Monday, April 14, 2014

All That I Would Say

I wish you had come with an expiration date.

You know, like milk. A "Best if Used By" warning.

We all come with one, but we expect it's some 75 or 80 years away from when we're born, and the people around us who care about us have those same expectations.

When you were born shortly after midnight, 24 years ago today, I had no inkling that you would not be seeing the same 80 plus years that my grandparents had seen. There was no loaded genetic dice, nothing to warn me that you wouldn't see the time allotted to most of us these days.

I guess, in a way, it's fitting that our half-formed plans to get together yesterday to recognize your birthday were thwarted by the needs of the living -- a change in work schedule -- because the dead, after all, have no more birthdays. You're forever 23, like a dragonfly in amber from the Jurassic period. Frozen, never aging or changing, even as the rest of us go on stumbling through life.

But I find myself wishing, perhaps more often than anything else other than that you had not died, that I had known you were only around for a limited time engagement that would be up before my own.

There are so many things that I wish I'd done, so many opportunities wasted, so much unsaid.

I remember your birth so clearly, the long day of labor, the pain before the epidural, the fetal monitor indicating you were in distress and the rush to a cesarean delivery. There, hidden by a sheet from my view, I felt them pull you from my body and heard them count off the number of times the umbilical cord was around your neck. I was scared that you weren't alive, but soon they were showing you to me -- not the twin of your dark-haired sister that I expected but a big boy with fair features.

Still, I struggle to remember a lot of the years in between then and the phone call in December. They say our minds cling to the bad in the first stages of grief as a way of lessening the pain of loss, and perhaps that's it. There are days when it is easier to recall your rage than your laugh, your bitter words than your love, your clinched fists than your hugs. I wait for those better memories to return, for the balance to tip back, but perhaps I'm not ready to stand beneath those memories yet.

I do remember the preschooler who got up one night to go to the bathroom and instead peed in a trash can. Oh, that one haunted you a long time. Yes, it was about the same size, and I was in the bathroom and more than a little surprised to come out and find what you'd done in your half-waking state.

I remember you as the little boy who got a pony for Christmas, and swapped her to his sister for a video game. The middle schooler who discovered dirt bikes at a friend's house, but would never ride the one we went to Westfield to buy for you. Rushing to the hospital when you broke your leg on your skateboard and how desperately you needed a bath that you couldn't take for such a long time. The boy who alternately closed the door to shut me out, and called me at work needing me immediately. You were always at extremes -- overly cautious or a daredevil -- you never seemed to learn to live life within the lines.

We were so close, so alike, and yet there was that one glaring difference that I could not see through the male image of myself. While I was the brainy outsider comfortable with the role, happier with my books and dogs, you wanted so desperately just to be part of the crowd. I often thought your change from who you were meant to be to who you wanted to be was behind your discomfort with yourself.

I wish I'd understood your addiction better and been able to reach you, to show you somehow that life was worth living and that you were wonderful, special and beautiful beyond compare, without any mind or mood altering substance to change you. I wish I'd been able to drag you out of the cocoon in which you wrapped yourself to show you that life, stripped down and bare of anything between you and the world that God gave us, was worth living. I wish I'd called and beat down your door and somehow forced you to be with us more.

I wish I'd seen the work you did at church. I know it was great, but I thought you were on the right track and would be there longer. I wish I'd made you play your guitar for me. Made you share those things you kept to yourself. Talked to you and touched you and held you more. Made you live.

I'm reading a book written by a woman whose first child, a beautiful boy, was born dead, and it's fitting that I was reading that chapter this weekend. I'm so thankful that despite the pain of loving you and losing you, I had you for over 23 years. I'm thankful that while you were in the hospital after your wreck, all beat up and forced to listen, I told you that I would always love you no matter if you were an ass or not. I wish that had been enough to hold you.

I wish I knew you didn't want me in your final moments. That you weren't like E2 when she fell at gymnastics the other night and just wanted her mommy to hold her, even though the pain wasn't that bad. I wish I could have touched your wonderful hands and ran my fingers through your hair and held you and kissed you goodbye. Instead, I keep your old sweatshirt in a freezer bag so it will hold your scent, and I wear a few of your old t-shirts, loaded with memories and holes.

Last year, the family was together to celebrate and somehow I never got a good picture of you. I never thought when my mom asked for pictures of her family, to ask someone to shoot one of us -- me and you and your sister -- maybe because we've always been a broken family. I'm sorry your dad was such an asshole and never came around and honestly, staying married to him would not have made him a better dad because he didn't have it in him and that's one of the reasons we didn't last.

I think of a story a friend told me about a woman whose daughter told her that she had a sister, while the toddler was an only child. The little girl said her sister was with Jesus, but she'd be meeting her soon. The little girl drowned before her mother learned she was pregnant, with a little girl. I think you've gone back to the home you left 24 years ago today. You've returned to a bright, timeless existence and I'll join you again in what, to you, will be the blink of an eye.

It's hard down here without you, marking this birthday alone. Still, I'm happy for you, that I know you've found the peace that eluded you for so long. I feel you sometimes in a sunset or a song, and I know that just as you were before you were born, you're only a heartbeat away.

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