My family moved into our current house in August of 2001. Sara and I weren’t much help with the whole “lifting boxes” thing, so we went to go play in the cul-de-sac. There we met two little boys whole lived on our street. Nearly thirteen years later, these two boys are still my best friends – if you could call them that. The older of the two, Braden (who turns twenty freaking years old today) is my big brother.
Braden is the absolute most competitive person I know. There’s no one that even comes close. He takes everything seriously. He claims that he doesn’t, but he really does, because he cannot stand to lose. At anything. If we’re playing a board game – most often Monopoly, or more recently Settlers of Cataan – and he’s doing poorly, Braden will claim that he’s just taking his time before he makes a killer move. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he strikes a few turns later and the game is over shortly after. He gathers himself and then completely flattens the rest of us in one big turn – and right before he makes his move, he’ll smile and giggle and warn us that he’s going to have a big turn. It’s not even that Braden cheats, he just wins. His learning curve is always incredibly short, and he’s learned the tricks of a game before the rest of us even know the rules.
I’ve been trying for over a decade to match his competitive spirit. Riley was the youngest brother, and Sara was the youngest sister, so it was up to me to challenge Braden’s authority. I did win occasionally, and every once in a while I bring those moments up (hey Braden, remember that one time I beat you at Madden like four years ago?) I don’t know how I ended up being a slow runner after chasing his skinny little butt around his backyard during childhood games of manhunt and capture the flag. When Riley and Sara were otherwise occupied, I would play air hockey, street hockey, Ping-Pong, basketball, Madden, more air hockey, or cards with Braden. He won a lot, but I guess he didn’t mind because as the years went on I found myself playing these games more and more. I didn’t mind that he won a lot, because he almost never completely dominated me; our one-on-one games were a lot closer than the games that all four of us played.
I’ll admit that when we were little, our relationship was a lot different than what it is now. For a while, Braden was the bossy big brother, and so Sara, Riley and I kind of avoided him. Looking back on it now, I feel bad because of all the years we missed. It wasn’t his fault; boys of a certain age are just morons.
That competitive edge of his has done great things for Braden. He’s kind of a big deal in the world of running. I don’t know how he feels about it anymore, but he used to talk about racing for the Olympic team in Rio. He’s got more awards, trophies, and medals than anyone I know, and I know he earned them. He’s always going on runs and trying to find ways to better himself. He takes his running career very seriously. The only word that might describe him better than “competitive” is “determined”. And on top of that, he’s a genius. Math and physics are a foreign language to me, but Braden just gets it. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. He’s got as good a chance at winning a Nobel Prize as he does running professionally. And on top of that, he’s a genuinely good person. Lots of people with Braden’s skills are jerks, but not Braden. Even though he’s arrogant when he’s kicking our butt at something, he’s actually a very sweet and honest person. Though I was never really part of his group of friends, he hung out with me and talked to me in school. Lots of people wouldn’t do that, but Braden’s better than they are. He deserves every good thing that comes to him, and more.
Thankfully, I got to know Braden before he becomes famous for something. I don’t think of his Gatorade Runner-of-the-year award; I think of him shooting hoops in front of his house at every hour of the day. I think of how he used to roller blade in the cul-de-sac for hours at a time, just going in a circle. I think of that time we played hide-and-go-seek and I ruined his perfect hiding spot by forgetting to shut a window. I think of how he pretends to sing in falsetto, and of his squeaky-voiced impersonation of my sister. Though he probably wishes I didn’t, I think of the time that he accidently hit me in the face with the butt end of a lightsaber (see that? Accidentally). I think of how a twenty-year-old man still uses a mushroom in diapers when we play Mario Kart, one of the few games I can consistently beat him at. I think about how he likes to eat milk and cookies down in the basement at the wooden table.
Braden, if you read this, you’re gonna think it’s sappy, and you’re just going to have to deal with it. I love you man! Happy Birthday!