I feel so sad. When I cry the tears stream down my face, warm and salty. I curl up into a ball and wait for my bath water to fill the tub. The luxury of the hot steam rising above me, creating a safe haven where my thoughts can run down the drain at any moment I chose to pull the plug. My brother Josh would have been 25 today. In less than a months time, on July 2nd, it will be the tenth year since he drowned. Every day he is missing from my life. But his birthday, as well as the anniversary of his death are days that cannot be ignored. The loss cannot be pushed beneath the surface, instead it rises up and the flood gates open and I just want to be ‘home’ again in my mother’s arms. Where we miss him together.
My brother Josh would have been a quarter of a century today. He was born the same year as Ali. As we arrive at his birthday and near the time of his death, it will have been an entire decade of living without him. Of remembering him from moments lived far away in the past. Of looking at pictures and trying to bring back his voice, his smile, the sparkle in his blue eyes. Of recalling a childhood lived together, but one he never got to finish.
While many people are celebrating summer and the 4th of July every year, I have to remember that was the day we buried our brother. I can get emotional at this time of year without even knowing it or realising why. And then it happens that I look at the calendar and I see the days being crossed off and soon it will be his birthday. And I go through the day like any other day. I arrive on time to work. I do my job. I come home. And the next day the routine begins all over again. But today, there were many times where my students had to say my name more than once to get my attention. Times where my mind had wandered in a place other than the present. Not a sad place, but a place of remembrance.
I want to remember him. I am afraid that time will just keep turning and it will be longer and longer since I have seen him. Since we were in this world together. When he died I could feel him with me. Giving me the strength to get through it and be strong for my family. When I am travelling, I visit churches and light a candle for him. I sit in a pew and miss him. I want him to be with me still and this is the closest I feel I can get. And a wave of sadness comes over me and suddenly my face is streaked with tears and I don’t remember crying. I never go to church during a service unless I am with my mom. And then I feel the tears forming in the back of my throat and it tightens because I want to hold them in. I think this is why I never go to church. I miss my brother too much.
There is a little boy at school and his name is Joshua. Every time I say his name, I think of my brother. And there is a yearning for him. A wish that I didn’t have to have a sadness attached with this name. A loss. My nephew Logan, Jake’s son, is named after Joshua, Logan Joshua Riley. And he knows it. He knows who Josh is, he sees pictures of him at Grandma’s house and asks who he is. It’s very special. And Logan’s spirit is so bright that there is no sadness or loss in saying his name. He has a spunk, just like Josh had.
Right after Josh died, I wrote a children’s book about him. Remembering the fun times of our childhood and the things that made Josh, Josh. Not much later, I wrote a short story in my creative writing class about him and his death. Recounting it. The moment when my brother Bill and I drove past the accident, unable to see due to a large cement block lining the median. The police car following us home. The phone calls trying to reach our parents. The drive on the back roads, faster than I have ever driven before, to the hospital. Arriving at the hospital. Glaring at his friends who had been at the river. Who had not saved him. Seeing him on the bed. I remember too much. The blood on the doctors jacket. The doctors asking my mom about donating his organs. Walking down the white corridor, feeling him with me, knowing he had left our world. Staying overnight in the waiting room of the intensive care unit. Phoning friends and family to ask for prayers on the payphone in the hallway. Going into a room with the long white table and being told that he was brain dead. Going into another room to see him one last time.
For in remembering his life, I also remember his death. I remember the professor telling me my story wasn’t realistic enough, that it ‘lacked realistic details.’ I wanted to scream in his face. I wanted to throw my story at him and ask him if he knew what death was. But I didn’t. I kept silent. He didn’t know it was true. That it had happened just a few months prior in the summer of my 19th year. I don’t know how I made it through my classes that year, but I don’t think it would come as a surprise that this was the year I started really partying.
Right now, in this moment, I can’t remember what we did for Josh’s 15th birthday. I close my eyes tight and I try to imagine it, but I can’t. I think back to all of our last moments. Of the late night car ride we took to pick up our brother Bill and watched the film, Powder, when we got home. Of when he would ask Jake to leave me alone when I was painting so I could have peace of mind. Of my mom telling me that he told her how proud he was to have a sister like me. That he always bragged to his friends what a cool sister I was. And how hard it was for me to get over the fact that I didn’t get to hug him or say ‘I love you’ the day he died. That I saw him and I didn’t take the opportunity to do that. Now I don’t let me brothers get off the phone without saying it. And I can be known to say it at least a dozen times in a day to Ali.
You never know when it will be the last time you speak to someone.
I began this post last weekend. I was an emotional wreck and I didn’t realise why until I looked at the calendar. As I sit in the dark completing it, I try to smile through the tears for the 15 years that we knew each other. And I keep these memories close to my heart, always.