Thoughts on being a big sister, and then not being one.Posted: 02.20.13
If there’s a worse time of the year to have the cloud of a death anniversary hanging over you than mid-Februrary in the northern hemisphere, I’m not sure when it would be. All of the feel-good winter times are over; you’ve taken down the Christmas tree, put away the champagne flutes, and all that’s left is to trudge through until the sun comes back out.
When I called my mom yesterday, she said almost right away, “You’re calling because of tomorrow, aren’t you?” Today marks the twenty-eighth year since my brother passed away. He had massive birth defects–from what I’ve been told, his heart was incredibly malformed, to the point that I’m amazed he toughed it out as long as he did. He must have been a very strong boy for all of that. He had three open heart surgeries before he died, at just over a year old.
I was only two when he passed, and I only have one single memory of him. I don’t know how accurate the memory is; our brains are fickle when it comes to data storage, subtly going in and fixing this, changing that, nudging events around without us being even slightly aware. My memory is hazy enough to begin with, considering I probably wasn’t yet two: I was playing with my 1-2-3 Sesame Street playset, and my brother kept rolling over in his walker and trying to take my figurines. I was, of course, incredibly annoyed. I used to feel a little guilt over that–if I had known, if I had been old enough to be out of the “me me me” stage of development, of course I would have let him play with ALL of the toys–but now that I’m older, I am pleased that my one memory of him is a real brother-sister interaction. Brother steals toys, sister gets mad. We really were siblings.
Apparently, I was a very good big sister, most of the time. My mom says that I used to push my brother down the hall in his rolling-walker (what the hell do you call those things?) as fast as I could go, which is probably not very fast at all considering I was not even two. He would laugh and laugh. I found a series of blurry Polaroids in my photo box of the two of us, and I was leaning over to kiss him. The picture quality sucks, but the intent is captured.
Of course, there’s also the photograph–lost in time now, sadly–of the two of us sitting on my great-grandmother’s lap. He’s crying his head off because I’m shamelessly drinking a bottle that I’d just snatched out of his hands. I had my moments of rottenness.
It’s very odd to go through life as an only child when you’re not supposed to have been one. Most times, it doesn’t really disrupt my only-child mentality because I was so young when it happened, but I have moments when I remember strongly that there’s supposed to be someone else. We probably would have celebrated our birthdays together, as his was only two days after mine. He probably would have razzed me this year for being thirty, him still comfortably sitting at twenty-nine. I probably would have bought beer for him when I turned twenty-one, and watched out for him when he got to high school a year after I did.
Neither of us would have called my mother today for any special reason. We both might call my father more often than I do now, which is never.
I like to think that he would have been tall, like my dad. I think my dad would have taught him to play the guitar, provided that my brother didn’t get the short, stubby fingers that I inherited from somewhere or another (my parents both have beautiful long fingers, but not me). If his eyes didn’t darken to hazel-green like mine did, they’d stay big and blue like my mom’s; he’d probably have girls swooning all over him, especially if he had the easy charm that my father has when he’s in the mood to turn it on. I prefer to think he would have my mother’s temperament, though. Maybe he wouldn’t have, but it’s what I like to think.
He would have been loved. We both would have been very loved.
For me, the word “sister” is usually one that happens to other people. I make time to remember that, for a short while, it happened to me, too.