Earlier today Soup King was hunting for some particular books, but most of the books had been packed in optimistic hope I’d land a job out of town. Instead, I’m working here, but unsure if I should unpack or leave the stack of boxes in the living room for the next year. In any case, in the process I rescued a pile of old snapshots, negatives, and a small photo album. I opened the photo album and inside were pictures from when I was in high school. I’ve seen them a hundred times, but this time it wasn’t a quick glance, smile, and close of the album.
My eyes lingered on a picture of my brother and myself. It’s possibly one of the absolute worst pictures of me ever, but my smile is genuine as is Justin’s. The moment, frozen in time on film captured our bond. He’d helped me on a school project, adding his artistic touches when in truth there was no reason for him to do so. I think maybe my dad blustered him into helping and I begged. If I attempted to paint the shark on that cardboard boat it would have looked like ridiculous googly eyes.
There might be other pictures of us taken over the next three years, but I can’t really recall any. My senior year was filled with activity and the three grade levels between us meant we lived in totally different social realms. After I graduated, I moved off to college and my short visits didn’t really have much in the way of picture taking. Not to mention, he was at that age where he often avoided the camera because, dude, he was too cool for that.
As I looked at that photo I realized my son is just about the same age now. There’s a faint resemblance, although not a lot. Mr. Smarty Pants may look a great deal different and of course he is very much his own person, but he shares a remarkable similarity in interests, aptitude, and personality.
Both my son and my brother out-class me in sheer IQ power, but both preferred gaming to doing boring homework. Justin devoured history books for the sheer love of the subject. My son’s favorite reading topic? History. Mr. Smarty Pants inherited the same talent for art which turned that blank cardboard boat into a shark. He has a deep, beautiful singing voice he’d rather no one heard, the same as his uncle. As the years go by, I find it hard to recall my brother’s voice, but I suspect Mr. Smarty Pants shares more than a passing similarity. Even the ups and downs of their report cards mirror each other.
Growing up with Justin gave me insight and patience that has aided me in maintaining a strong bond with my son. While mother-son is far different than sister-brother, I was the big sister and “little mother” growing up. So, while some days I just shake my head and roll my eyes at Mr. Smarty Pants’ teenage angst, I do so with the knowledge that these next few years pass by so very quickly. He’ll be a young man in just over four years and the maturity will come, sometimes at a frustrating snail’s pace and at other times frighteningly fast.
The teen years strained my relationship with my brother, and to a lesser degree with my sister. We had different lives and my life in college was vastly different than that of my kid brother’s in high school. The last conversation I had with my brother took place early January of 1999. We rambled about all kinds of things: plans, dreams, troubles. At that point though, all the prior tension of being in different worlds melted away. He was growing up and once again we were not only friends once more, but held mutual respect for each other. No matter that we were very different people, we liked each other and knew without a doubt we could rely on each other.
I used to wish I could have said more, been more present in the last few months of my brother’s life, but I let go of my regrets. People say that time heals loss and that you cease to grieve with time. It doesn’t work exactly that way. Grief is not so much an action as a part of you which you come to accept. With time it gets buried under all the other little pieces that make up who you are, but you are the collection of all those little pieces. It doesn’t take much to move aside the pieces and shine a light on that painful piece– painful because only love can leave so lasting an impression. It can blind you with its intensity, as wrenching and painful as the moment you first felt it.
Sixteen years ago I shared the last of many, many conversations and hugged my brother for the last time, but the love and laughter we shared remain.