February 1, 2009 § 3 Comments
It’s my brother Jimmy’s birthday today. He was born in 1951 and died in 1965, hit by a car when he was riding his bike home in the dark. Some years I don’t remember his birthday until it’s passed, although I always remember February 27, the date he was killed. That was when everything changed. The eldest of four, he was by nature more outgoing, popular and well rounded than the rest of us, and since he was the one who died, and his death preceded our father’s by months, he’ll always hold highest place for mental health. I remember him the way pundits like to talk about America before the JFK’s assassination. I’m not sure I believe countries can be innocent, but people can, children can; we were.
He died at the midpoint of the ‘60’s, after the civil rights legislation was passed, after the Vietnam war began in earnest— both issues I heard him discuss with my mother while I lingered in the hall, a nine year old girl still firmly entrenched in make-believe. He died before the Summer of Love, the ’68 Kennedy and King assassinations, Nixon’s election, The Beatles’ split. He missed sex, drugs, funerals, psychiatrists.
He missed the ‘70’s: college, falling in love, independence, career. He missed the shock of turning 30, then 40. He didn’t get to blossom or to not blossom, to know that the potential wasn’t reached, the spoils gone to fear and procrastination. I think he would have done better than I have. I know that if he hadn’t died, I would have done better. But even this life of mine, with its absurd overpayment to depression, has been packed with so much joy, learning, love, jokes, and friends, it would take me years to describe the highlights.
I want to know where his mind would have taken him. I want to see him as an adult, at work—he was always so good at things. I want to lean into the shade of Elder Brother, go to him for counsel even if I think he’ll be wrong. I want to see him age. I want to know his children.
I looked at his baby pictures over Christmas: a dozen curling black and white photos of a laughing six month old, one year old, toddler, with that soft baby flesh, those trusting eyes. I imagined more fully than ever before my mother’s overwhelming love for her firstborn, her astonishment at her brilliant creation. Not this, not words, but an entire person, fashioned as the young are among mammals, for maximum charisma.
We evolved to fall in love. With our parents, our siblings, our sexual partners, our babies. (And now, lucky us, our President.) All the accomplishments of reason are in service to that, to get and keep the best ones.
We invented God to take the love left over.