Lon Holupko grew up a block away from me, and he and my older brother were friends. They were in the same Scout troop and played football on the same team. Lonnie was three years older than me, and I think he might have called me “squirt” or some other name one gives to little kids.
My brother and his friends, including Lonnie, were “cool” kids. Other than playing football, I am not sure what made them “cool,” but everyone knew that they were.
I, on the other hand, was a nerd. I loved to read and most of my free time was spent reading. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Branch of the Detroit Public Library was my home away from home on summer days.
When I wasn’t reading, I was sewing, and from the time I was eleven years old, I sewed my own clothes—not very cool.
I was an embarrassment to my brother, and he instructed his friends not to talk to me—as if some of my uncoolness might rub off on them, or if his friends were seen talking to me, his reputation would be tarnished.
Knowing how strongly my brother felt about his reputation and unwilling to incur his wrath, I would not acknowledge his friends in public, and when they came to our house to see him, I would answer the door and say, “He is downstairs.” Then I would go back to my book.
Growing up as the younger sister of a popular boy was unpleasant most of the time.
When Lonnie came to the house, though, he always stopped and talked to me. He would ask about the book I was reading or exchange some pleasantries. I would become anxious, fearing my brother might come in and see me talking with Lonnie, but Lonnie never seemed to notice. He was so polite and kind.
I felt seen by Lonnie, which was significant since I lived in my brother’s shadow and mostly experienced myself as invisible.
I thought of Lonnie as someone who made the world a better place, and I imagined he would do great things in adult life.
But Lonnie died in Vietnam soon after I graduated from high school. He was twenty years old. He was the kindest, most thoughtful person I had ever known, and then he was dead. I was heartbroken.
I thought of all the things Lonnie would not get to do, all the people whose lives he would not touch, all the invisible girls who would not be seen by him. Such a loss.
I decided that I would live my life for him, that I would try to do what I thought he would do—that I would see people who were invisible, be kind to people others ignored and be accepting of anyone who came into my life.
My life has been much smaller than I imagined Lonnie’s would have been, but I have tried to honor his life by keeping his spirit alive.