My Brother

He is frozen in this time. My brother. How he holds a wine glass, his shirt sleeves rolled up. In his pocket is a pack of cigarettes. He is tightening his lower lip, talking in that loud, raspy whisper he had even as a young man. He is telling me what’s what. And I am closing my eyes because what he is telling me is contrary to everything I think. I don’t even remember the topic but I know that is true.

I close my eyes because he cannot be argued with. He is my big brother by nine years. He changed my diapers and did a thousand other things to take care of me when I was a kid, the list is too long, too mundane, just think of the things a parent would do. He did those things. If I argued with him, he would laugh, like a teenager would laugh at a toddler trying to land a punch. He was right always because he was older, because he was a man, no, none of that, because he was my big brother and he had always been right when I was a child. And I would always be a child to him, and to myself when near him.

He is 81 now. He is very ill and his memory is failing. A few days ago, I saw him in his room in a nursing home in Texas; he looked into the computer screen as intently as a man studying a chess board. I introduced myself to the staff as his sister and later they asked him who I was and he said, “my sister,” but he had been given the answer already so I don’t really know that he knew who I was. I don’t know if that’s important. What would it matter if he didn’t know who I was? Our cells speak.

I asked him if he remembered long ago washing and waxing his MG , a beautiful baby blue model, maybe 1960 or so. And he shrugged, looked away, so I don’t think he remembered even though I do. Dozens of hot summer Sundays in the driveway, the two of us so carefully washing and waxing his car, buffing it to shine in the late afternoon sun. I wanted him to know that when I wash and wax my car, I think of those days, of him, shirtless in his khaki shorts, Harry Belafonte’s voice floating out into the yard from his bedroom window. He taught me to never let the chamois hit the ground, it could pick up pieces of gravel that could scratch the finish. I wanted to tell him that I am extra careful with my chamois when I wash my car but it wasn’t the time.

There probably won’t be another time.

13 Comments on “My Brother

  1. This is so beautiful, Jan. I love the photo and your entire essay–especially “Our cells speak.” You have captured your brother so well as well as your feelings toward him.

  2. Garry went through this with his mother. My brother didn’t live long enough. It’s hard for others but I am told it isn’t as hard for the individual, but how does anyone really know?

  3. Ah…imagine this as the sound people make at a poetry reading when everyone feels the things at the same time and exhale in wonder and recognition.

  4. A random aside, my maiden name was Lindsay and you are sporting the Lindsay tartan on your skirt. My oldest friend has advanced dementia and I truly miss being able to share memories of our experiences. My granddaughter twiddles her hair just as my friend used to, and I wish we could laugh together about it. I understand the poignancy of the relationship with your brother, stuck in time.

  5. I know these feelings. I have an 11 year older sister with Alzheimer’s. Every time I publish a photo of when I was little, I give thanks to her, for she is the only one who ever took photos in our family. So many of my memories exist because of those photos.

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