Tag Archives: Siblings

Nine to Thirty-six

Yesterday as I drove home with Miss Diva we passed Audubon Park. I drive past it if not daily, than several times a week. Miss Diva was having a blond moment and didn’t realize it was a park until I pointed it out. She asked why we don’t go there. It’s close to us and quite pretty, but they lack proper restrooms or water fountains, and while not as much an issue now, their playground was kind of crappy. We’ve been there, but I much prefer other local parks.

My mother loved Audubon, likely because they have some gorgeous trees. We lived a good thirty minute drive or more from that particular park when I was little. The last trip to that park before we left Memphis was probably the in early fall of 1988. I loved trees too, but I was a bit disappointed when we made a trek to that one in particular. Back then there wasn’t a playground at all and swings and slides rank high on kid priorities. Still, we had fun. I think we had a take-out picnic and played frisbee.

I was hipster before it was cool.

I wore hipster glasses before it was cool.

I lived in Memphis for nine years before moving away and didn’t return until I was 18. Memphis was my home and at the age of nine I made the decision to return as soon as I could. I was just a little older when I decided to be a scientist and a writer and the president of the United States. I may have only been 9, but my record for achieving those goals is currently 3 out of 4.

Despite my nine-year old resolution, when I returned, it was just as much a strange place in many ways as other places I’ve lived. My connection to Memphis is now essentially the eighteen years I’ve spent here as an adult. Sure, I remember playing frisbee there, but far more clear are memories of taking Mr. Smarty-pants there when he was itty-bitty, walking with all the kids there and playing troll under the bridge.

Every once in a while though, my brain time-warps and I’m 6, or 7, or 8 again, running through leaves, giddy with the simple joy of freedom that running at that age brought. It was before asthma and chronic allergies stole all the fun. It was before I reached an age where I was self conscious. It was before I went through five long, painful years of bullying and isolation at school. It was long before grief and heartaches and the tedium of adulthood.

Chatting with Miss Diva about the park, I realized how integral our memories are. Our past may not define us, but it shapes us. I read a book recently in which the characters’ memories are wiped and then they regain them. While I enjoyed the story, something felt off and I realized the change in one of the main characters seemed too subtle to me. I can’t even list the number of ways different events have helped make me who I am today. I look back at pre-9 year old me and have no idea who I’d be if you erased all I experienced, but it wold not be who I am now.

Sixteen years ago today, I didn’t know it yet, but my brother had been taken from this world. Growing up with Justin influenced me, just as losing him changed me. Even knowing the pain of his loss, were I given the choice, I’d go back and do it all again just to hear his laugh one more time or hear his voice again.

Having hit 36, a number of people I know are saying goodbye to parents and other family members or friends. I know there isn’t really anything I can say or do to make it better. I offer my sympathy as that’s all one can do. Nothing ever makes it better. Not really. You move on. It becomes a part of you. So, for all of those dealing with loss, new or old, you are not alone.

Memory Lane

It’s funny how the mind can skip from one random event to another and draw connections. Our minds evolved to see patterns and connections because it helped us survive. So, it isn’t really all that surprising that your mind can go tripping through memories if you let it.

The other day I accidentally hit a bird with the car. I know. I was very sad about this, especially when I noted its bird buddies’ concern. I didn’t kill it, but it definitely was injured. I was already merging into traffic and couldn’t really stop. Normally birds are excellent flyers and get out of the way, and I usually slow down a bit to give them plenty of time. That day I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t. ūüė¶

For whatever reason, this reminded me of the time my sister came home all worked up about hitting a racoon. I believe there was more to the story, but I don’t recall it. That memory blip jumped to a time where I was carting one of Justin’s friends home. As we crossed a little bridge over a drainage canal I braked for an animal that was in the road. It was a HUGE rat. I may possibly have shrieked a little.

As my brain pulled up that incident, my eighteen year old self felt not so different from my nearly thirty-six year old self. I’ve lived nearly as much additional life now as I had up to that point, and yet while I’ve grown in many ways, I’m still very much the same girl who braked for a rat. My brother’s presence in the back seat and the kid in the front felt very close to the teens I cart around now and my own son. Mr. Smarty-Pants does not physically favor his uncle, but he got a heaping helping of his personality. Sure, he is very much his own person, but the similarities at times are striking. Justin teased me for braking for a rat, just as Mr. Smarty-Pants once urged me to gun for a turkey that ran across the road so we could eat it (I didn’t). It really isn’t a surprise that my brain can draw connections between events related only by an animal in the road and a vehicle barreling toward it.

My relationship with my little brother was a combination of camaraderie and motherliness, as being the eldest I felt it my job to watch out for my younger siblings. My relationship with my son bears the same combination of feelings, albeit in different proportions, and so of course, is prone to sparking that random memory connection. When speaking to family members, it is not uncommon for me to have to correct names, as the wrong one slips out. That rarely happens when I’m talking directly to my children, but add in the connection to my sister or my parents, or my grandparents, and my brain trips over a lifetime networked memories.

They say that the more connections one makes with regards to a memory, the less likely one is to forget it. We used to joke that my mother remembered everything. I don’t proclaim to recall everything, but people have remarked that I do have very good recall. I can tell you the plot of the first really long chapter book I read at maybe 10 years old. I can remember playing hide-and-seek with my mom and being eye-level with her dog. I recall visiting my brother in the ICU (although I buried that one for awhile), and¬† seeing my sister on the fuzzy ultrasound screen. I remember pulling up the carpet in the apartment at age four to watch the little ants underneath scurry about their little ant lives. I remember dissecting a washed and dried ball of paper when I was maybe 3 or 4 and wondering if there was something in it. Fast forward and I’m sitting at the dining room table at age 6 or 7 in the summer and my brother is telling some silly joke about trains. It was the kind of joke that only made sense to a kid and I’ve long forgotten the details, but that moment of pure happiness, with everyone laughing until their sides ached, that moment remains crystal clear. I can rattle off plenty more, some happy, some sad, some a mix, but the point is that they are primarily ordinary days doing nothing in particular.

All of that reminds me to cherish the little random moments in life. People make a big deal about the big key moments, life events, but in truth when your brain goes skipping down memory lane it’s snapshots of every day life that paint the portrait of your past. Years from now when my grandchildren are my children’s age now, more connections will be made and it won’t be the “big days” so much as the little things, like telling Ms. Drama that the window is not a door, or cuddling with Miss Diva while watching a TV show, or shrieking when Mr. Smarty-Pants sneaks up behind me and picks me up—his uncle did that too.

Just this past weekend I shared with Miss Diva the bit of wisdom that happiness comes from within you. It comes from living in the moment and seeing the beauty even in the midst of less than ideal circumstances. Happiness isn’t a destination or a reward, but a state of mind, a contentment that comes from love.

Moment in Time

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.

Justin (14) Me (16)

Justin (14) Me (16)

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.

Power of Three

So, yesterday was sibling day. It’s a relatively new thing, and as far as I know, Hallmark has not turned it into a cash grab. Still, I suppose there’s a use for Hallmark in the world. The advertising reminds me of when the holidays are. Oh wait…. my phone does that. Sorry Hallmark. You’ve been outsourced to my phone and my handy dandy skill with words.

Well, at least the works for Nationally recognized holidays. Outsourcing is never a smooth process.

A long time ago, in galaxy far, far….

Wait… wrong story.

No, this story started in good ol’ Memphis, Tennessee in June of 1979. I ruined my parents’ plans for a Saturday picnic, and any shot at eating a warm dinner for about the next year. Soon enough, seeing as how my opinionated ways started early, I informed my parents I wanted a baby brother or sister. Sure, I was ever so slightly annoyed when I found out they didn’t pop out ready to play, but life has lots of surprises like that.

In 1981 my brother arrived and in ’83 my sister rounded things out to form our intrepid trio. Being a sibling is an odd sort of thing. Half the time you like them and the other half you want to kill them. As you grow that balance swings back and forth. If you are lucky, your siblings end up as people you like. If you are very lucky, they are your best friends.

In construction, the triangle is the strongest shape. 3 points. 3 children.  3 unbreakable bonds. Sometimes it was an equilateral triangle and sometimes isosceles, but it never, ever broke.  For those who believe in magic, three is a number of power. The three of us together were far stronger than any of us alone.

As a kid and even into adulthood, I didn’t realize that not all siblings shared the bond that grew between my brother, my sister and myself.¬† It’s sadly true, that far too often you do not really know what you have until you lose it.

In 1998 that triangle lost a point. As my sister so eloquently stated, “There’s an empty space in my life where my brother once was…..it was so much better when we were a trio.”

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

I’m the third dork on the left.

We don’t need sibling day to remind us how blessed we were to have each other, but it doesn’t hurt to use it to tell the world how wonderful mine were and always will be.

Just Another Day

Today marks fourteen years since my brother’s death. It took my sister’s Facebook status to remind me.

You might ask how I could forget such a thing.

To me, this day is not as important as the seventeen years prior to July 17, 1999. I refuse to allow his killers that power. Since the day Justin’s ashes were interred, July resumed it’s normal place in my mental calendar, remarking only my parent’s anniversary. The days that get me are his birthday and the other 364 days of every year that has followed.

I was robbed of a brother and a friend, and time does not erase that. The biggest lie is to tell people that time heals all wounds. It does not. Soul-deep wounds merely become a part of who you are, manageable, like a chronic ailment.

Even so, I had seventeen years with my little brother. His memory is a part of me. On average, two siblings share in the neighborhood of 50% genetic code. I am half him, in some ways, and half of that was passed on to each of my children. My sister, likewise, is half, and her son carries a piece. He is not gone; not wholly. He’s there in my nephew’s silliness and my son’s scarily cunning intellect and wit. He’s there in my love of Batman, Transformers, and X-Men because he was my excuse for watching those cartoons when I was really too old for such “childish” things. Truth be told, I wanted something in common with him during those strained years where age gaps made it difficult to relate each other.

So, while today hurts, no more so than any other day, because my brother is always there with me, in my heart and mind.

Image

 

Sisters

My sis came through town yesterday on her way to Michigan. She’s starting a graduate program. I’m very proud of her. We’ve both found the true meaning of higher education: the ability to techno-babble at each other in different technical vocabularies and not understand anything.

I gave her the nickle tour and introduced her to the people in the lab. A visiting student commented, “Oh my, you two look nothing alike. I would never guess you were sisters.”

We’ve gotten that a lot over the years, and in many ways it is true.

  • I have thin, fine hair that is low-maintenance.
    She has thick wavy hair  that takes an hour or more to style.
  • She loves heels.
    I hate them.
  • I’m into science.
    She’s into music.
  • I love gardening.
    She avoids gardening like the plague.
  • I’m semi-organized and can focus even with three kids hollering, a television on, and dogs barking.
    She struggles with ADHD and even before she had a child to add chaos, mess followed her like a devoted puppy.
  • She quit playing with toys when she discovered boys around age ten.
    I thought boys were idiots and really only fun to moon over from afar, and I plead the fifth on how long I continued to play with dolls.

I’m fairly certain the list could go on, and yet over the years as we grew up we found common ground. We both love Star Trek, and reading, and like each other’s career fields enough to have true interest, we enjoy the outdoors as much as we are allergic to it, and can even sometimes agree on music. As we walked at the park I caught her singing a few phrases of Pink‘s “Just Give me a Reason”, which I love, and randomly singing is also something I do.

I’m sure over the years my mother felt like bashing our heads together as we fought over whose mess had trashed the room yet again. My sis only has one child, an eleven year old boy, so far, and so she hasn’t had to deal with the joys of sibling wars. When the siblings are the same gender it seems to me that it adds an extra layer of love-hate to the relationship. One minute you’re best friends and the next one is smacking the other with a doll…or a fist…or whatever happens to be handy.

My sis and I managed to not kill each other and she’s as much a best friend as a sister. I’m proud of the woman she’s become.

When two people are by nature polar opposites, clashes happen frequently. My two girls, much like my sis and me, don’t look tons alike nor¬† do they act it.

My girls way back when they were little bitty:

Is that dirt? Did I get dirt on me? Where's my hand sanitizer?

Is that dirt? Did I get dirt on me? Where’s my hand sanitizer?

I made a mess. Isn't it GREAT!!!!?

I made a mess. Isn’t it GREAT!!!!?

Did I mention that Miss Drama didn’t quit eating dirt until about age 5? Miss Diva began color coordinating outfits and three. Miss Drama preferred running naked.

My hope is that one day they’ll be adults and have found that common ground and realize just how lucky they are to have each other for friends, if they haven’t killed each other by then.

What was that I said about getting along?

What was that I said about getting along?

Musical Memories

Yesterday I posted a poignant  memory of my brother. Today I wish to share something a bit more lighthearted.

When I was a kid I listened to the music my mother listened to, namely music from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and then there was the choral influence from participating in church and school choirs. That was my musical world. The entire 1980s decade and the first half of the 90s passed by without me noting anything of musical interest. Oh, I knew the names “Madonna, M.C. Hammer, and New Kids on the Block”, but eh, I just didn’t care. According to my mother, that was not music. I believe I tattled on my dad for listening to the evil Madonna (Sorry, Papa). I suspect I was on many occasion insufferable.

I have to credit my brother for figuring out how to lure me out of my musical snobbery. One day he asked what I liked in music. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I’m sure it involved “understanding what the singer is saying and a good melody.” He convinced me to just listen to something. Instead of blasting it at an ear shattering volume, he turned his tape player to a more sedate volume and a beautiful guitar and instrumental piece started and then segued into a heavier sound, but I could understand everything the singer said, and the lyrics told a haunting story. It was Metallica’s “Unforgiven.” Add in that my brother, who had a beautiful deep voice, but was shy about singing, sang along, and he had me hooked. I began to listen to this strange modern stuff, and found that while I didn’t like all of it, I liked a great deal of it. I especially liked when my brother forgot I was there and started singing along. Quite often his voice was better than whoever was singing.

He led me beyond the confines of my comfortable little musical world and dared me to try new things. It wasn’t the first time or the last that he influenced me in that way, and I’m very glad he did. Because of him I learned to take those leaps and try things I might not otherwise try. So every time a new opportunity presents itself, even if it’s a little scary or intimidating, I take that leap knowing he’d be proud of me for doing so.