Brotherly Love


Nicky Nichtern, left,  and her brother David NichternYou may not believe any of this, but let me tell you now…every bit of it is true. On a Saturday afternoon, during that one week when it is so much hotter than all the other weeks in July, my brother David – my one and only, favorite, brother David – called me to invite me to his posh club to swim. He knew how much I love to swim since I told him that I used to swim every day but couldn’t anymore since I was living in the Big Apple now. David has always been very thoughtful, but I was still touched by his remembering about the swimming and then following up on it.

We were sitting outside on a terrace that went around the entire side of the 45th floor of the Parker Meridian Hotel. We had just had a long, luscious side-by-side swim. As we settled into deck chairs, facing the late afternoon sun, I began to tell him how much his outstretched hand at the end of each lap reminded me of Dad’s hand, doing the same exact thing 20 years before. The fingers were extended similarly and both he and Dad began to reach for the wall of the pool a stroke too early and then gave a long kick to glide into the final stroke before the turnaround move.

We started to talk about Dad … and how much we missed him. He told me about dreams he’d had over the last three years since his death, where Dad came to visit him, and seemed as real as life. I felt jealous because I’d not had one dream – not one visit.

Well, one conversation led to another. We usually joked around a lot but on this one fading summer afternoon, we really got into serious stuff. Nothing I’m going to unload on you here, but the important thing was that we were doing it. You know, connecting.

Simultaneously, we realized it had gotten dark. New York City had put on its night jewelry and the view was spectacular. I realized how late it must have been for it to be so dark and I also realized how cold I had gotten. We had sat down hours before in our wet bathing suits, had only one towel between us and, as we started to get up to go inside, my sweet David tossed it to me.

As we turned around to look from the glittering skyline inside to the club, my jaw dropped. I turned to look at him and his mouth was gaping too. The club was shut down and dark. Not a soul was around; all the lights were out and the glass doors were locked.

“Okay, don’t panic,” he said in a panicky voice. He assured me that we could always take one of the deck chairs and smash the glass door but, as we were both pacifists and solution-oriented people, we decided to check out our options first.

We walked down to the end of the balcony, to the corner of the building and slowly peered around the corner. There, about 10 feet away was an end to our balcony and about 5 feet (or a million feet) past that was the beginning of the next balcony. Before he could even consider jumping from one ledge to the other, I told him not to consider it. And, as I am his older sister, and maybe because of some other reasons too, he didn’t.

We turned around and walked back to the place where we had begun, past it and down to the other end of the building. We peered around that corner, now facing downtown. And there, also ten feet away, was the end to our balcony. Only, this time, the abutting balcony was just that. It was simply a matter of sitting on it and swinging our legs over and we were on the next balcony.

We walked to the end of it and slowly peered around the third corner of the night. There were lights on, and some people, dressed to the nines, cocktails in hand, mingling about. Somewhere from inside a band was playing “The Girl from Ipanema.”

“Come on,” he said. “We can’t,” I implored. I was wearing basic black, decorated with a little bit of cellulite here and there!

My baby brother, the one I had looked after for years, smiled at me and took my hand firmly and we began to walk towards the crowded room. When we got to the door that took us from outside to inside, he took me in his arms and began to cha-cha me into the room. For one brief moment I thought I was going to throw up, but then all of a sudden it felt just like it had in 1959 and we were in the Rec Room at Camp Kokosing, and my brother and I were dancing with each other again, doing the steps that only the kids from our neighborhood would know. We began to Lindy, and he spun me out, and back and forth, and all of our old routines were at our beck and call. As the song ended, he started to dip me. “Don’t drop me,” I squealed, just as I had years ago. And this time he didn’t.

The crowd had backed off to watch and wonder. We saw every face silently asking, “Who are these people in bathing suits in the middle of the dance floor … and why are they in bathing suits in the middle of the dance floor at Arnie’s Bar Mitzvah?”

David once again took my hand and we walked toward the door with the neon red exit sign above it. I walked out first and turned around to make sure that he was right behind me. But his back was to me and he was facing the crowd in the ballroom. He raised his hand in the air and in a loud, clear voice, called out “L’Chaim!” He turned to me, grinning, grabbed my hand, and we ran down the corridor together.

Nicky Nichtern ( partners with not-for-profit organizations to help reinforce their missions by developing improved graphic communications.