Today is July 16th.
I saw my brother alive for the last time on this day 19 years ago.
He hadn’t been living with my parents and I for a few years. He wasn’t around much during my adolescence. He ran away a lot. He bought and sold drugs. He tried to kill himself. He spent a lot of time in group homes or juvenile detention centers. In the last few years of his life he was living with his girlfriend. When he did manage to make an appearance at the old colonial farmhouse we grew up in it was always because he needed something.
That day he needed money. I knew he needed money. He came sweeping into the kitchen, cool as a cucumber, ‘where’s mom?’
‘Out’, my curt reply. I was so mad at him. He had caused so much pain and never given anything back. I hated him for leaving me alone with my parents and sick grandmother. I hated him for taking my parents’ attention away from me when I needed it too. I hated him for being so fucking selfish and never asking me how I was. I hated him. I hated myself for hating him.
He showed me his new piercing. Tongue. It looked like a wad of raw hamburger; slick, swollen and red. ‘Wow, gross.’ My second short reaction to my big brother who used to have nothing but my worship when I was really little. Even though I was angry at him and didn’t know how to love him, I was really happy to see him. He would always be my cool big brother. Oh, how I wanted, needed his attention. God.
He shuffled his feet and looked toward the door, ‘Will you tell mom to call me? I need to ask her something.’
‘Sure,’ I said. I watched as he angled his body toward the porch without looking back at me.
‘See you later.’ His last words to me. Ever. I nodded and silently flipped the bird at his back.
I watched him walk back to the car idling in the driveway, his friend who drove him smoking a butt. I could see sweat beaded on his forehead as he sank into the passenger seat. The door slammed with a finality I didn’t yet understand. The car backed up, drove down the dirt packed driveway. Out of my life. Forever.
That was the last time I saw Tom. He died in a car accident the next day, along with another young man. The person driving the car wasn’t drunk or high. Just irresponsible and reckless. Going around a hairpin curve at 70 miles an hour can take lives.
I used to think that this pain would go away. I used to assume it wouldn’t hurt as much as it once did. But that’s just not the case. On days like today, when my dreams feature him and his ghost feels so near, the pain is as big as it was back then. The loss doesn’t go away. The grief doesn’t leave. It never, ever stops hurting. All you get is distance from the pain. Sometimes it’s across the country. Sometimes it’s a block away. Other times it’s sleeping in bed with you. And others still it’s in your fucking blood.
Today is one of those times for me. I can hear the songs played at his funeral mass, ‘Fur Elise’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’ as covered by Puff Daddy. I can smell the flowers at his funeral and see the white roses of my ‘sister’s bouquet’ perched amongst the arrangements. I can hear the young girl asking my mother to open his casket so she can see him one last time. I can feel my mother’s kind reaction as she soothes a stranger while her son lies dead 5 feet away. I can feel the humidity of the July air as we buried him. All of it happening in my head in vivid living color.
It will pass. It will lessen. Soon, the pain will click its’ dusty bootheels on the pavement, steadily moving away from me…but it will always come back for a visit. Always.