On Monday, my brother Raihan died of a ruptured brain aneurysm.  He was 36.

We did not have a relationship as adults.  The last message I received from him was an email that arrived out of the blue in 2010, acidically tweaking me for referring to vile "torture memos" author John Yoo on my site as the deputy assistant attorney general, 2001-2003, without mentioning that he was currently teaching law at Berkeley.  The last time I saw Raihan was in 2005, and that was the single occasion on which I saw him in a year starting with a 2.  There was no grudge there, at least not on my side, but we were very different people, and since there was no real bonding in our family, there was nothing to keep us from falling out of contact.

If my lifespan had matched my brother's, I would have died on 2010/December 1.  The Calendar article I worked on closest to that date was about a film called Summer Hours.  It's the story of three adult siblings, whose lives have taken them in very different directions, who meet up in the aftermath of their mother's death to figure out how to deal with her estate.  One of the themes of the film is how we all have such narrow windows into each other's selves.  This woman was their mother, the single most important human being in their lives for many years — but they only know her as their mother.  They know little or nothing about her love affairs, her art, her own childhood, or even little things like where she might have liked to grab a bite when the kids weren't around.  And the same sort of thing is true here.  I don't really know anything about "philosophical pessimism and the revolution of surrealism", the subject of Raihan's book.  I have no experience with the lifestyle that leads to every story that comes out of your mouth beginning, "Hey, remember when we all got really fucked up and…", which is how every story I overheard him telling in the late '90s began.  I've never been to a lot of the places he lived as an adult: not Dayton, Ohio; not Riverton, Wyoming; and certainly not Essex, England.  Like I said, I don't really know the adult Raihan Kadri at all.  I don't even really know the teenage Raihan all that well; by the time he turned thirteen, I was already off at college.  The Raihan I know is the kid who lived on the other side of my bedroom wall.

I am one of four siblings, and Raihan was the third, but our sister Abby died before he was born, so he grew up as the middle child of three.  The usual clichés about birth order held true in our case.  I was the eldest, and I skipped ahead in school and refused to cross against the don't-walk sign; our brother Rabie was the youngest, and he was the easygoing baby of the family who said amusing things; and Raihan, stuck in between, had some troubles.  Again, I only got occasional glimpses of the later manifestations of this.  I'd come home for a brief visit and he'd be wearing the outfit he apparently adopted at some point in his teenage years: three-piece suit, heavy black overcoat, gothic makeup.  Or I'd pick up the newspaper and see an article about the lawsuit he filed against the Orange Unified School District after getting expelled from his original high school.  I'm not sure when the substances entered the picture: probably at UC Santa Cruz?  But in any case, what I remember quite well are the childhood manifestations.  We would all be riding around in the Vanagon, squabbling as siblings do, and I would say sarcastic things, and Rabie would say silly things, and Raihan would say angry things and usually end up fuming instead of laughing.  When we were home alone — which was often, even at ages like 9-6-and-4, which nowadays would get a parent arrested — this sort of thing would pretty much always escalate into physical fighting: Raihan would see red and charge at me, and since I had 3½ years on him, he would always end up as the one crying on the family room floor.  Later, the fights tended to go like this: he would charge at me, I would throw him roughly to the ground and then run up to my room, Raihan hot on my heels, and I would slam the door and lock it a moment before he reached me.  I don't remember when our very last fight was, but it was pretty late in the game: I think we may have been 15 and 12.  At any rate, by then he had bulked up enough that when I retreated to my room, he was able to throw himself at the door hard enough to bust the lock open.  I guess that was the last fight because it demonstrated that a developmental milestone had been crossed, the way cubs figure out when they can't bite each other's throats anymore without actually killing each other.

Another way that middle-child syndrome manifested itself was in Raihan's difficulty in finding a unique niche in the family, a distinct set of interests.  For Rabie it was easy: I had no athletic inclinations whatsoever, and Rabie was heavy into biking and skateboarding and whatnot pretty much from the moment he could walk.  But Raihan found himself sort of copying us in one way or another.  For instance, in the early '80s, I had an Intellivision, which I played pretty much every day the whole time I was in elementary school.  Raihan was too young to get any good at video games, so instead he got into video games fandom: Pac-Man T-shirts, Pac-Man bedsheets, a Pac-Man lunchbox, and not merely the Buckner & Garcia album but the even more obscure Pac-Man Album as well.  When I got into comic books, Raihan wanted to start collecting them too; I bought Marvels, and wasn't going to share, but my mother wasn't going to buy two copies of the same issues, so by default Raihan ended up with longboxes full of DCs.  Meanwhile, he tried taking after Rabie and getting into sports, but lacking Rabie's athleticism, he became a basketball fan.  When I started following basketball, the three teams that were having some success were the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics; the cretins at my Southern California junior high school liked the Lakers, and my mother was from Philadelphia and liked the Sixers, so to rebel against both of them, I adopted the Celtics as my team.  Raihan was a little too young to rebel in this way, and showed off his filial attachment by becoming a Sixers fan.  A Sixers pennant, a Julius Erving poster, a Charles Barkley T-shirt.  He stuck with it for a while, too; when I flipped through his eighth grade yearbook, there was a group photo of some club, with a dozen smiling 13-year-old girls, and Raihan standing there scowling in a heavy Sixers starter jacket — and shorts.

But there was a time when Raihan was dominant in shaping the culture of our household, such as it was.  I don't have an older sibling, but I've heard that those who do tend to grow up faster — watch grownup media sooner, spend time around groups of teenagers while they're still kids.  That's not how it worked for us, though.  Quite the opposite.  Even when I was in my early teens, our house was still a kids' house.  The wall opposite the upstairs bathroom was a set of cabinets, the top half of which were filled with towels and the bottom half of which were filled with baskets of Raihan's toys: Masters of the Universe, Transformers, G.I. Joes.  The memories I have of playing with him peacefully are from that time period, when I was twelve or thirteen and he was nine or ten, doing extemporaneous fan fiction of the G.I. Joe cartoon.  I would try to come up with actual storylines, and Raihan would supply the silliness that was the point of the exercise.  Like, maybe out in the red states kids sent their G.I. Joes on army missions shooting terrorists and whatnot, but in our version, it was a sitcom centering on a wacky parrot.  "It's time for Polly's magic show!" "But Polly, you don't know any magic!" "So? Polly eat cracker and that's magic!"  Raihan carried that tiny piece of green plastic around with him, and spoke almost exclusively in "Polly's" voice, for about a year there — and while, as you've just seen, the jokes don't really translate to text, the inflections got him a lot of laughs.  For a while, Raihan was the center of attention.

And that is my narrow window into Raihan Kadri.  He was a 36-year-old man with a Ph.D., and I have described a little boy listening to "Pac-Man Fever", reading basketball magazines, and playing with action figures.  Somehow I doubt that this is how he would want to be remembered.  These days you often see people online advocating for the "right to be forgotten" — to expunge traces of our past selves from the information landfill.  I cannot overstate how glad I am that when I was twelve years old, my posts went up on transitory Orange County BBSes rather than being archived on the Internet forever.  It's embarrassing enough that sufficiently diligent people can unearth Usenet flamewars I participated in when I was 23.  But… well, let me put it this way.  I used to be on a TV show on CBS.  It was cancelled in 1983.  My family came to the last taping, and while I was on set waiting for the cameras to roll, someone went out to warm up the crowd by interviewing kids in the audience.  By happenstance, he happened to zero in on my brothers.  "What's your name?" "Raihan."  "Where do you live?" "Anaheim Hills."  A few more questions: how old he was, where he went to school, what his interests were.  Then the interviewer turned to Rabie, age four.  "What's your name?" "Rabie."  "Where do you live?" "Anaheim Hills." "Hey, do you think maybe you can get a ride back with him?" — pointing at Raihan.  Giggles from the crowd.  Rabie exclaimed, "We live in the same house!"  The giggles turned into gales of laughter.

So, yeah.  I didn't know the man who died on August 11th.  But I will never forget the boy he used to be, not until it's my turn to die.  From the time I was three until I moved out at sixteen, we lived in the same house.

A postscript.  Around the time I graduated from college, the house I grew up in had five residents: my father; Raihan; Rabie; and two cats, one named Bort, and the other bearing the august title of Gatissimo Pepito Suarez del Gato.  Bort lived until 2001 — long enough to receive some scritches from Jennifer — but Pepito was pretty sickly, and on one of my visits home in the mid-'90s, Rabie informed me that Pepito had recently died and been buried in the backyard.  I asked some questions — was it sudden or expected, was Bort behaving any differently, etc. — but before Rabie could answer, Raihan interrupted.  "Don't talk about Pepito," he said, glowering at me from behind his gothic makeup. "The dead are not to be spoken of lightly."  I rolled my eyes and got up to go, saying that as long as I was in town I was going to go visit a friend.  "Someday soon, she too will die," Raihan warned, doing his very best to make his voice sound like it belonged in white-on-black in an undulating bubble in a Sandman comic. "Her life will be over, with everything you feel for her left forever unsaid," he continued. "For that is the universal tragedy that is human existence."  "Uh, no," I replied. "She already knows how much I care for her, because I tell her all the time. Not all of us are cauldrons of repression."

Since I got the news that Raihan had in fact died all too soon, I've been thinking about whether there was anything I would have liked to say to him if I'd had the chance.  In the case of my mother, until recently, the answer would have been yes.  See, when I was very little — like, when I had just learned to talk — my mother and I had a bedtime routine in which we would repeat the same phrases to each other: "Good night", "I love you", "See you in the morning".  One evening I decided to try an experiment.  When she said "I love you", I replied, "I don't love you!".  I didn't mean it — I wasn't even mad at her.  I just wanted to see what would happen.  (Answer: she said "suit yourself" and turned out the light.)  And until I brought it up when she called on my fortieth birthday, the guilt for that had eaten away at me — I was so relieved to be able to get it off my chest.  Well, one night when I was about eight years old and Raihan was about five, I succumbed to another impulse.  Even though our beds were on opposite sides of a wall for years and years, Raihan and I almost never talked to each other through it; this night was the one exception I can think of.  It started with random knocking on the wall between us, and then chatting about… hell, I don't have the vaguest idea.  But I felt an upwelling of sentiment, and I told him to come into my room for a minute, and he did, and I kissed him on the cheek and sent him on his way.

And right now I'm very glad that the experiments I tried on my mother and my brother came in the order they did and not the other way around.

my little brother


1977    2014

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