain. The thought of purposely causing him pain for any reason was simply out of the question.
I had hoped that my becoming old enough to go to school would change things, but alas it was not to be. We never did regain the closeness we had. He allowed the outside world to dictate his course. He was a brilliant musician, played like an angel. His skill and talent on the French Horn earned him a scholarship to Juilliard. I remember how he struggled with that. How sad that he turned it down to fulfill another destiny.
Leo was born in a police car. According to the stories we were told, Mom went into labor and it advanced very quickly. Dad was working and couldn’t get away so Mom called the police, who sent a car to get her to the hospital. Leo wouldn’t wait and was born enroute. He was the first child born in a police car in the small town of Latrobe, PA, so they made him an honorary policeman. He grew up believing he was supposed wear the blue uniform, and because of that, he gave up the proffered scholarship and at the tender age of 17 joined the Atlantic City Police Force. I heard strings were pulled but I know no details.
He was a good cop. He used humor and reason to deal with most people. As long as you were reasonably polite to him and weren’t committing some horrendous crime he would give you a good talking to and let you go without a ticket. I remember one time we were up on the Boardwalk, talking, when he looked over at a couple sitting on one of the benches and said, “Wait here.” He strode over to them. Of course I followed, not understanding that they could pull a gun and start shooting. They were smoking a joint, which the man immediately ate as soon as he saw Leo approaching. He didn’t arrest them, though, even though back then the laws concerning marijuana were *much* stricter. He simply said, “Hi, how ya doin? Man you know it’s really disrespectful for you to be sitting here smoking a jay in front of me. It’s like you’re begging me to bust you. Now *why* would you want to do that?”
They apologized and he said, “Please be more aware of your surroundings when you are doing something like that. Next time I might be talking to another cop and then I’d have to bust you. Maybe you should do that stuff in your own home so nobody sees. Have a nice day.” With that, he walked away. I asked him why he didn’t uphold the law as he had sworn to do, and his answer stuck with me for the rest of my life. He said, “If I busted everyone who did something stupid, I would spend my entire life processing idiots. I would rather be out here protecting people from real danger. The only ones they are hurting are themselves. And believe me, putting the ‘fear of God’ into them works much better at getting them to watch what they’re doing.”
Leo is gone now, several years since he passed. The job ate his soul, and he killed himself the hard way, with alcohol. They called me home to say goodbye when he had gotten so bad with his various illnesses that he was in the hospital in a coma. My sister-in-law, his wife, asked us all to leave so she could have a few minutes alone to say goodbye before she pulled the plug on him, so we all shuffled out into the waiting area. After a minute of us all sitting there silently waiting, I got a mental picture of my dear brother, young and healthy, doing a dancing shuffle like we used to do as kids. He was grinning ear to ear, and he tipped an imaginary hat at me. Then he was gone. A minute after that, Frannie came out and said it was done. I knew Leo had stopped by on his way to heaven to say goodbye to me and let me know he was alright.
Now I have an imaginary friend. I talk to my brother sometimes, imagining he is here with me. I don’t miss him so much that way.