I was going to use this blog to bitch about the fact that instead of lounging on a beach while a pool boy brings me planter’s punch, I get to spend mine strapped into a dental chair having my three remaining wisdom teeth pulled because contrary to popular belief, my mouth just isn’t big enough to house them all without causing me a decent amount of pain as my top two grind into my jawbone.
I know, I know, it seems like I just diatribed about it, but believe me, I could go on for paragraphs about the horrid experience I had when the first one came out, the rotten luck of spending my spring break recovering or the overwhelming fear I have of getting them out tomorrow.
However, before I got on to write, I checked my email. Since it is spring break, I’ve only checked it twice today, which is down from about 50 times during the course of a work day. Waiting for me was an email from my dad. I knew it was going to come at some point today. I kicked things off this morning after my son went down for his nap by asking him how he was doing, even though I knew the answer. Today is not a good day in my family.
Today should have been filled with birthday presents, drinks, a cake and a few jokes about getting older. I should have been playing with my nieces or nephews. Or maybe asking if he was ever going to get a real job. Today my little brother should have turned 30.
The last birthday we celebrated together though, was his third.
I don’t talk about my brother much. Until today I think I’ve written about him even less. Nobody in my family talks about him much. I couldn’t even tell you what he died from. All I know is that we were eating cheeseburgers in the car one minute and the next he was choking on something. Only I’m not really sure he had anything to choke on. He just couldn’t breathe. We rushed him to the doctor and I remember I rode in the car with my mom while my step-dad rode in the ambulance. At the time I didn’t think anything about it, but when I look back, it’s kind of odd that my mom chose to stay with me and not her son. I don’t think she realized her baby was dying. A neighbor came to the hospital and took me home. I woke up to my mother trying to pick me up. I asked about my brother and in this flat, almost unrecognizable voice, she answered, “he’s dead.” I was in first grade, but I had no idea what those words meant.
The next few days were a blur. I only have snippets. Lots of crying. A flight back to Indiana. A huge room with a small box at the front. Wanting to sit with my dad, but my mom clinging to me with every ounce of strength she had left. My father sobbing. My mother wailing. Someone gave me a doll dressed like Alice in Wonderland. Her hair tasted salty. I kept sucking on it. Finally getting to see my dad at the VFW hall and my grandmother in the kitchen there telling a bunch of old women what to do. She and my aunt wouldn’t stop moving or talking to people about food. All the adults moving around in a fog and me, off in a corner. Going back to school in my red velvet dress and no one talking to me. Then people talking to me like nothing had happened.
Every year since I was old enough to really think about it, I’ve spent today remembering. When I lived with my dad, the two of us would drive to the cemetary to lay flowers and small toys on his grave. I don’t usually get up there for his birthday anymore since it happens during the school year. Instead my dad and I trade phone calls or emails. Every Christmas though we make it to the cemetary together. We bring flowers and huddle together no matter how deep the snow or how bitter the cold. My husband and step-mom stay inside the car. Or like this year, at home with the baby while my dad and I go alone. This is our ritual. Our rememberence.
Up until now I haven’t really felt his grief. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve grieved. But I’ve grieved as a sister. I’ve spent my time remembering the little boy who let me put barettes in his hair and call him Justine. The little boy who let me transport my Barbies in his Tonka trucks. The little boy I played hide and seek with. The little boy who was the only other person in the entire world who understood my pain when my parents split. The little boy who crawled into my bed and cried with me when we had to say goodbye to Daddy.
Last year I talked to my dad, but I was still under the odd euphoria that comes from having a new baby and not sleeping. It wasn’t until this year, two days after my son turned 13 months, that I began to understand the real pain my father must feel each year knowing that he’ll never wake up and see his little boy’s face again. I never realized it until today, but that’s what sends me into my son’s room every night before I go to bed, I have to make sure he’s still breathing. It’s the reason I keep the baby monitor on, even though he’s on the other side of a rather thin wall. I know what it is like to lose a brother without any warning and for no reason. And every year I see my father’s pain. Now that I have a child of my own, I have an inkling of what he is going through. The mere thought of losing my son is enough to panic me. My poor father. If it still stings me this much after 28 years, I know this day has to rip him apart.