Today is Norman’s birthday. He’s my big brother, and he saved my life.
Norman is in his late fifties, a year older than me, but — unlike me — he can pass for someone in his late thirties. He is fit and tall and handsome. He is a friend to many. Children adore him.
He is the number four child of the six siblings. We were together in that triplet Mom had: three babies in three years. Brent, Norman, and then me. Since we are close in age, there were many a fight between Norman and me. We landed physical punches on one another often in our younger years. I can’t remember exactly why we’d get so mad at each other, but I think fighting was just part of life in the Lowe household. There were heavy things happening for us kids to be mad about.
Having a brother close in age also had its perks:
- Bodyguard. I just had to tell him once that I was being bothered by some boy at school. Bam! Problem solved.
- Companion. Norman was there on the bus, walking home, playing sports. I always had my big brother around. He never told me to get lost, so I guess I was okay.
- Boys. Many of his friends were “crush”-worthy. And he had friends of all shapes and colors. I just had to sit back and watch, all dreamy-eyed, as they came over to hang out.
- We were about the same size and height, so I fit into his clothes. The lack of funds in the household would call for this sometimes. I can see as clear as yesterday those grey corduroy “cuffs” he let me borrow.
There are three memories of Norman that stand out in my mind. They do so because (1) a couple are serious incidents; and (2) they reveal the heart and soul of my brother.
One is the Swimming Pond. Throughout our childhood, Norman was the one to take chances. One summer we were hiking through the Santa Barbara hills with our day camp group. We came upon a pond and the teen leader wondered how deep it was. When he asked who would jump in and check, Norman said he would. And he jumped right in. The only problem was that Norman did not know how to swim. Soon I was yelling like a crazy girl — He can’t swim, he can’t swim! I saw my brother’s head come up out of the water. Between gulps he said, “It’s deep.” With that phrase, he proceeded to sink and I proceeded to scream. The leader jumped in and Norman was saved. He was probably all of ten years old. The fear I felt during that scary moment did not stick with me, though. What I carry in my memory is how my brother saw something that needed to be done. And he did it. Most impressive to a younger sister. I’ve seen this trait carried out in his adulthood in various ways.
The second memory is Comic Book Collections. All three of my brothers, along with my sister Lynne, loved collecting comic books. But Norman is the one who, to this day, still collects them. There was something that appealed to Norman about heroes and villains and the stories that entangled them, and they still do to this day. Spider-Man, one of his favorite characters, became my favorite. Spidey had to be cool if Norman liked him so much. I looked up to Norman as we grew up together. My other brothers had their quirky attributes, but Norman was the normal one. He was simply my big brother doing big brother things.
I think he secretly wanted to be more than a normal, everyday brother Norman. He wanted to be a Hero. He had no idea what was coming that would elevate him to Hero status in my heart.
That takes me to the most important memory I have of Norman: Saving My Life. After my freshman year in college, I returned home from living in the dorms. Having tasted a bit of independence, and due to the shortage of living space, I asked Mom if I could turn the car-less garage into my bedroom. She gave me permission, and I had a cool place of my own, complete with the stereo that I had purchased earlier in the year. I was fully into music at that point, and that stereo was my pride and joy, my instrument of escape.
Unfortunately, I could not completely escape the evil that Mom allowed to reside in our home. This evil was consumed with bringing much misery into our lives. My music became a threat. One day a few words — words that sanity would have been able to consider and take as truth — became fodder for an escalation above the usual abuse. While I was under attack, feeling fingers clamped tight around my throat, I heard my brother Norman. I heard his voice scream out “Get off of her!” I saw Norman leap forward, there was a struggle, and suddenly I could breathe again. It must have been the adrenalin at work, for Norman was nowhere near the size of the evil that had moments ago been squeezing the life out of me.
Norman saved my life. I was 19 years old, he was 20. There is much more to that story, and maybe I’ll describe it better at some point. But for this day, just know that Norman put himself into harm’s way for me. His little sister. And he saved my life.
I have a Mother’s Day card that Norman gave me years ago. He wrote of how proud he was of me — raising my son while divorced, having a small business on the side, working full-time.
Well, Norman. I wouldn’t be around to do any of this if you hadn’t come to my rescue all those years ago. You are my Hero. I probably should tell you that more.
Yes, you make me mad sometimes even now — just like when we were little kids.
But I’ll always love you. You saved my life. You’re the brother who has always been there. Ready to jump in when something needs to be done.