My Brother-Part 2

23 Aug

It’s been about eight months since I was sitting here in the same position, in the same place, writing my first blog post – My Brother (part 1). It is still an unfathomable, outrageous, and absurd feeling. In that last post, I went on and on about how unique Jeffrey was in so many ways and how he brightened and touched so many peoples’ lives. And I plan to continue those thoughts and share more hilarious stories with the readers of this blog. But it’s not just those stories and anecdotes that comprise the purpose and true meaning of this post. It intends to delve much deeper, giving insight on how he basically DEFINED our family, gave us life, and why that makes his loss even more tragic.

Well, Brett was certainly attached to Jeff from the start, and one of the things Brett got the most enjoyment out of was the way he mocked Jeff’s love of food, by declaring him “Fat Jeffrey”, even though Jeff had a very strong, slender, and athletic build. Brett always proclaimed him Fat Jeffrey during instances, for example, when Jeff would order curried goat from a fast food counter at a mall upstate! Whenever he did something like that, the rest of us would all sing along, “And that’s why they call him… Fat Jeffrey!” Obviously, this was all a big joke and sort of caught on due to Brett’s silly nickname for him in the first place, but if you ask me, not many kids his age would be ordering curried goat from fast food counters. Any random trip to the mall could be shaken up and funny due to something like this that Jeff might do.

Sticking with the subject of food, Jeff certainly had a thing for the hottest and spiciest foods known to man. One summer, I was doing a summer college course program at Ithaca College, and when everyone came to visit me, we all went to a Thai restaurant. Of course Jeff ordered the hottest possible wings that they served there, an item on the menu that most customers would never think of getting because there are warnings on the menu about how hot they are. Even the waitress asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to order these. But of course, that was right up Jeff’s alley! While most consumers of these wings would be running for the bathroom, he would just smile and keep chowing down! An amazing (and hilarious) sight to watch.

My favorite line about Jeff’s food-related adventures was written by Elizabeth Mo in her blog post from November 30, 2010 (“What’s Your Favorite Organelle?”). She wrote, “I do remember Jeff putting a brick of wasabi in his mouth. I was both impressed and horrified. Wasabi ain’t bland.” That was my brother, alright.

The list could just go on and on with memorable things Jeff said and did. I was a witness so often to this first one and I couldn’t stop laughing every time this happened. When my mom was in the kitchen and Jeff was in his room or anywhere else upstairs, she would call out to him if she needed him for something: “JEEEFFFFFF……”, and after a full two or three second pause, he would reply: “OOOOOOUUUUUUIIIIIIII!!!!!”, as in the French word for yes – this was his actual response! Let’s just say that whatever Mom was planning on telling him, she would be laughing so hard that she was unable to remember.

Speaking of one-in-a-million voices, Jeff had a favorite scene that he always imitated from the movie Bruce Almighty, that even had Brett unable to control his laughter. This is really saying something, because Brett was typically impatient with Jeffrey’s childish goofiness. He imitated an elderly lady in the most convoluted and outrageously funny voice that you could ever imagine. I don’t think I – or anyone – could come close to imitating Jeff’s version of this. It went like this:

Elderly Lady: “Man from Health Department say he find rat pellet in our pastry, but I say ‘No, it is big chocolate sprinkle’.  But man shut store down.  So we clean up, make big COOKIE, for to bring customers back.”

Bruce: “Well, I admire your candor.  Let’s try that again, shall we?  So tell me, Mama, why make Buffalo’s biggest cookie?”

Elderly Lady: “So the children of the neighborhood will be happy?”

Bruce: “That’s right.  It must be wonderful seeing the smiles on their little faces.”

Elderly Lady’s Son: “I work in back.  I see no smiles.”

You can forward to the 1:13 mark of the following link to hear this clip.  But trust me, Jeff did it better!  Brett, Jeff and I used to watch this movie all the time on long road trips, way back when, when we had a built-in DVD player with a screen that hung down in the back seat of our car. Jeff always imitated this scene when it was happening during the movie, and every time the rest of us would be more entertained by him than the movie itself. What an amazing memory.

Then there was the time my dad took Jeff, Brett and me to an interleague Yankees-Mets game at the old Shea Stadium.  It was probably around 2007. There was a short rain delay before the game started, and there was this middle-aged guy with completely white hair sitting in front of us who took the opportunity to take a little nap during this time after a beer or two (or more).  The funny thing, though, was that when the game finally started, this guy continued sleeping and snoring away!

All of a sudden, a guy sitting diagonally behind us and the white-haired guy, who was probably in his 20s, and who definitely used the rain delay to guzzle some beers, noticed the situation and began chanting “Wake up, white guy” in a sing-song kind of voice.  He was referring to the sleeping man’s hair, not his race. Jeff, of course, lost it and thought this was the funniest thing ever, so after the guy chanted again, “Wake up, white guy”, Jeff responded by clapping his hands in that familiar sports event rhythm—clap, clap…clap, clap, clap.

This gave the chanting guy the fuel to keep singing, “Wake up, white guy,” with Jeff responding with the appropriate clap, clap…clap, clap, clap, while laughing hysterically.  But then, before we knew it, our ENTIRE SECTION was chanting and clapping, with Jeff leading the way.  Even my dad got into it.  And the best part was that Mr. White Guy didn’t even stir! He kept sleeping right through it! It HAD to be one of the funniest experiences I can ever remember, and it’s a great example of how not only did Jeff define our family, but he also defined a whole section at Shea Stadium that day.

Again, it just makes zero sense that a man who could elicit laughter and joy from anyone, especially in THESE WAYS, is no longer here with us.

It sure drives me nuts just thinking about the possibility of him still being here. As I wrote about in my last post, what if I hadn’t locked my door all of those times when I was in high school? Maybe Jeff and I would have had countless moments, like the ones mentioned above, where we would be laughing together, just the two of us. I would do anything, even if it just meant for him to be able to come into my room one last time, holding a Petri dish of his ten freshly cut toenails, with a proud grin from ear to ear, which he thought was hysterical. He actually did this frequently.  He definitely had a unique sense of humor.

I wish I could just relive some moments from that family trip to Paris, seeing him pose just one more time in front of some knight in shining armor, making the knight the fourth guy in a photo with the three of us. Or walking up to the top of the Eiffel Tower again together. Or having him use his French vocabulary to help us order in restaurants or get us directions to where we were heading in the city. Anything.

On typical summer weeknights, Brett, I and my parents will often gather in my parents’ room before we all head off to sleep and head to our jobs the next day. We’ll talk about current events and things about our own lives that may be interesting to everyone. But of course, it’s just not the same without Jeffrey being there. This is an extremely obvious statement, but still so difficult to convey the pain to others at the same time.

And I know he would just love the fact that at the job I had this summer as a camp counselor, my campers in my group happened to be so diverse in terms of both behavior and background. He always loved to hear stories about the challenges I had with different campers (not so he could rub it in my face, but just to hear how needy and naggy some of the kids are at these camps). But the more “classic Jeff” story, that I remember so clearly, was how he used to count what number day of school it was during the school year. So now, I can only picture him asking how my 63rd or 92nd day of camp was on that actual day. What a shame that such poignant memories are merely dreams and imaginations now.

Well, all I can say now is that every time I use my car, I am at least reminded of these things. That’s because I have an actual photo image of him engraved into my keychain which holds my car keys, and it serves to remind me to live out each and every day for him and for our family.  And although Jeff’s cell phone will never be used again, my dad still pays the bill every month, so that we and anyone else can still dial his number (914 – 450 – 5601) and hear his voicemail greeting, even if it only is a few seconds long. This will always be possible to do, because my dad says he will be paying this bill for the rest of his life.

Anyway, it’s just inexplicable how much Jeff will be missed, especially on certain days like annual holiday events. When our family goes to church for services, afterwards there is a coffee hour where coffee and snacks are served. But every Christmas Eve, there is always a guy there who Jeff would call “the egg nog man” – because all he did was walk around with a large container, offering egg nog to everyone! He LOVED seeing this guy there every year, and he obviously made a huge joke of it to me and Brett – Jeff would imitate how he imagined this guy must slurp down the egg nog and then act drunk as a result. And of course, Jeff would try to keep going back and take as much as he could for himself! This is another example of how he always found a way to make a great, festive night even better and more memorable.

Now is the part where I attempt to digress and try to convey the more prominent meaning of this post – why it’s been nearly impossible to withstand the loss of Jeffrey, and why I mentioned in the beginning that he “defined our family”.

Holidays are the toughest. When our family takes the trip down to Church of Our Saviour every Christmas Eve, there is a gaping hole in the center spot of the backseat – where Jeffrey would be and should be sitting every year. I’m tearing up thinking about it now, just as I tried to restrain my tears this past Christmas Eve. He should still be sitting back there every year, making us laugh with joke after joke, story after story, bellowing out Christmas carol after carol in that hilarious half-mocking bellow of his. Every Christmas carol I hear, I can’t think but hear Jeff’s voice singing along in the background. Seeing the egg nog man doesn’t make me crack up anymore like it did when Jeff was around. This is what I mean when I say he “defined” our family; in other words, he determined our moods and how we felt, always the shining center of attention – he gave everything LIFE.

I remember that on November 6th, 2010 – it just seems like a few days ago – I was beginning my tenure at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, and I received a text from Jeff. I was a little confused, as it didn’t really make sense to me at the time. It said: “Drew man I feel like we’ve both gone thru some rough times in our lives… we gotta stay close and stick together, ok?” I just didn’t understand the nature of this text completely, because although I’ve struggled with a few trivial things in my lifetime, Jeff was always upbeat and optimistic about everything that was going on in his life – or so it had seemed. I was always away at school, and didn’t know the magnitude of his struggles, which had been only expressed to our parents.

Anyway, I obviously would have given anything to know that this simple text was an indication of what was going to happen just three days later. And I think, relatively speaking, that everyone (friends, family, and extended family) is still mulling over what we could have done to prevent the final drastic step that Jeff took on November 9th.

I remember exactly where I was at school, both when I received the text and responded to it. I simply said, “Yea, u got it”. I felt at the time that response was simple and reassuring enough for Jeff to hear, but I guess not. I wish I knew how things were at his end, because I just know that the two of us, and our parents, could have worked everything out together. If only he just let me know. At first, I thought I was the only one who had regrets about what more I could have done. But after speaking with my parents, I know that despite their incredible efforts, they continue to come up with “what if” scenarios. As for me, I just wish he came clean to me directly. If he had, I would have been totally there to help. Unlike in high school, this time my door would have been wide open for him. 

-Drew Klein


3 Responses to “My Brother-Part 2”

  1. Nicole Sloane August 24, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    What an absolutely poignant description of Jeff. Thank you Drew. Aunt Nicole

  2. Brick August 27, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Oh man I lost it @ voicemail. Thank you for sharing. I think i’ll go leave him a msg 🙂

  3. jodeenovakcm September 2, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    drew, i was away in africa when you posted this blog and have just gotten to read it now. it is amazing. and you are amazing. and your brother was amazing. i can only imagine how much courage it took to sit down and write your two blog entries about jeff. he would be so proud of you. check that … he IS so proud of you. and so are all of us who know you.

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