I had a few moments to be quiet with myself tonight. The tears came and I wondered if others understand why I take these days each year to remember you in a way that is different from all the other days of the year. Because I remember you on those days too.
15 years ago you drowned. On the morning of this anniversary I was listening to the radio. My knees started to feel weak. I had to hold on to the counter. A chill went down my spine. A teenage boy had been found at the bottom of Scarborough Bluffs. I started to cry. I cried because I missed you and I cried for his family. For the family that was planning to celebrate Canada Day, but would instead be grieving and burying their 17 year old son. You did not live to see 17. We did not see fireworks on the 4th of July that year. We picked out photos for the memory board and watched Fantasia on the couch at the condo. In shock. We greeted friends and family outside Lamb Funeral home. It has a different name now. I remember it was on the other side of town from where you were to be buried. And I sat outside at the base of a tree smoking cigarettes with my friends. A secret we once shared although you told mom anyway. I wasn’t the perfect angel anymore. Maybe I hadn’t been for awhile.
You were so loved. By so many. I used to have a plant that your friend Sara put on the alter at your funeral. It survived the rest of my years at college, even after getting dropped once or twice. Mom kept it for me, in a pot that I painted, while I was teaching overseas. First in Saipan and then Thailand. It grew taller, but the leaves grew sparse. One Summer when Grandma and Grandpa were living at mom’s I transplanted it in hopes of reviving it. Later that week I found our oldest nephew curiously plucking the leaves off it. That was it for the plant. I was sad but accepted it. I hugged him and wished he could have known you instead of a plant shared in your memory. Mom still has one from that day, growing greener and stronger each day.
On Saturday I heard a story about a little boy who was born on the day that you died, fifteen years later. His name is Joshua. Just like you.
I don’t know what is harder, the time that passes without you or that fact that you are not here to make new memories. Both are difficult to fathom sometimes. Remembering you is so important to me. You will always be my brother.
I want to share a photo of us together today. I’m standing next to you in a shiny blue dress. My red hair done up in curls. I’m going to Homecoming, it’s my Senior Year of high school. You were supposed to pose next to me, and smile. Instead you were tickling me and we were both laughing. We are so happy. It is my favorite photo of you. Of us. I don’t know where it is. It was misplaced during one of my many moves. I always hope I will find it when unpacking in a new place, but I never do. I have the memory of it. Each detail. Every color. The smiling creases in our cheeks, in the corners of our eyes.
And I remember you.
Joshua Buck Riley
June 9, 1981 — July 2, 1996