My Brother

26 Dec

There’s really no other way to describe it. My brother, Jeffrey Klein, is probably the LAST person that I would expect to be writing a blog post about, grieving over the fact that he made a conscious decision to leave us. As mentioned numerous times on this blog by just about everyone, he always seemed happy and always seemed to be living life to the fullest with such a UNIQUE, passionate personality that I just have never seen in any person that I have met before. And again, this is the cruel, bitter irony of all these posts and his passing; it just doesn’t make sense that we are all dealing with this today. I hope to recall and celebrate some of the great times and funny experiences that my brother and I had with each other and as a family in this post.

Throughout my life, but especially since his passing, my parents have constantly recalled little memories and anecdotes about how he truly cherished having me and Brett as brothers. This is really nice to hear since I was probably too young myself to remember some of these times, but boy, do some of the pictures I have seen from when me and my brothers were young back up this statement. I know I’ve also heard stories from my parents that Jeffrey came out of the womb screaming his head off for a few months (lol – had to make myself laugh a little), but its clearly evident in these pictures that once he stopped screaming, he never seemed to stop SMILING. And this value of family bonding remained something that he cherished for the rest of his life.

 

Jeff took care of me even when he was only a toddler and I was a screaming baby

 

We were very competitive with each other when it came to sports

 

Family vacations that we’ve taken for so many years simply would not be the same if it wasn’t for Jeff. His physical presence alone could change the mood of our family whenever necessary. Some of the great times we’ve had would not have been possible without him.  As an example, Jeff, Brett and I would be having our pictures taken by our parents in a museum and he would find a way to set up in the picture so that one of the displays was also in the picture but our dad, who was taking the picture, didn’t notice. We couldn’t stop cracking up about that! I still don’t think my dad knows this was Jeff’s plan all along – I guess until he reads this sentence.

 

Jeff had me set up next to the knight in shining armor as a goof. Notice how excited he was about it. This was at Musee de L'Armee in Paris, August 2008

 

On one family vacation when I was rather young but that I do remember in the Caribbean, the hotel our family stayed at had several pools with a large water slide leading into one of them. At the top of the water slide, there was a man who would tell you when the coast was clear so that you could ride down without crashing into any of the other hotel residents that may have gone down the slide before you. According to his name tag, the man’s name at the top of the slide was Manuel. He never spoke – all he ever did was use two fingers (the pointer and middle finger) to make a waving motion when it was your turn to go down the slide.

Well, Jeff kept in mind the name of this random, innocent young man, and throughout several random moments over the course of his life, Jeff would come out of nowhere and ask “What do you think Manuel is doing right now?”. Either Brett or I would promptly respond by imitating the waving motion that Manuel used to make, but the witty, random nature of the question made it hilarious every time he asked us. Even now, I will wonder in some moment of my life what some random person is doing at that time, whether it is a friend, peer, adult, or some random famous person that I know of (or as AB and other friends of Jeff may say, “rando”).  And more than ever since Jeff left, I often wonder what Manuel is doing at any given moment.

On the beach, I remember the few years that Jeff and I would attempt to set records in a game called smashball – just hitting the ball back and forth without letting it hit the ground. He would love the competitive aspect of this, (and so would I), as we would try to hit the ball back to each other in the air 2007, 2008, even 2009 times! (corresponding to the then current year). And of course whether it was horsing around in the ocean or family dinners out at night, there was nothing like having a big brother there to be with, depend on, talk to, etc. These are some memories that I will remember and cherish forever.

 

Jeff in action playing smashball- I am his opponent but out of camera range

 

Sure, some slight mocking and teasing came along with all the fun once in a while, but what big brother doesn’t do that from time to time? He was merely taking a little advantage of being the oldest of three. Which brings me to a hilarious story, not surprisingly sports related, that occurred in 2001. Well, I guess since I had reached the double-digit milestone (being ten years old at the time), he was ready to make his first bet with me. The bet was that, if the Yankees did not win the World Series, I would get to receive all of his shiny/holographic Pokemon cards for free (jeez, I guess I was still into them at the time, lol). Well, the Arizona Diamondbacks ended up beating the Yankees in Game 7. But come payoff time, Jeff decided he didn’t want to give ‘em up!  I can vividly picture in my head the force my Dad had to use to hold Jeff back while I received a binder filled with cards. Just another funny moment to reflect on.

I will keep this Pokemon binder, which I won from Jeff in 2001, forever

Unfortunately, our years at Horace Greeley High School did not overlap, therefore costing us precious time that we could have spent together doing pretty much anything. I know whenever I would be working in my room late at night I had a  habit of always locking my door, which prevented some of Jeff’s attempts at coming into my room. All he wanted to do was probably just to talk to his brother. And for some silly reason, my door was always locked. But how in God’s name was I supposed to know he would be gone forever just a short time later? Sure, we got to talk together when we were together as a family, but maybe some more alone time could have prevented some of his actions as he got older.

He always used to ask me and Brett how our days of school were, but in the most unique way.  He’d ask, for example, “Drew, how was your 34th day of school today?  Or, “Brett, how was your 128th day of school today?” And yes, he had counted, and it actually would be the correct day of school that Brett and I had attended that day.  Following Jeff asking Brett and me how our days were, we would then sit down to eat dinner once Dad got home from work.  Before most meals, Jeff would think of some creative prayer to recite before we ate.  For example, if we were having pasta that night, we would all sit still while he recited something like, “God is great, God is not a boss, let us thank Him for this pasta with pesto sauce.”  Pretty unique if you ask me !  I will miss things like this for the rest of my life.

Man, Brett and I would just get bombarded with some pretty random yet hilarious questions about our experiences in school, related to pretty much anything. He also had some pretty funny nicknames for me – Freight Train and Aircraft Carrier were the most common. How did these nicknames originate, you ask? Well, when I attended Breezemont Day Camp at about the age of eight, apparently I was tearing it up in street hockey, thereby leading one of the head counselors to label me as the “freight train”. Yes, that’s right, that was my nickname from Jeff up until his last day, and Aircraft Carrier is merely a variation of it that Jeff made up himself.

When I was much younger, in my early years of life and still learning how to count and speak, Jeff has forever since claimed that when I attempted to sound out the word seven, it came out for me as “hava”.  Most of the time, ever since, Jeff would replace the word seven with “hava”, even in casual conversation!  And when we played smashball, and he would count out every hit, he would say, “fifteen, sixteen, havateen, etc.”  It’s very funny to reminisce about these stories right now because they will always remind me about the great times I had with him. Needless to say, knowing now that I will never get to talk to Jeff is just painful in many ways. I doubt I will ever meet anyone with his unique personality and sense of humor.

On a lighter note, there was another funny story that came as a result of my habit of locking my door. There was one time, I forget how old I was, but I really wanted some gum to chew on. I knew where Jeff kept his, right on his night table next to his bed, so I went in to his room to take it when he wasn’t there one afternoon (I must admit, I did have a habit of taking things from his room when he wasn’t there). I then left to go somewhere the rest of the afternoon, but when I came home that night, there was just this little slip of paper under my door reading “Did you take my gum?” No unnecessary arguing or complaining for a delicate matter like this, just a little slip of paper. I still have it now and it cracks me up inside whenever I look at it.

The Thanksgiving right after he died, I really broke down. I think I just flat-out sobbed my eyes out for about thirty straight minutes, even texting a few of my friends how I felt at the moment. Not surprisingly, this outburst occurred on a holiday, obviously a time when the bond between family members is tightened. And every holiday, I feel the same way. Maybe my actions aren’t the same, but I definitely feel the same way – this day would be a million times better with Jeff here – because that’s how much he valued and connected with friends and family. On a similar note, it’s also not surprising when I hear that he could connect and get along immediately with any person that he just met, such as a new friend at school, new fraternity brother, etc. Even now, as I am writing this, I can picture his face and SEE it in my mind, without even having to close my eyes.

Unlike my dad, who’s battled through a disturbing dream, but also witnessed some really cool sports-related incidents that Jeff has been a part of (please see his posts), I’ve yet to receive any form of communication from Jeff. All I can think of is the following story. Over this past Thanksgiving break, I was playing ping-pong with a great friend of mine, something Jeff and I did all the time together. Jeff had a famous saying that would come out in the appropriate circumstances: “We both have perfect squares, moment of silence”, he would say whenever the score would be  4-9, 9-16, etc., and Jeff would stop playing so we could both literally observe a moment of silence!!!  After a few seconds, he’d say, “Ok”, and we’d resume playing. 

Well I was playing with my friend over break, and we were talking and laughing so hard that I don’t think he heard me, but I kind of mumbled Jeff’s famous expression at a moment in which I could catch my breath. Very shortly after, I just felt this jolt of energy, as if my body was suddenly transformed – there’s really no other way to describe it. I literally just felt as if there was no way in the world I could lose, and that I could just toy with my opponent and win no matter what. Sure enough, I edged out a victory something to the tune of 26-24, literally extending the game on purpose. I bring this up because Jeff, if this is a way of you attempting to communicate with me or make your presence felt, PLEASE keep it coming. I strongly feel that this was one of those instances.

I know that, as my buddies at school can attest to, I really didn’t want to do anything or go out much the spring semester of last year. And pretty much all of that had to do with the conscious decision of my brother leaving me and my family behind. But I can now say for sure two things. One, that would not be a healthy lifestyle, nor a sustainable one for the rest of my life. And two, after reading Jeff’s friends’ blog posts, that is DEFINITELY NOT the way he would want me to live my life. I’m inspired by the way Jeff spent his years while he was here with us – valuing friends and family more than anything, always maintaining important friendships, and carrying that “Why not do that?” attitude as described by his friends. When I’m at school now, I try to keep that attitude as my mindset, because I know it’s the best for me and what Jeff would want to see from me. And I hope he is contentedly enjoying viewing some of the good times I have been a part of so far…

Overall, I think the loss of my brother has made me stronger as a person.  I now know that I will be able to deal with pretty much anything that is thrown my way in life.  Little things such as changing my Facebook profile picture have helped me deal with this loss.  I changed it to a picture of me, Jeff and Brett, on the beach in East Hampton (it was our last vacation together in August 2010), with Jeff’s arms around his two brothers.  This picture will serve to celebrate the amazing memories of my brother described in this post.

 

Having this as my Facebook profile picture makes me feel like Jeff will be holding onto Brett and me forever

 

We had such a great time on our last vacation together that what happened less than 3 months later makes no sense

 

Here in August 2010, we went to our favorite Montauk pancake house together one last time

So with all of these beautiful memories, anecdotes, feelings, and emotions shared by Jeff’s beloved family and friends, why has it taken me so long to express all of mine? Well, I vividly remember that when I first heard the horrific news, it was just so surreal. I literally did not feel that it happened, nor did I want to believe it. I basically carried this mentality to the point that once it finally sunk in, I was still just telling myself that it did not happen. I would just tell myself that he was away studying abroad in England and would be home soon, or something like that. Over the summer, I was busy with a summer course and a job, and still telling myself that nothing had happened. But now that we are at the holiday season once again, writing posts keeps him alive in a way, so it is great that so many people have done this. In reality, we all know we will never witness his physical presence ever again, but we have each other to lean on – which is exactly what Jeffrey Klein would have wanted.  One extraordinary soldier may have fallen, but the army will continue to march on.

-Drew Klein

 

P.S.  I can’t believe it but, as I’m editing this blog post, the Monday Night Football Steelers-49ers game has been indefinitely DELAYED due to a power outage in the stadium in San Francisco, JUST LIKE the power outage that Jeff definitely caused at the Meadowlands right after he died when the Giants were getting crushed.  I take back what I said – he just DID communicate with me for the first time!  WOW.

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One Response to “My Brother”

  1. Nicole Sloane January 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    This is such awonderful tribute to Jeff!

    love,
    Aunt Nicole

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