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Commentary: My Brother and I

My brother is 11 months older than I am. We were always mistaken for twins. When we were teenagers, we would get into fights. Once put me in a headlock. As I struggled to get out, his elbow jammed into my face and gave me a bloody nose. I took pictures of the blood and texted them to my mom, hoping it would get him grounded. Minutes later, we were sitting side-by-side watching The Office, laughing.

As we grew up, our lives started to part. I made honor roll for the first time. Jonathan was suspended from school for fighting and using drugs. I got accepted to college in San Francisco. My brother was living at home, using drugs, until my mother kicked him out.

Jonathan drifted around the country between family members, until he had nowhere to go but the streets.

Meira Gebel and her brother Jonathan. The photo was taken at California Health Care Facility in Stockton, Calif., while Jonathan was incarcerated.

Jonathan was homeless in San Diego for about two years. By then, he had been to jail a few times. He was also diagnosed with depression, and had stints in various psychiatric hospitals.  That’s when I asked him to move in with me in San Francisco, to add some stability to his life.

The day he arrived, we were on the bus. A few seats away, a homeless woman was begging for someone to help her tie her shoes. Her legs were swollen, and she couldn’t bend over. Jonathan got up without hesitation. In that moment, I saw my brother for who he is: thoughtful and humane. A couple of days later, money went missing from my wallet.

Then, I caught him stealing from my roommate. I told him he had to leave or we would both get kicked out.

He didn’t resent my choice. Since then, our relationship has been mostly on the phone. When Jonathan was either homeless, or in jail, my family members would call me whenever they wanted to find out anything about him.

One day I got a call from Jonathan. He told me he’d been sentenced to four years in prison. My parents didn’t know until I called them.

After a while, anytime I got a call from my family, I knew they wanted to know about Jonathan. How is he? Did he get his commissary money? Can you tell him to call me? They stopped asking about me, my accomplishments, my struggles.

Three weeks ago, Jonathan got out of prison. He’s in a halfway house now, serving out his parole.

And that’s when I started to look back. I remembered all his letters, saying how proud he was, and how much he looked up to me.

Yesterday I bought him a pair of jeans online. I also called my parents updating them on Jonathan’s day. But I didn’t mind.

It took me a while to realize how significant my role in his life is, and his in mine. He’s always been my biggest supporter. I would stop whatever I am doing to buy my brother a pair of jeans.

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