How Far is Heaven? Remembering Kim-n-Steve

Playing in the sand at Burger's Lake when we were tiny
Playing in the sand at Burger’s Lake when we were tiny

My brother and I used to joke that if we wrote a book together, its title would be Surviving the Perfect Childhood.  Its theme would be dealing with the real world after emerging from the tranquil, untroubled, near-paradise of our early lives. Growing up, Steve and I were as close as any brother and sister I’ve ever known, born 3 years and 3 months apart, each of us earnestly filling our older sibling / younger sibling roles.

I was his guide and teacher and he was my adorable little brother.

We lived on the beach in Gilchrist, Texas from the time I was 10 and Steve was 7, and in the summer, we’d swim almost every day, body-surfing in the Gulf, doing cannonballs and having swimming races with our cousins and neighborhood friends in the canal behind our house.

Steve perfected his cannonball in the canal behind our beach house
Steve perfected his cannonball in the canal behind our beach house

Steve laughed harder than anyone when a blue crab clamped onto my toe in the canal and wouldn’t let go, but then was angry at everyone else for laughing.  We were like that – pushing each other to the limits as siblings will, but intensely protective. We were best friends. In the winters, we played indoor games of Scrabble and Monopoly with our parents, and spent hours playing make-believe in a long-running “city”, a collection of buildings made of Legos populated with tiny glass animals who had fascinating made-up lives.  My avatar was a tiny glass squirrel named “Squirrelly”; his was a raccoon named “Racky”.  (Not one of our most creative outputs.)

Steve took dates out in his teen years in his super-cool car
Steve took dates out in his teen years in his super-cool car

I taught Steve how to dance, gave him advice about girls and dating, and felt my own heart break when his youthful romances didn’t last. Boyfriends in my teen years always befriended Steve, and he joined me on many a date. He was a fun, funny person. We were fun together.

“Kim-n-Steve” was one word, a blended name for us that everyone used.

It was on this vacation that we came up with the nickname “Boj”

Steve and I had a nickname for each other: Boj. Pronounced bōj. It was a salutation, a pet name and a word that communicated a variety of emotions depending on how it was uttered, like “dude” is now.  If we hadn’t seen each other for a while, “Boj!” was the excited greeting.  If there was bad news to share in response to “How are you?”, it started with “Oh, Boj”, all long and drawn out, in a low voice and dripping with meaning.

There are so many stories from those halcyon days – the time Steve put green food coloring in Mom’s toothpaste and the time we had a kangaroo court in response to our stance that we were underpaid for pulling weeds.  The kitten named Pretty Kitty who turned out to be a massive tomcat, and our heartbreak when he was run over by a drunk tourist.  Our pet baby chicken also grew to be enormous, a vicious gangsta rooster who only loved Steve (and who I had to fend off with a pitchfork).  All those times after I left for college when Steve got into normal high-spirited high school scrapes and called me for help:  “Boj, something very bad happened.”

Steve is enjoying my cats Festus and Miss Kitty in one of my first apartments
We always had cats to love on. Here Steve is enjoying my cats Festus and Miss Kitty in one of my first apartments

Our togetherness extended into summer jobs.  Steve and I worked at many of the same places through high school and early college – the lumber yard, where I was a cashier and estimator and he worked in the yard, loading orders into customers’ cars and sometimes driving the forklift;; a fancy, quirky 12-seat restaurant where I was a waitress and he was a dishwasher; a duck-hunting lodge, also a waitress and dishwasher; the Candy Factory on The Strand in Galveston, where I worked the candy side and he was an ice cream server and soda jerk.  We car-pooled and money-pooled, and talked and laughed and listened to music during our daily commute.  We debated the meaning of life, the meaning of Rush lyrics and the relative merits of each other’s dates.  Listening to my complaints about one potential boyfriend, Steve said something so profound with his hilarious, slow and earnest delivery, leaning forward to emphasize his point:  “Boj, there’s something wrong with everybody.”  That became a mantra for us and still makes me laugh. It was also our joint commitment to give people a chance even though they might on the surface not seem like a good fit.

Steve chose the same college I did and remained in the Austin / San Marcos area, whereas I landed in Houston to lead out my grown-up life.  He married a marvelous woman and was the first to have children.  Like my son, his two daughters feel like an inseparable part of me.  His wife became my sister and I love her with all my heart.  Our four children (Steve’s daughters, my son and my “bonus son”/stepson) are very close.  Steve and I also remained close for years, although distance, busy-ness and different lifestyles led us to seek and confide in other best friends as we hit our 30s and 40s.

Somewhere along the way, we lost Squirrelly and Racky, both literally and figuratively.

At a coffee shop in Austin during our remembrance weekend
At a coffee shop in Austin during our remembrance weekend

I didn’t receive many gifts from Steve over the years; in our relationship, I was the gifter and he was the teller of funny stories.  One of the last times I saw him, we spent a weekend together in Austin, just the two of us.  Newly divorced, he was figuring out who he was going to be.  I was still the sage older sister; he was still the questioning younger brother.  We walked around in trendy So-Co, went to music stores, visited his guitar-playing, Whole Foods-working friend and recalled our wacky childhood.  We were grown up, we were different, but we were still somehow Kim-n-Steve.  As I left, he put a CD he had recorded for me into the glove compartment in my car:  “You’ll really like this, Boj.”  But I forgot about it as I drove home, back to my corporate job and my garden and my grocery list and my sons and husband. That CD was a rare gift from Steve, but it wasn’t time for me to open it yet. Back at home, I went online and found tiny squirrel and raccoon figurines, and sent them to Steve in memory of our childhood and our great weekend.

Steve died on October 7, 2013.

Looking out my window the night Steve died, remembering our perfect childhood
Looking out my window the night Steve died, remembering our perfect childhood

I was in Las Vegas on a business trip when I heard the news. I spent the night before my early flight out the next day looking at the strip and remembering our perfect childhood.  A part of my heart is permanently broken, and yet I know that it is so much bigger than it ever would have been if we hadn’t been siblings.

I drove to the Austin area for the family gathering, funeral / celebration of Steve’s life and to help with the distribution of his belongings. Looking in my glove compartment for a tire gauge before setting out, I found the CD Steve had given me and popped it into the CD player, so grateful to have this tangible connection to him.  The band is Los Lonely Boys, and the first song on the CD is Heaven.  One of the main lines in this truly beautiful and moving song is “How far is heaven?”  Steve was talking to me through those lyrics as I listened to the song over and over on the drive. And he was laughing with me, too; he knows just how far heaven is, and I don’t.

How far is heaven? Steve now knows, and I’ll have to wait.

One final footnote:  the Squirrelly and Racky figurines were displayed in a prominent place in Steve’s apartment, and they were the only things of his that I needed to have.  I often feel close to him again now – when I listen to Heaven or any of the other music he shared with me over the years, when I see those figurines, now proudly displayed at my office, when I spend time with his beautiful and smart daughters, when I reminisce with my dad about our wacky times at the beach, when I’m with any of his friends or our family who are sharing their own Me-n-Steve Stories.

Lyrics to “Heaven” follow; at the end of this post is a recording of it on YouTube by Los Lonely Boys.  I hope you take a minute to read and watch/listen. The song and lyrics are really inspiring; illustrative of the very human need for solace, and the belief that there is a better place.

Vamanos!

Save me from this prison
Lord, help me get away
‘Cause only you can save me now
from this misery

I’ve been lost in my own place
and I’m getting’ weary
How far is heaven?
And I know that I need to change
my ways of livin’
How far is heaven?
Lord, can you tell me?

I’ve been locked up way too long
in this crazy world.
How far is heaven?
And I just keep on prayin’, Lord
And just keep on livin’.
How far is heaven?

Lord, can you tell me?
How far is heaven?
‘Cause I just got to know how far, yeah?
How far is heaven?
Lord, can you tell me?

[Spanish:]
Tú que estás en alto cielo,
Échame tu bendición
[English translation:
[You, who are in high heaven,
Send me down your blessing]

‘Cause I know there’s a better place
than this place I’m livin’.
How far is heaven?
And I just got to have some faith
And just keep on giving.
How far is heaven?
Yeah, Lord, can you tell me?
How far is heaven?
‘Cause I just gotta know how far, yeah?
How far is heaven?
Yeah, Lord, can you tell me?
how far is heaven?
‘Cause I just gotta know how far?
I just wanna know how far?

This little memoir is dedicated to everyone who loved Steve, and has the same bigger-but-now-broken heart because of his presence in your life.  I didn’t include your names or your pictures, because your stories are your own to tell.


November update: I’ve added a quiet little poem in honor of my brother’s 49th birthday. Click here to read it.

Copyright 2015, Glover Gardens Cookbook

23 thoughts on “How Far is Heaven? Remembering Kim-n-Steve

  1. Called your Dad tonight. He told me of your tribute. Wonderfully written glimpse into your heart. Thank you for doing it and then sharing it with us. Prayers from here for both of you.

    With special love from another who is remembering his own Me-and-Steve stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kim,
    That was beautiful and very touching. I love hearing how close you were and what a great relationship you guys had.
    I wish I would have kept in touch with him after high school. He was a great guy and is missed by so many.

    Liked by 1 person

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