Two brothers make a family

After losing both parents, two young brothers depend on each other - as the elder makes hard choices about responsibility and freedom

December 31, 2006|By Article by Abigail Tucker | Article by Abigail Tucker,Sun Reporter

His memories gathered rain.

The Christmas ornaments, the baseball card collection, the baby blankets his mother had boxed and labeled with marker and masking tape - Tyler Krus' whole childhood was spread out on the front lawn, getting drenched in a sudden August shower.

"Nick!" 17-year-old Tyler yelled, his voice brittle with stress. "I told you not to put this stuff out here!"

Nick, 15, sprinted out of the house. Together the brothers struggled to drag moving boxes and furniture across the grass to the dry porch.

Afterward, breathing hard, Tyler surveyed the chaos that his family's neat Parkville ranch house had become. The porch was buried beneath a mountain of belongings; Nick's room was torn apart. The living and dining rooms were wall-to-wall boxes, full of their parents' possessions - their mother's bike helmet; the guitar with mother-of-pearl details that their father had made for her, even though she didn't play. Some rooms had signs on the door: "All trash - give away and sell everything."

The house had already been sold. What couldn't be stored in their uncle's barn would have to go.

Just thinking about it made Tyler tired, and yet in a sense he also felt more normal than he had in months - more like other high school valedictorians bound for prestigious universities, and more like his future classmates as they prepared for move-in day. He wasn't just sorting through his family's past: He was packing for college.

Of course, other rising Johns Hopkins freshmen didn't have to contact a Realtor or fill a Dumpster, to find a home for the family cat, to disconnect the answering machine that played their mother's voice. They didn't have to clean out their father's workshop, which, four years after his death, still conjured a sawdust smell. They didn't have to pack their parents' jubilant wedding portraits or their father's office plants, which their mother watered diligently after he died until, three days before Christmas 2005, she passed away, too.

Most of all, they didn't have to worry about little brothers.

Since their mother's death, Nick had depended on Tyler more than ever. Nick lived with his grandmother during the week, but on weekends, he stayed with Tyler in their parents' house, where they did laundry and yardwork and subsisted on a dubious diet of Captain Crunch and canned soup. Nick felt most comfortable in their childhood home and was devastated when their relatives decided that it would be healthier to sell the house after Tyler left for school, and have Nick live with his grandmother.

So, Tyler made a promise to his brother. He swore that they'd live together again after the first semester ended - maybe buy a cheap house somewhere a little closer to Hopkins, without all the memories. Then he'd go back to shopping for groceries and trimming the hedges.

First, Tyler needed a few months of having what other freshmen had. He wanted to make friends, to forget what had happened to his family. To be young again, and free.

Something crashed inside the house. Tyler saw Nick standing by the attic stairs in a blizzard of foam peanuts and sighed.

Just one semester.

Trying to fit in

"Where are your parents?"

His new roommate's mother was the first to ask the question Tyler dreaded. And why wouldn't she wonder? It seemed that everyone else arrived with grown-ups that move-in Saturday in early September. Mothers made beds; fathers lumbered up stairs with luggage. Tyler's aunt and grandmother had dropped him off, but now he stood alone in the cramped room on the third floor of Griffin House with just his computer, a set of sheets and a can of shaving cream.

"I have an unusual situation," he told her. "Both of my parents are deceased. It's complicated." He didn't say more, and she didn't ask. Afterwards she took him and his roommate out for a crab dinner.

Tyler was relieved that his past had slipped so quickly out of the conversation. For him fitting in at college was a far bigger worry than academic survival, because good grades were the one thing that had always come easily. The previous fall, when his mother was still alive, he had taken classes at Hopkins, falling in love with the campus, the energy of its classrooms, the release of being lost in a tough math problem. Though he planned on a triple major, in math, physics and economics, he was confident that passing would be no problem.

Making friends was another story. There hadn't been many close ones at Loch Raven High School. After his father, David, died in the spring of 2002, suffering a massive stroke while swimming laps at the gym, and his mother's mind began to darken, Tyler felt isolated from everyone except Nick.

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