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May 10

May 10, 2019

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My sibling would have been 69 today, but death happened 18 months ago.

Every May 10th he is with me, later her, for the last 60 of those years.

There were no pictures of him, or her, anywhere, until a cousin sent me one last week. There is nothing of any sort about that life on the Internet. The ripples of resonance have calmed to the point of memory, and there are precious few who have those memories.

No children. No associations. There are friends at work, but seemingly nowhere else. Parents long dead, the only other relative, or any person that I know, to be in touch in these last decades is my sister, who spoke to her every six months or so, but had not seen her in the last 15 years.

I had not spoken to her in the last 15 years, since I settled our mother’s estate. But I sent her notes, called to a phone with no answering machine, tried to at least let her know I was there.

But I assume I was not a good memory.

Born as the second first son, 6 years after a full term first first son did not survive birth, and then five years after a Golden Daughter was born, my then brother seemed to be a person that had only fear of our father.

There was reason: alcohol and judgment was hard and unrelenting upon even the youngest years of all of my parents’ children – who were born to upper middle class WASP suburban privilege that only hid brutal convictions. As early as I can remember, school, the first and absolute gauge of our worth, was simply not a place that offered my brother anything but guilt over his lack of performance.

The three children were carefully spaced by my mother: five years apart: enough time that by each birth the new child was the only one home, the next oldest safely tucked into our private day school, allowing freedom for my mother to do as she wanted. So we siblings never really knew each other. And since there was none of the sports, lessons, play dates events that followed parenthood for my generation, she had a great deal of time, as did my father, to simply lead their lives, but with children in the house.

Absent all these unattended activities beyond school, the one area of demonstrable, measured worth was thus in grades. And my brother’s were not good. Ever. It was a time where judgment was instant: the reasons for a lack of achievement were starkly simple: poor effort, inadequate intelligence or bad attitude. My brother was soon judged to have all three. For the rest of his life. And he lived that judgement despite any efforts to end it.

But, early on, my brother soon found that he could work. And make money. Full time weekends at 14. Then smoke – from that 14th year until the day she died. Then alcohol, then drugs. But never challenging work, his abiding skill.

Those serial devotions overcame his defined role as “less”. First, herpatology – his first job in a pet store, so endless animals in his room, magazines, real knowledge and skill. Then mechanical art, then photography – so great a skill he quit school to work at Buffalo’s best camera store and shoot weddings.

Then a wife for 5 years, then his own photography business. Both failed. Then retreat to the Episcopal Church, and then the death of my father. A second marriage to his church’s secretary (he was the Sexton).

Then church and second marriage ended.

I never knew why. He came home to live with what became his best friend, my mother. Working as a bus dispatcher.

None of us knew why. Even his best friend, his mother, was surprised by each successive failure. 10 years after the fact she noted “You know why his photography business failed? Because he would shoot a wedding, completely, and simply never return the clients’ calls for them to get their pictures or for him to get paid.”

I have no idea if this is true, but the only one who could have told her was my brother.

When my mother died, there came the last change in a troubled life, my brother became my sister, soon ceased to go to a church he was devoted to, and tried to make the last third of her life a place of her own making.

But again, the inevitability of her own learned inability was completely crushing to any intentions she had at making a life from the outside in: first based on fear, then hope, then survival.

It turned out that first he, then she, could not survive without love.

First the lack of love that came from his lack of performance evolved to a lack of love for himself and great faith in avoiding the person he did not love. Inventions of hope failed. He reached out to a God he told me was the Father he never had, but God could never replace our father.

When the one talent my sister knew that she had, making money, simply could not sustain a life of extreme oddity and cost for a bus dispatcher, rather than hand over her home to the city who claimed it in lieu of property taxes, my sister confirmed the judgment she never deserved, and ended her life.

I avoided all of these cruelties simply by studying. It worked, I was off loaded 600 miles away when I was fourteen and have never smoked anything or done any drug save alcohol. And found love. And had God with me. And have children and lifelong friends that I know are part of our lives.

None of us in our family had birthday parties after we were 5 years old. We got a $20 bill and a cake. That was enough for me to feel the presence of my sibling in his, then her, absence in these last years. Even though she was never there.

Missing what we never have is seemingly impossible. But I do.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eileen Banisch permalink
    May 10, 2019 9:33 am

    Such poignancy. Thank you Duo.

  2. Vicki Davis permalink
    May 10, 2019 11:50 am

    Wow, Duo – the stories we live and carry and so often never tell. Thank you for sharing –

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