Sometimes the world conspires to make you tell a story. Today is one such day, when everything I read points me in the direction of sharing a story about my life that I’ve been musing on…looking at, thinking about…and walking away from, leaving it unwritten. But okay, I can take a hint.
There are pivotal moments in everyone’s lives. Moments that change us irrevocably, that change our direction, that wake us up, that bring us to life, that make us see something, something momentous, in a different way. Nytebird writes about one such moment when she realized she was a “zombie,” one of the living dead, after the death of a beloved pet:
“The moment I knew that, I was as dead and frozen as my darling Perry was when I snapped awake at 2:30 in the morning to the realization that I hadn’t cried for Perry. I hadn’t felt anything. Nothing.
My heart didn’t break, it continued to function but I was not a living, feeling human being. I was a zombie.”
Monk, of TwistedMonk.com writes in his blog about the unexpected death of his brother. He says:
“So what did I learn from all this? We are the creators of worlds, we choose to shape the reality in which we inhabit. It is not the who we are today, but rather the who we are working to become that counts.
I think U2 uses the line “Vision, over the visible”
Left to its own devices, the universe will crush us. Our short, painful lives, but a moment in the grand scheme of things. However we can choose to run screaming from the night and hide, refuse to face our fears and bide our time, safe under the covers till our days are done and time on this planet is up. Or we can look beyond who we are today, to who we *want* to be. The person we strive to become and take all the negative, all the shit and reshape it into something good. To hold the mirror up to our short comings, to our fears and limitations and admit that we are scared to death but we hold these things up to the light anyways.”
And over on FetLife, a dear friend and lover wrote about the tenuousness of life, and how we each take for granted that tomorrow will be here, tomorrow will come, and we’ll have time (later, always later) to thank that person, to tell them we care, to live our lives.
I, for one, know from personal experience this isn’t true.
I come from a somewhat fractured family. My mother was married to her first husband for ten years and had three children from that marriage, my two older sisters, almost ten years my senior, and my brother. He was only five years older than me, a fact I only realized after his death. I grew up with none of them. My sisters left home early, much as I did, and my brother was taken from my mother by his father and raised alone. Still, I knew of my brother, and later, when he reached his majority, I saw him occasionally. Nonetheless, I worshiped him, as only a baby sister can.
He was a troubled young man. His father suffered from mental illness and my brother always worried that it had been passed down to him (it was, in fact, to one of my older sisters.) His father had also poisoned him to the rest of his birth-family, and he went long periods of retreat from any of us. His fear of his own mental illness caused him to give up (and talk her into giving up) the child he had with his long-time lover, and ultimately caused that relationship to end. He got a PhD in Psychology, driven by the need to understand the illness, perhaps. And possibly, he did come to some kind of understanding about it. When he died, I discovered that he had chosen to have a child with his girlfriend. It was actually via having that child that my brother discovered the thing that would, eventually, kill him.
He’d had a vasectomy and gone to the doctor to see about having it reversed. During the usual medical work-ups that they do, an anomoly was discovered…and, eventually, led back to a tumor in my brother’s brain. (Don’t ask me how they figure all these things out, I don’t know. This is just how it was told to me by his girlfriend, as my brother lay in the hospital dying.) In any case, he chose to have the un-vasectomy, and then to impregnate his girlfriend, before having the tumor taken care of. In the months that followed, while she incubated life, his doctors tried to kill the thing growing inside of him. His son was born; still the fight raged on in his body. It took five years, but, eventually, he was declared cancer-free. Shortly after that, my brother called and spoke to me on the phone for the first time in almost 20 years.
He said he’d had an epiphany upon seeing his son’s face for the first time: he realized life was short, life was unpredictable, and he wanted to get to know his birth family again, to know his nephews and nieces, to raise his son differently than he’d been raised. But he’d waited until the cancer was gone, because he didn’t want to come back into our lives only to leave it abruptly. We talked for almost two hours, learned about each others lives, made plans to get our families together in the summer.
Two weeks later he was dead.
We had exchanged emails a couple of times. I promised to send him photos of the kids, but when I did, I never got a response back. After several days, I called the number he’d given me. A strange woman answered the phone: his girlfriend. “He’s in the hospital,” she said in a toneless voice. “He had a stroke three days ago.” He had never seen the email, and she hadn’t known enough about us-his birth family-to contact any of us.
I consulted with my sister and mother. Neither of them had been notified either. My Mom (who hadn’t seen or spoken to my brother for twenty years prior to that fateful day the week before either) decided, after talking with his girlfriend, to fly out there. The girlfriend hoped he would get out of the hospital; conceded that he probably wouldn’t. He was in a coma, his head filled with tumors. That was early in the week. Neither my sister or I could just up and leave our jobs, and I had finals at school the following week. We’ll go back next weekend, we told each other.
Thursday afternoon I sat at my desk, unable to concentrate. Life was so fucking cruel, that he should find us again and we should lose him so quickly. That he would never have seen his nephews and niece. That I would never be able to tell him how I had always adored him, how very very happy I was that he’d made the effort to contact us. That he’d wasted the past 5 years saying, “I will get ahold of them when…” And when “when” had finally come, it had been too late. I realized that waiting until the next weekend might be “too late.” I picked up my phone to call my sister to tell her I was driving back to Baltimore that weekend after all.
She was on the line, calling me. She felt that urgency, too.
And so we drove to Baltimore. We saw my brother. He had come out of the coma, but was mostly immobilized. Only his eyes followed us. But in his eyes I saw love…and gratitude. I showed him the picture album of all of us that I had put together on the long drive out. As I held his limp hand, I felt him squeeze my fingers. I wiped the tears that tracked down his cheeks. I believe I saw a smile in his eyes, that he told me he loved me with his eyes. I met his girlfriend and their son. I listened as the doctor told my mother that he would never leave the hospital, that he had a very short time to live.
My sister and I had to leave Monday. We both had lives and families we had to get back to. As we drove out of the DC area, my cellphone rang. My brother had died that morning.
It is hard to describe the mix of feelings I had at that moment. Anger that he had wasted all those years. Gratitude that I had not put off going to see him. Deep, deep sadness for all that wasted time, for his girlfriend and his son. And a determination that I would never again “postpone joy.”
My life changed utterly in that weekend. Oh, nothing tangible at that moment, but when I got home, I knew my life as I knew it was over. That I would never say, “what if” or “I wish I had…” again. This is all we’re given, this one chance at happiness, this one life to live. My brother died, and I was reborn.