Samuel J. Tanner 4 minute read


I don't have any brothers. Well, brothers that lived. Jayson was one of the three babies that didn't make it. Mom lost three babies before giving birth to my sister Christie and me.

I'm fascinated by the ways my sons Solomon and Samson play together. They drive me crazy. Solomon screams at Samson. Samson takes Solomon's toys. They're playing happily together one minute, wrestling on the floor the next, and then they're screaming in each other's faces. Oi vey. It's exhausting to watch, let alone manage.

"Boys!" I often shout, with no idea what to say or do next. I usually come up with "stop being mean to each other" or "leave each other alone." Sometimes these lines work. Mostly, they don't. The boys have an intimate relationship, for sure. They laugh, they fight, they annoy the hell out of each other. They're brothers.

My friends Mike and Josh came to visit me last weekend. This is the second time they bought plane tickets, rented an Airbnb, and traveled to Happy Valley to visit me. I'll use their real names here. I've already written about Mike and Josh in my three memoirs. I didn't change their names there, either. I don't know why I didn't disguise their names. I didn't disguise Nick's name in the book about his suicide, either. The four of us have been friends since middle school. 7th grade. I can't think of anybody outside of my immediate family I've known longer. These are intimate relationships, I guess. I can't think of another word to describe it. Maybe using our real names in my writing honors the power of those friendships. I don't know.

Josh, Mike, and I have changed a great deal over the last twenty-five years. We've lived our lives. Our hair is grayer. Thinner. Still, there's something powerful about the histories we share. So it was good to see them standing outside the University Park Airport last week.

We spent the weekend playing old Nintendo games and gallivanting around State College. They stayed in a house near campus. They were like frat brothers. Frat brothers with graying and thinning hair. We climbed Mount Nittany and watched the Penn State game downtown. Sure, we caught up and talked about things. But that wasn't really what the visit was about. What was it about? I'm not sure.

We were drinking beer and playing Jenga at a place downtown on Saturday night. There was a Jenga game on the bar. We played for awhile. I started to build a tower when we got bored. Josh threw a Jenga piece at it. I got angry. I started to build again. Josh threw a Jenga piece at my face. I got angry again, and threw the Jenga piece at Josh. We laughed. I can't help but to think of Samson and Solomon. There are few people who it feels natural to childishly throw Jenga pieces at. Josh. Mike.

If I had to think about our relationship, the only word that describes it is brothers. Time has passed since middle school. Our politics and values are different. Our lives are too. We annoy and make fun of each other. But I can't think of people who I feel more comfortable being around. And I can't think of people who make me laugh as hard as Mike and Josh. Over stupid stuff. I don't need some gimmick or event to be entertained by when I'm with them. Like Solomon and Samson fighting over their toys in the sunroom, I can sit on a couch with Mike or Josh, watch Key and Peele, laugh, and feel like I'm with family. There's a power and value in that, to be sure.

Hanging out with them all weekend exhausted me. I'm not good at staying up late. I'm 38. And I never was much for getting crazy or living that fraternity life. Still, it was good to be with my friends Mike and Josh. Brothers.