Friday, November 11, 2011

Sibling Reverie

From the Book of Ecclesiastes, Pete Seeger and the Byrds:

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born,

Fall is  the time of my greatest joys and my greatest sorrows.  All my children are fall babies: in rapid succession- September, October then November birthdays.  It’s one big gift giving season all leading up to Christmas. They are my everything as W. H. Auden said it best:

My North, my South, my East and West, 
My working week and my Sunday rest, 
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; 

I would do anything for them, but as teenagers and near teenagers, I can’t let them know that of course. They already walk all over me.

a time to die…
Death usually comes to my door in fall too.  My brother, my aunt, my uncle, and now my father all died  within a two week span in late October and early November.  I am down to one original immediate family member now.  It’s strange to be that alone.

My brother’s death was so unexpected.  One minute he was a vibrant, 34 year old working (legitimately!) in the pharmaceutical industry.  The next minute the police were tracking down my Dad at 3am announcing his passing in a neighbor’s car as he desperately scrambled for help.

My brother was unlike my sister and I.  He was a free spirit in a ethnic world where boys were still treated differently.  I don’t know how many times I heard he didn’t have to do something “because he's  a boy”.  Oh, Y didn’t have to help with the laundry,  "because he's boy”.  Y didn’t have to pick up his socks, “because he's a boy.” Y didn’t have to set the table “because he's a boy.” “Boy” did I have penis envy at age 12 without ever needing to read Freud.  His laissez-faire attitude extended to his academic work too.  He just got by, went out with friends, goofed around in school.  I remember one historic trip to the principal. Sirens were going off outside his classroom and he yelled to his teacher, “Hey Sister A, they’re coming for you!” My parents had to stifle their laughter as they handed out some very lenient punishment.

He hid bad grades in piles of sidewalk leaves until my sister caught him one day. He broke things, especially my things.  Barbie dolls mysteriously had posterior punctures after his friend got an arrow set for his birthday. He and his friend Anthony, also lost two pairs of vise-grips. What 10 year old boys do with vise-grips I’ll never know.  My father went ballistic.  That incident was the longest running joke of my family. “But he's a boy!” was the real punchline.

I remember one trip while I was in college and he still in high school which drove me crazy with jealousy.  My parents let him and a friend go see “Blondie” at CBGB’s in NYC.  He was only 15.  "Why did you let him go?" I asked my Mom.  You already know the answer.  

He carried this attitude to everything he did.  He was casual with girlfriends, eventually engaged to two of them then suddenly breaking it off.  He borrowed exorbitant amounts of money from my Dad for whimsical cars, camping equipment, a trailer and even a gun (yikes). “Let him have his fun” my Dad would say with a wink, met by my frequent growls.  “He’s a boy.” One of his last acts was cashing in his 401K for a new 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee.  “It’s okay, I need a car and it’s really cool.”

He could be carefree, reckless, and exasperating, but my baby brother always made me laugh.

Maybe he knew something we didn't know that autumn.  Maybe he knew that his life was going to be shortened by a myocardial infarction of his left main coronary artery ("the widow maker") that crisp crystal clear fall night exactly thirteen years ago today.   Maybe he knew he didn’t need retirement. Maybe he didn’t really want any widows.  Maybe he just wanted to be “a boy” forever. Boy,Y, I miss you. Where are those damn vise-grips?

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