This is a week of emotional overload for me. On the happy side, yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the day I met John. He sent me a bouquet of 25 roses. I posted a joyous picture of us on Twitter and got over 100 likes. But on the flip side, I am feeling deep sadness about the Shadow Lodge party at the end of this week, the one we will be missing. John and I decided to celebrate our anniversary this coming weekend, in hopes that it will distract me from thinking about the party and our friends.
But today, on what was his birthday, I’m thinking of my big brother, who passed away in 1972.
For those who have lost someone, you know this: You never forget. Time softens, dulls the pain, settles the anguish into a quiet background sadness that never quite goes away, like a scar.
Some deaths, like the passing of parents, are a rite of passage. You know they’re coming, and they still suck, but they are expected. But the sudden death of a 22-year-old is not. My life was forever changed that day. I saw my parents gutted with grief. They had lost their firstborn, their happy, curious, talented boy with so much promise. And here I was, left to pick up the slack alone. To deal with things I was way too damn young to deal with. I mean, Jesus Christ… for several years after his death, my mother would give me a present on Mother’s Day. She’d always say the same thing: “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be a mother.” Yeah, that wasn’t heart-wrenching at all.
Memories of Ken are fragmented, blurred over many years. He was a popular kid in high school; his friends were always coming over. Every year on his birthday, he had a massive party. The house exploded with teenagers and music. My mother once cooked beef stroganoff for 65 kids. The living room was packed with bodies, and some of them spilled out the front door and out on the lawn, into the street. But mine wasn’t one of them. I was never allowed in the room. Teenagers don’t want a pesky little girl among them.
I could watch from the staircase. But I couldn’t enter. Which broke my heart, every year. Except the year of his 18th birthday, his last year at home, his final party. At long last, I was allowed to join. I sat quietly off to the side, sipping a soda, in awe of everything going on around me, watching my brother’s band play, my head bursting with noise and sensations. His friends mostly ignored me, but a few of them were nice, commenting about how I got to “hang out with the big kids” tonight.
Never forgot that… I felt included. I felt a part of, that night. And of course, I never had parties like his. I was an isolated loner with eating disorders in my teens.
I remember he gave me the first record album I ever got. What was it? Of course. “Something New” by the Beatles.
I remember him trying to gross me out, telling me that chocolate mousse was actually made from the pancreas of a moose.
I remember hearing him sing “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” and I asked him, “Do what?” He didn’t answer me.
I am an atheist. I don’t believe in heaven or any afterlife — when you die, you’re gone. But… sometimes I wish I could believe that our loved ones are on another plane, reuniting. I have images of my dad, mom and brother together again, a tight unit like they were in the years before I was born, before divorce broke us apart. My dad is clowning with my brother, singing him his song parodies (for example, he’d sing “My Boy Ken” to the tune of “My Boy Bill,” a song from the musical Carousel). Probably telling him dirty jokes too, and yanking my mother’s chain. (“Mommy makes her meatballs, taste like people’s feet balls.”) Yes, he really said that; he had a whole little song about it. And Mom would be saying to Ken, “For God’s sake, get those wings trimmed already.”
Even after all these years, I wonder about what could have been. What kind of man Ken would have turned out to be. Would we have been close? Would I have been an aunt? Would we have talked; would he have given me perspective on our parents? And… every time I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Look At Little Sister,” I think of Ken. What would he have thought of his little sister, and who she grew up to be? Would I have ever shared Erica Scott with him?
So many questions, unanswered.
Tomorrow, I’ll put these memories away, back on their shelf. But for today, they surround me.
Like I said, a week of many feels.
Thanks for reading.