Friday, April 8, 2011

Countdowns

Usually, counting down implies something big is coming: the start of a brand new year, the launch of a rocket, the implosion of an old building via carefully placed incendiary devices.

Countdowns signal the end of something, and if you are optimistic, the start of something else.

I've always been overly focused on dates. I recall the dates of a lot of events, major and minor. It's just a quirk. I'm really good with buying birthday cards on time.

Though a significant date often comes up in retrospect (Hey, yesterday was the 24th-- that's the day I saw my first concert)...sometimes they loom large in expectation. Each tear-off calendar page brings me closer to that landmark date.

Right now I am in countdown to The Day Everything Changed.

The day I found out my only brother was dead.

It will be two years on 4/16 that I got the phone call from my parents I never saw coming. There was no countdown then.

There was no clear warning that these would be the days of "the lasts"... the last time I saw him, the last time we talked on the phone, the last time we would know, for certain, that he was alive.

He died sometime between 11 PM on Monday, 4/13/2009 and early Tuesday morning, 4/14. For days, we didn't even know... and that's the hardest part of all. He died alone, and we found out days afterward, in a manner much more fitting to an episode of CSI than what you actually think is even possible in real life.

My brother was a fairly solitary person who interacted with the family on his own terms. Often, that meant several days would go by without email or phone contact. He lived alone in his apartment. At the time of his death, he was not employed. He'd been offered a teaching position which was to start in January, but had some health issues and had to postpone starting until the following quarter. He never saw the start of that quarter.

I am trying to move past my fixation on the calendar days right now, and stop ticking off the "lasts" that happened now two years ago. Because, the biggest one is coming, and it still hurts just as much in 2011 as it did in 2009.

My brother is a big part of the reason I started writing again. An accomplished writer with a Master's in Creative Writing, he taught college-level creative writing and composition. He had a true passion for, and taught, SciFi; he forbade his students to call it "science fiction" because "SciFi" sounds better. You have to say it with the attitude, too.

In his absence, his writings are what we have left. That is how we can share him with his only niece, who was only seven months old when he died. How ridiculous that she changed his entire world, and they only got seven freaking months together. What a kick in the teeth.

My hope is that through the things he wrote, Monkey can get some sense of who her uncle was. His humor, wit, intelligence, and fierce loyalty to those he loved shines through his writing.

We have also built strong ties with the friends who were his extended family, and together as a family united in grief, we keep him alive in our hearts. We show Monkey, day in and day out, that he was HERE, and he was like no one else on earth, and how he loved her like no one else in *his* world, and that her tiny little infant self and wry smirk-- so eerily like his-- brought him more joy in seven months than he'd had in the thirty-seven years before she arrived.

(He'd be really irritated with the length of that last sentence, by the way.)

But still... none of what we can do now can change the fact that he's NOT here with us.

Two years ago this Monday, 4/11, will mark the last time I spoke with my only brother. I am eternally grateful that our conversation ended with hope for the future, as I had just finalized my divorce and was in a horrible job situation... but changes were coming and I was hopeful.

He listened, like he always did. We *celebrated* on that day, because I had just received my Social Security card officially signalling the change back to my maiden name. I was on my way back to being *ME* again, not the stranger I'd become to try to fit in with my ex-husband's society-snob family. I was me, again.

He was the first person I called when I opened that envelope to revel in my new card with the old name. He was so happy for me; I was so glad to have his support. We ended that conversation with, "I love you," and, "I love you, too."

I am eternally grateful those were the last things we told each other.

I am, however, still heartbroken that it was nearly two years ago.

I miss him... Every single day.

The countdown continues, to the day that changed all of us forever.

...To the start of this "new normal," which is ever so empty without the one person who would have most enjoyed the ride.

...To the realization that his friends are all now in their forties and he will forever be 38...not even 42, which would have seemed so much more appropriate.

The calendar looms at me as these days count down...

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