Things were so very, very different. I was so much more than three years and thirteen days younger. I was a decade younger, perhaps two, neck-deep in a world of money, privilege, international travel and blissful ignorance of so many things. My older brother was invincible, good at everything, impeccable in every way. He was what we all wanted to be, an example forever shining before us. Sometimes I wanted to kick him in the shins, for being so impossible to stack up next to. No matter how hard I trained, how many hours I sunk into my sailing, into anything – he would always come out on top, graceful and un-phased. As if it were all nothing, nothing at all.
I used to watch him win races, watch his easy courage and innate skill. Watch with such a complicated mix of loathing, jealousy, awe, respect, and a deep love of who he was, what he did, and how he did it. Case never spoke an ill word to a competitor. He did not hold his sportsmanship haughtily above others, no… He never made anyone feel bad for a bit of smack talk. In fact, he always enjoyed it – would smile a bit out of the corner of his mouth and even laugh from time to time. But he never added to the pile. Ever. He never needed to put anyone beneath him. In fact, I think he wanted them right beside him, so he could beat his equals, not his lessers.
Everything for Case is, at its core, a competition with himself and no one else. Sure, he is competitive as they come, but when it comes down to it, it is so much more than a quest for recognition or trophies or money or sponsorship. Part of that is the luxury of our family, our stability, our ability not to worry about the monetary stresses of ‘real life’ and just do what we do. But most of it? It is who Case is.
When everything went up in smoke and spray on May 18th, 2004, his competitive goals simply shifted. Now, it certainly had nothing to do with the hull beside him. Now, it was truly my brother versus himself. Versus the parts of him that no longer seemed his own – the cancer, the injuries, the pain, the inability to turn to training to get him through. No, there was nothing for Case to turn to. There was no handbook, no trick of the trade, no secret. He simply had to get down in the work and take it as it came. No one is better suited for that task than my brother.
We watched him trade punches with the sudden shoddy hand he was dealt. We watched him hit the floor, gasping for wind, so many times. We learned he was not immortal, that he was breakable, just like everyone else. How? How could he be like everyone else? He had never been like everyone else so long as he had lived. It was unsettling, unspeakably difficult, unspeakably surreal. And yet, there it was, in painful black and white before us every day as the colour drained from his face, as his muscles left him and the day to day became nearly insurmountable for him. He lost everything, everything, everything. Everything but his life. And, he has shown, that that was all he needed to hold on to to be able to rise again.
Sometimes, I see him now, and realize he is more himself, three years later, than he ever was.
Case was not the only one to go up in smoke that day. The woman he loved went up as well, with Marty and I beside her. Marty and I came back, only to watch Alex falter and nearly fall – we held our breath as he climbed back from hell, ever so slowly. Callie fell, and we could not catch her, try as we might.
Since then, we have risen. A bit worn for the voyage, more than a bit worse for wear. We bring with us evidence of the past, reminders that will haunt tired muscles and aching bones for years to come. But most of all, we bring a bit of wisdom. A bit of understanding that may be beyond our years, but has been a long time coming regardless.
Here we are, three years later. With Case strong, tall, and silent beside us. Just the way he has always been. And now, we are back to the frivolous games. We are back to teasing, and betting, and taunting a bit to get the other to bite. Whether it be a friendly race around the buoys, an afternoon of chemo, poker, surgery, physical therapy, or pool: we are all in.