Maltby and John eating imaginary fish.
He’s a goofball, my brother, and the email with his New Year’s resolutions for the year 2000 was possibly the funniest document I’ve ever read. I wish I could find it in the archives of my defunct hotmail account, but I’ve tried before with no success. The only resolution I remember was that John would change his name to include an exclamation point at the end, after our last name. As far as I know, he signed documents that way at least until he got to college. He’s still in my phone as John Rote!.
John is a performer. He’s loud. In truth, the word I’ve used most to describe him is obnoxious. He did make my life as the younger sister a lot more colorful—grabbing Mom to tango in the kitchen, for example; blasting “Ice Ice Baby” with windows down on the two-minute drive to our high school; hanging a detached computer mouse out the tailgate of his car so that other drivers would wave frantically at him, pointing to the back of the vehicle.
But he irked, aggravated, distracted, annoyed me like no one else.
I’m quieter, not quite as funny, many times was not in the mood for his antics. Also, if he chose to pick me up and throw me over his shoulder, I was powerless to stop him.
When the time came, we went off to college in opposite directions, John to the free spirited west coast, me to the traditional east coast the following year. Whenever we were back at home in Memphis, I’d tire quickly of his loudness, exasperated: “Can’t you just have a normal conversation? Everything doesn’t need to be a joke!”
When I brought my future husband Israel home with me to meet the family for Thanksgiving (I’d warned him about the loudness), we were sitting on the couch watching the Macy’s parade when John walked in from the airport and said (loudly), “Why are we watching the parade?! Who watches this parade?!”
I do. And this is my boyfriend, visiting for the first time, trying to survive in this bizarre house where people needlessly yell about Thanksgiving festivities.
John’s gregarious personality came in handy at my wedding the next November. He picked up out-of-town guests from the airport (and actually got out to the parking lot with visitors in town for a different wedding before asking, So how do you guys know Josie and Israel?). He provided local dining and late night recommendations. He led the troops to Beale Street after the reception, and he asked my girlfriends from college about their love lives and whether they’d been open-mouth kissing anyone lately. Everybody had a great time.
Speaking of love lives, I was curious to meet John’s girlfriend—he’d pined after her from afar, they’d broken up after her graduation, and they reunited when they both found themselves living in New York City. Now John and Maltby seemed pretty serious. I wondered, and worried a bit, about what kind of girl would put up with John’s manic behavior. Would she match his volume? Would she be mute? How could anything seriously real, an actual relationship, work out?
I met her. She loves art, loves horses. She’s fun. Certainly not as loud as John. I asked her how she puts up with him. . . and it seemed like she didn’t really know what I was talking about. She told me a story about John traveling with his college rugby team. He was a senior, and the team had a free night in Los Angeles. Instead of heading off with the upperclassmen, John found a night spot that admitted his teammates who were under 21. I think it was karaoke. Maybe bowling.
I started to consider my brother from Maltby’s point of view, or anyone’s point of view other than mine. . .
Maybe, when John and I see each other, we revert to our childhood roles. Maybe he’s not so obnoxious to everyone else. Maybe everyone else isn’t so easily offended.
He’s loud, yes. But also kind, unselfish, and thoughtful.
John and Maltby will be married this winter. The night they met, he was on another rugby trip, post college, this time in New Orleans. He told his ride to go ahead back to Memphis, he’d figure something out. He’d met a pretty girl from Georgia.
Along with my husband (who, evidently, survived and thrived after that first Thanksgiving weekend), I recently visited my brother and his fiancee, who now live in San Francisco. They took us on a hike by the Golden Gate bridge, loaned us John’s car to drive out to wine country, showed us their favorite neighborhood spots (not to mention the neighborhood naked guy). John told inappropriate jokes, shared an outrageously hilarious southern lawyer impression, and Maltby patted his leg when the volume got too high. We had a great time.
I guess we’ve both mellowed with a little growing up. I have two brothers besides John, though he and I are closest in age. When I told Will and Ben that poignant story about the time John stayed to do karaoke with the freshmen rugby players, they listened, paused, and confirmed that it was Maltby who related that event from John’s college days—before she had actually met him. My oldest brother voiced what all three of us were thinking. “Knowing John, he probably just made that up to impress her.”
Well. Even if he did, I don’t mind so much anymore.
Happy wedding week, Maltby and John!