My brother Chuck and I were both born in July, the second and sixth, respectively. My mother knew a bargain when she saw one. She would split the difference and celebrate our birthdays together on the fourth. Not only did I have to share my birthday with my older brother, but with my country too. Sometimes when you are the second child, you begin to think you are second best.
We celebrated our birthdays at Sherwood swimming pool in Greensboro, North Carolina. I would put on my red, white and blue speedos to match the holiday and the cake. It was more a concern with carrying through on the party theme and less a display of patriotism. After lighting sparklers and listening to everyone sing a halfhearted rendition of Happy Birthday to You, except for my mother who sang with enthusiasm one or two octaves higher, my brother and I would compete to blow out the candles. When asked what he wished for, Chuck would reply "2.3 kids, a wife and a house in the suburbs." At 12-years-old he wanted the American dream. If anyone asked me what I wished for I would have lied. If I told the truth and said, "the beefy lifeguard" it would have caused my mother to swallow her cigarette.
When the country celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, we attended my uncle's wedding in Cincinnati. Flush with love and alcohol, my uncle gave a speech that included a tribute to our country and to my brother who had just turned 16. He then handed Chuck a handful of cash. I sat nervously in my seat, practicing my runner-up speech, because surely, turning 13 was an equal achievement. I had the pimples to prove it. But apparently, it was not.
And so my life followed always one step behind my brother. In high school when he started working at a Japanese restaurant they called him Chuck-san, honorable number one son. He would wait tables in a tidy blue uniform. Because the owners respected Chuck-san, they honored him by hiring me. On my first day the manager sized me up, gave me a dirty apron and said "Number two, you wash dishes."
But I idolized my big brother and continued to do everything he did, always one year behind. He got married, I got married, he had children, and I had children. When he ended his marriage he told me that he just wanted to be happy. After all those years of following in his footsteps I never looked up to see where I was going.
In July of 2007 I called my big brother and told him I was gay. He was the first family member I would tell; honorable number one son. There was a moment of silence and then "Well, I love you and just want you to be happy." He said.
Following in his footsteps again, I became happy. At my wedding to Paul, Chuck was the first to offer up a toast. In it he jokingly referred to how I had trailed him, always one year behind. He ended the toast with a blessing and a wish that Paul and I would have just as many years of happiness as he and his new wife would have, plus one.
On this Fourth of July I celebrated my brother and my country's birthday, but I did not wear a red, white and blue speedo, more so because of my body image and less because of a lack of patriotism. I know that I am still number two in Uncle Sam's eyes. Next year is the big 5-0 for me and I am asking my country for a gift equal to the one my straight brother got when he was born, a bundle of rights and freedoms. Just make it plus one.
William Dameron's personal blog is The Authentic Life
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