His auburn hair turned reddish-blond. His teeth gleamed white in a face that tanned to bronze. My late brother Kevin was the eternal boy of summer.
He was born in early August. Maybe his love for everything summer was a birthright.
To my brother, a slalom skier and ski jumper, every lake was a body of water to master.
“Faster, faster,” Kevin shouted from his perch on a slalom ski as my father pushed the throttle forward. He skimmed across the wakes, his ski often rising two feet in the air. He leaned back as far as he could, the water cascading over his body like a waterfall. Toward the end of each ski run, as his arms tired, he raised his back foot and curled his toes around the ski rope handle, then rested his head against his hands. He grinned at us and waved. He was king of the lake.
“Jump, Linda, jump,” Kevin yelled from the water below. On summer vacation on a Tennessee lake, we took our boat out with two other teens. We drove to a set of cliffs and climbed up. Kevin had gone first, jumping out wide, grabbing his knees, then pulling his legs together seconds before sliding into the water. It was my turn. I was scared, yet exhilarated. I leaped, casting my body far away from the rocky ledge. I held my nose and squeezed my legs together as tightly as possible. The water enveloped me in a cool embrace. I rose to the surface, and spray hit my face as my brother splashed me. He smiled. I smiled back.
In the summer of 1983, he drove with me to Boston. We were still in college, and I was heading to Boston for my first newspaper internship. My parents did not want me driving the 16 hours alone, so Kevin accompanied me. It was a hot, sticky drive in my 1978 Honda Civic – a no-frills car, meaning no air conditioning. We rolled the windows down and turned the stereo up as loud as we could. We took turns driving as we sang along with Billy Joel, The Cars, and Huey Lewis and the News. His arms tanned. Mine burned. We rarely talked, but did not need to say much. We were happy. And it was summer.
Kevin died in a car accident in March 1986 after spending a week in California, where summer never ends. The last person to see him was Dave, a friend of his from Boy Scouts. Dave wrote a sympathy letter that captured my brother’s spirit – no matter the season.
“Kevin always came on like ignited energy and got my life charged up. … When he was here last week, my eyes opened to so many things in Los Angeles that I’ve just been passing by in a hurry to get somewhere else. Every hot car was a masterpiece to him, the mountains an off-road playground, and the beach a hundred-mile long gallery to scope women.”
I will always miss my brother, who was 23 when he died, but miss him even more when summer comes around. My parents retired to a lake in South Carolina. They still have a motorboat, and I occasionally ski. It is hard not to look out across the water and yearn to see my brother, curling his toes around the ski rope handle, and leaning back as if he did not have a care in the world. His smile was always huge. It was as if he wanted to shout, “This is life!”