I do indeed have a brother, a blond-haired, hazel-eyed two-years-younger brother, who looks so unlike me or my dark-haired sister that we used to tease him by claiming strangers had left him as a baby on our doorstep. . . . He grew up the way many youngest children grow up, pampered, adored, and inwardly tortured. He dreamed of being an actor or a singer; he reenacted TV shows at the dinner table, playing every part, his bright smile practically jumping through his lips.
Mitch’s description of his brother displays both envy and admiration of Peter’s good looks and charisma. From the perspective of adulthood, Mitch recognizes that his brother was not always happy even if he was spoiled as the youngest child. Peter dreamed of fame. In that, he and Mitch were actually more alike than Mitch implies: Mitch had pursued a career as a musician before switching to sports journalism where he actually did become well-known.
He moved to Europe not long after high school, preferring the more casual lifestyle he found there. Yet he remained the family favorite. When he visited home, in his wild and funny presence, I often felt stiff and conservative.
Mitch reveals that he and Peter have very different personalities and lifestyles: Peter was always a free spirit and a rule breaker, while Mitch was hard-working and obedient. Living geographically far from each other further accelerates what was probably a natural growing apart. Although the two are not estranged, they are no longer close, although they have memories of being close as children. Whether Peter misses that closeness is not clear—although readers may infer not, since he chose to move to Europe.
I braced myself for cancer. I could feel its breath. I knew it was coming. I waited for it the way a condemned man waits for the executioner. And I was right. It came. But it missed me. It struck my brother. The same type of cancer as my uncle. The pancreas. A rare form.
Mitch had lived since his early twenties fearing that he would develop cancer like his uncle and die young. This apprehension drove him to excel at his career. Instead, however, his brother got cancer, as Mitch reveals here. Readers do not know whether Peter feared or expected the cancer like Mitch. His move to Europe might indicate that he too wanted to live as though he would die young, but he defined “living” very differently than Mitch.
He flew all over Europe for treatments. After five years of treatment, the drug appeared to chase the cancer into remission. That was the good news. The bad news was, my brother did not want me around—not me, nor anyone in the family. Much as we tried to call and visit, he held us at bay, insisting this fight was something he needed to do by himself.
Mitch explains that Peter does not want his family involved as he fights cancer. His reasons remain unknown. Perhaps, having always been the handsome life of the party, he does not want his family seeing him reduced by illness. Or perhaps he does not want them to suffer, too. Knowing Mitch’s personality better than Peter’s, readers might infer that before his reunion with Morrie, Mitch might also have made the same choice, rebuffing help as unnecessary.
Before I left that day, Morrie asked if he could bring up a topic. “Your brother,” he said. I felt a shiver. I do not know how Morrie knew this was on my mind. I had been trying to call my brother in Spain for weeks, and had learned—from a friend of his—that he was flying back and forth to a hospital in Amsterdam.
Morrie knows that Mitch feels both worried about Peter and upset that Peter does not want his help. Peter’s visits to the hospital suggest that his cancer may be back or that he is having other complications. Mitch is probably particularly concerned because he knows something is wrong but not exactly what. While Mitch now feels far more comfortable than before with illness, Peter may still not wish to burden or upset his family.
A few days later, I received a message on my fax machine. It was typed in the sprawling, poorly punctuated, all-cap-letters fashion that always characterized my brother’s words. “HI I’VE JOINED THE NINETIES!” it began. He wrote a few little stories, what he’d been doing that week, a couple of jokes. At the end, he signed off this way: I HAVE HEARTBURN AND DIAHREA AT THE MOMENT—LIFE’S A BITCH. CHAT LATER? [signed] SORE TUSH
Peter finally feels comfortable communicating with Mitch about his illness and other aspects of his life. With his newfound comfort with sharing feelings, Mitch had told Peter he loves him while also saying he did not want to pressure Peter into more than he was comfortable sharing. Peter apparently agrees that their relationship was worth maintaining. Peter’s style and sense of humor are very familiar to Mitch from their childhood, suggesting Peter hasn’t changed much.