Nathan's Karma

I watched Dazed and Confused last night on Hulu. It remind me of my brother Nathan. 

I have two older brothers. Nathan was 12 years older than me, and Kevin (he’s the one who has spent most of his life in jail) was 11. (If you can’t tell, I was an accident.) 

Nathan was good-looking and popular. Friendly and loved by everyone. I was closer to him than Kevin. I think because Nathan was the oldest and much nicer, and by the time I reached a certain level of awareness Kevin was already having trouble with his mental illness and his temper and his propensity for violence and I was, honestly, afraid of him. Fear does weird things to you...We lived out in the country, the middle of nowhere, and I remember Kevin telling me once about how there were things in the woods at night and they’d follow him and whisper and urge him to do terrible things. 

When I was seven or eight, Nathan was killed by a drunk driver. He had went to help some friends, broke up a fight at a party, and was giving people a ride home, and as he drove onto a bridge at the top of the hill, a drunk driver was coming the opposite direction much too fast. She struck him on the bridge and sent his car through the railing. The other two people walked away from the accident. Nathan didn’t.

I remember that women always liked Nathan. When he was much much younger, my mom had to go to the school a lot because, like the boys who pulled pigtails, girls would chase Nathan around the playground and kick him in the shins...repeatedly. When he was in the hospital after his car went off the bridge, the girls in the senior class came en masse and gave blood. Much later, when I was in high school, I can’t count how many pretty substitute teachers would stop in the middle of the attendance and ask if I was Nathan’s brother. And when I’d say yes, they’d always smile.

But people just liked him.

Sometimes too, when I visited my mother during the lunch shift at the restaurant she used to own, a man would come through the line and she’d say, “Chad do you remember So-and-so?” And of course I didn’t, so they’ll introduce themselves as a friend of Nathan's and they’ll always say something about how they’ve never known someone nicer.

I remember when I was maybe 5 or so...Nathan would have been right at 17. We were out with his friend Jack Freese. After dropping our parents off at the grocery store, Jack was driving us to get tacos--tacos was my and Nathan’s thing. On the way back from Taco Bell, Jack took the back way around the shopping center. There at a four-way stop by a bridge, another driver blew through their stop sign and slammed into the truck.

Nathan saw what was happening and knew he couldn't stop it. He grabbed me by the collar and threw me into the floor board as he moved to shield me. The truck slammed into us. The force of the impact snapped my collar bone. Nathan was slammed around the cab. His head dented the passenger side window, concussing him, while his body struck the dash hard enough to bruise his kidneys and they started bleeding. I don’t remember what happened to Jack Freese, except he was able to leave the hospital before we were.

I'd be dead if Nathan hadn't thrown me.

What’s weird though?

The thing I remember the most? Empire Strikes Back... Nathan was friends with this kid named Mark Gassaway. We lived in the boonies with only an antenna but Mark lived in town and had cable with the premium movie channels—AND EMPIRE STRIKES BACK WAS GOING TO BE ON HBO! I was supposed to go with Nathan that Saturday night, but when Saturday morning rolled around I ended up hideously sick with a sore throat and fever so I couldn’t go with him.

At the time, I had that big action figure case that was shaped like Darth Vader’s head. The case came with an insert that listed all the action figures that were currently out with pictures and names of the characters. That night was the first time that Nathan saw Empire Strikes Back (because really he didn’t give a shit about space stuff and aliens) and I had never seen it.

When Nathan came home that night, he woke me up, and sat next to me on the floor with his back against the bed. He used the character list insert to tell me what happens in the movie. “So then…this guy right here takes Solo away…”

I remember this so clearly. I can’t tell you what his voice sounded like or if he wore cologne or even how tall he was or how much money he made at his shitty line cook job. But I remember this so clearly. This act of kindness and care. This is what resonates. This is what lasts. His manner. His actions. His relationships. His kindness. No one ever remembers the other shit. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. It’s behavior and actions and your connection to people, who you chose to let in your life and how you treat them.

You want to understand karma?

It’s not the universe keeping a naughty and nice list and doling out reward and punishment. It’s not some nebulous force judging you. It’s this. The effect of your actions and behavior. The expression of your best self and what it does and how it affects the people you chose to be in your life.

This is all Nathan’s karma.

I am Nathan’s karma, as I am only here because his first thought that day behind the shopping center was protect Chad.

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