Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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June 17, 2024

Justin Lee Parker

A letter to the older brother I never had . . .



I don’t usually say what I mean—but you wouldn’t know that about me. Maybe I don’t know what I want. Perhaps I’m afraid of your reaction? I knew I wanted you around, but I didn’t know I needed you.

I’m in a coffee shop in small-town Colorado. I moved here after 43 years in the same place, relatively speaking. It was a big adventure—at least on moving day. I’m grateful (and bitter) that the dumpster in my apartment complex had a lot of visitors on the lookout for freebies. And you should have seen my little hatchback, still stuffed to the ceiling with everything I didn’t give away to get here.

But . . . it’s lonely here; this isn’t how I dreamed of the mountain.

Something to know about me: my life runs in phases. People talk about seasons, but the seasons happen on the outside. What happens on the inside? I’m not really sure, but I finally stopped ignoring it. I’m still processing some of that, but I’d probably say that I was afraid to admit how ridiculous and stubborn I was and expose the operation to anyone outside of the organization. I conveniently lost the key to the control room a few times.

But you weren’t there, and machines break down. I brought in some consultants. Opened some doors. Shined some lights, let some lights be shined. That was what I needed—rest from all of that broken noise.

Why am I telling you all of this? You would have cared if you had been there, and I hope I would have cared in return. But this is forty-something me writing; not too sure about that. Maybe I’d have been a better brother than friend, but I can’t know. So I’ll credit that possibility; I’ve learned to admit good possibilities and welcome ill ones. There’s some imbalance in my aspect. 

For instance, I’m still bitter that we didn’t get to grow up together. Part of me believes I would have been a better man.

But you get what you get, and I’m beginning to accept that. I was wrong for a long time but couldn’t figure out the how or why. I let the wrongness become my shield, and it held together well. But it was lonely there, too. There were reasons why I didn’t trust people and why I still don’t. If you ever lived, you would know exactly what I mean, but you’d have your own reasons. We could discuss them over scotch and cigars on the porch. 

That would be an interesting conversation, because with you around, things would have been different. How much different, I don’t honestly know. I might have resented you for getting the attention I wanted from Mom and Dad, you being the firstborn son and all. Instead, I got that honor and failed at it. Maybe just shy of passing. You get what you get.

School isn’t everything, though. And life runs in phases, remember? Firstborn son is only one test of many. I did learn that I can’t hold on to wrongness or failure or hurt. I couldn’t move forward and grow, kept hitting the wall mentally and emotionally. And I suspect, in hindsight, that I was growing my first set of horns, in favor of villainy. So, I did what I had to. I learned to let these elements work on me without destroying me. It was not my doing, but I was a present and willing participant.

I’m much happier now. This is a more interesting life than I could have imagined 20 years ago. Many disappointments remain, expectations for my age. My career is middling, I’m still unmarried, and I’ve never owned a home. My music never panned out, and my foray as a novelist was a one-off (so far). But I grew that preternatural beard I always wanted in my youth. And I’ve seen some sights from up high that bring tears to think about. I’m in better shape than I deserve to be, but I’ve worked hard and loved most of it. I’m more grateful than normal. It’s windy here. The sunsets are unbelievable. I wish I had someone to share them with. 

That’s probably more of a wife thing, sorry.

The day and this letter are drawing to a close. I’m tempted to insert some Scripture here in your place and call it solved, but instead, I’ve been asking God to fulfill my lack of brotherhood. And He’s been answering. I don’t get to decide how He responds, but I still think I want to. That’s another fault I need to let go of while letting it do its work.

Don’t worry; I’m not angry at you for not being around. I know you aren’t real. But I am, so I’ll sign off with a challenge. 

Where will you hold your head high if not from the heights? 

Your imaginary younger brother, climbing many mountains,


The featured image, “Mountains of Gold,” is courtesy of Amelia Friedline and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Kimily Kay says:

    Justin, what wonderful food for thought!!!

  2. Mark D. says:

    Wow. Evocative and weighty. Appreciate you bro.

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