My brother died last week. It's way too fresh to write the specifics of his death. And, that's a part of his story that isn't mine to tell. Our family is only at the beginning of peeling the layers of how and why he's gone and the dozens of ways it leaves each of us feeling. I can only tell my part of that story.
We weren't that close, my brother and me. We lived a 12 hour drive apart, had very different lives, and were different in personality and perspective on some things. That doesn't mean, of course, that I didn't love him. Of course I did. I hadn't seen him in years...that's a complicated story...but we did talk on the phone. About three times a year. We caught up on our lives, our kids, and said I love you. Every winter in recent years I thought about making a plan to visit in the Spring. Every Spring there were circumstances, his or mine, that kept me from doing more than think about it. I knew that someday there might be regret attached to that inaction. That someday is now.
I've spent the past several days thinking about him. About a hundred times a day. Remembering things. I visited him and his family a couple of times, years ago. I remember how perfectly manicured he kept the yard and how ridiculously clean he kept his truck. I remember eating around the dining room table and hanging out in front of the tv. I remember gracious hospitality and the fun times. Most of my memories though are from when we were kids. Simple things like running around outside together, playing Gilligan's Island or hide and seek. Him and my other brother tickling me until I couldn't breathe. (I hated to be tickled and still do. I remember mom finally saying, "honey, I can tell them to stop, but I think this is one you'll have to handle yourself". Shortly after, I caught each of them alone and sat on them while I tickled them until they couldn't breathe. They stopped tickling me.) Watching him listen to music with his eyes closed for hours. Elvis. He loved listening to Elvis. Running down the hill from our rental cabin in Colorado Springs to play games at the Arcade. Riding waxed boards down the dunes at White Sands (that was still allowed when we were kids).
By high school we were in our own worlds, as often happens with adolescent siblings. When he graduated, he was at loose ends...didn't quite know what to do. I don't know where the idea came from, but he ended up living with my grandparents for a while to help around their place and also worked a little at near by stables. He loved being out in the country and he loved horses. His enthusiasm for mucking stalls and being around horses far outweighed his enthusiasm for the general farm chores at my grandparents, so after a while he was living at the stables and working there exclusively. He was also riding. He was happy I think.
But this wasn't a forever thing. He needed to decide on a next chapter. When I was in my senior year at Indiana University, doing student teaching on the Navajo Reservation in Aneth, Utah, one day I got a phone call. I think it was my mother, calling to tell me that he had decided to enlist in the Army and would be gone before I got back home. I don't know why exactly, but I cried. I think I wasn't convinced this would be a good decision...that he wouldn't be successful. I was wrong. He was very successful.
He didn't re-enlist after four years and soon thereafter landed in Florida. Worked at some family owned stables. As I recall, the owners got a divorce so the job went away. He ended up working at a State run psychiatric hospital, where, as the expression goes, he met a girl. She had a young son and then they had a son together. The four made a family. Many years passed and there were a lot of ups and downs. The sons grew into amazing men. Strong. Successful. The closest of brothers. I have such admiration for them.
The girl he met was his life partner, for better and worse. I think some of the best times were 4 wheeling with the boys and camping as a family. When my sons and I visited a couple of times over Spring Breaks, I remember a lot of good natured verbal sparring between her and my brother and a real sense of affectionate partnership. There were definitely worse times and eventually those times took over and the official partnership ended. But the truth is that she never left him. And by giving him more of herself than she ever could've been expected to, she saved him. Over and over and over. Until he was gone and couldn't be saved again. My debt to her and my gratitude are boundless.
It's difficult to write a few paragraphs about losing him that explains it all. How many things I wish were different. The questions I have about why some people have demons that run roughshod over them and others are able to overcome and why his were the former. Why the Universe doesn't grant siblings automatic emotion bonding that survives the miles and fundamental differences. Why we can't save each other. Why we can't protect a mother from ever, ever, ever having to bury a child.
I am certain that I won't find a peaceful, lasting answer to these questions, but I am certain of a few things. My brother loved us. His sons and his partner and his mother most of all. Of all the good and bad that we will both remember and forget, we will not forget that.
Friend: What did you do this weekend? (it had rained nonstop all weekend)
Me: Rearranged the back room and built a desk across the window wall. Pretty simple. I needed a place for my computer, printer, and lightbox to live. Just trying to get organized.
Friend: You are organized.
Me: Oh. It was a good weekend to make the desk because of the rain. It's a project I've been wanting to do. It's that serial project thing.
This brief exchange felt a little like a confessional to me. As if having an valid reason for the project made it more like what anyone would do, not like something I did because projects are what I do. I felt like I was calling myself out. Which is really weird when I think about it. I've been a serial project person my entire life. Everyone who knows me knows this. It's regular conversation..."so, what are you working on now?" It's a normal question because the answer will always be about what I'm working on and never, "oh, nothing".
So, although the picture shows the desk, this musing is not really about the desk.* It's about the whole serial project thing. It's the jumpy, wandering brain and the motivation to pursue several ideas at once or work on them with a kind of pressured successive execution. There are always lists and ideas that are left unattended, either in my head or described in a short narrative or bad sketch in a notebook or journal. I perpetually wish I could create more time.
It isn't that I think always having ideas emerging and refining is a bad thing, it's that the urgency I feel to create and produce can be a problem. A balancing-my-life problem. That's why I'm a little sheepish in my confession. Life balance (although those two words do invite a slight eye roll) is a thing. A good thing. Just ask anybody. I've never been drawn to self help books, but that doesn't mean there isn't a reason at least four million them have been written on the balanced life. I'm not going to get deep in the weeds about it in these paragraphs. I'm simply calling it out. The joy of production and accomplishment and learning should be balanced with the joy of sitting still and thinking and listening. I think. So, I'll keep working on it.
I would love to read other stories about how you balance your life.
*This truly was a good project. I had everything I needed to complete it, which is always a plus. A linen cabinet got turned on it's side to make a bench seat for the opposite wall. The door to the cabinet is now the desk top, painted turquoise. (The open shelving of the linen cabinet now holds large baskets for my biking clothes and gear, since my bike hangs on the wall above it.) The two ends of the desk are very simple to construct shelving units, made from 2x4s and leftover planks from other projects. I painted the shelves gray to match the wall color and used an already stained red board leftover from a different shelf project. I'm having the best time working from there with a view of Spring in my back yard.
Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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