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When college broke up the brothers

Close as ever. (Susan Bonifant)

Very soon, close friends of ours will send the first of their two sons to college. “We’re okay with the oldest one moving on,” they said about this. “But we wonder how the younger one will do.”

We wondered, too.

Our sons, seven years apart, could not have been less alike. Drew, the older, was studious and thoughtful. Sam was impulsive and social. Drew was serene, Sam was boisterous. It couldn’t have mattered less to their friendship. Drew never entered a room without Sam on his heels as if he were attached by a string.

When Drew left for college, Sam didn’t just count the days until Drew’s first break. He kept a chart on the back of his door and crossed them off.

In time, the chart came down and Sam attached to other friends and stopped listening to Drew’s music. Drew found part-time work as a sportswriter and stopped coming home on breaks. Apart from Facebook messaging or maybe a late night text to talk sports, they rarely communicated. I was sure that without the glue of daily interaction — late night conversations in someone’s room, shared videos and apps, movies into the wee hours, hoops in the driveway — the closest days of their friendship were behind them.

It wasn’t until the summer of Drew’s senior year in college that I realized what made this relationship stand up to distance and personality differences.

A tropical storm had raged all night, leaving us without power well into the next day. While everyone else made a show of their irritation, Sam and Drew unearthed a 12-year-old video game called “Backyard Baseball.” In Sam’s dark room, they set it up to play on a battery- charged computer. From the other side of the door, I heard much mocking of this nostalgic, antiquated game that had once captivated them. And with it, their old easy, silly laughter. I cracked the door, peered inside, and they waved at me. It looked like they were sitting in a mitten. Both wore baseball hats.

Later, the storm calmed and the power returned. The boys appeared dressed and showered and announced that they were going to check the level of the river. They had no clue what they were checking, and I’m not sure they even knew how to get to the river. But they were going to be “storm trackers” just the same. They returned hours later, the river forgotten as soon as they left the driveway.

A few days after this, I stood at our kitchen window and watched as Drew chipped golf balls from the lawn into the shallow end of our pool. There, his brother Sam sprung like a retriever to catch the ball. I imagined the game could end with a head injury and a trip to the emergency room, but at that moment, it had my appreciation.

The strength of this brother relationship, hardly weakened by the college separation, did not depend on proximity at all. Rather, it had evolved of the days that came before when either brother only required the presence of the other to remember the appetite for fun that they shared — and to find a way to create it.

Drew and Sam will one day have spouses and children and schedule issues that make it hard to get together unless the serious one is willing to hop a flight at the last minute, or the impulsive one is willing to plan in advance. They will need to remember the feeling of fun to make it work. They will.

Keeping people close comes with a price and all of us decide that we can afford it or we can’t. If college will break up your close children, take heart. Maybe they have absorbed each other’s company and counsel enough to remember their days of fun clearly. Enough, at least, to make a healthy down payment on that asking price.

Susan Bonifant is an essayist and novelist from Hopkinton, NH, who blogs about life after the last college drop off at Attic View. You can follow her on Twitter @SusanBonifant.

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