11 years

A woman wrote to me today to tell me she had been reading my writing, and she had two sisters who died in a car accident.

Tears came to my eyes before I even finished what she wrote.

It isn’t rare that I tear up from something someone writes to me, but this was different. What more tender spot is there to touch, for me, than the place where it all began.

Tomorrow is 11 years since I lost my brother.

And for me, this strange experience I will never completely be able to explain, the experience of he is still here but he is not here.

Brain injury is this way.

In the days leading up to this day, I have been considering what to write, and mostly avoiding it.

There are many voices in my head.

One voice that says, it’s been eleven years, what are you going to say, at some point don’t you move on with your life?

Another voice that says, there is nothing to say, now. 

Another voice that says, don’t be so dramatic, he is still here and you have grieved it already. 

Another voice that whispers, who would he have been now?

He would have been 28, would he have a girlfriend?

Would he want to be married?

What would his job be?

another one that says, he would have had the sweetest girlfriend. He would have married someone as sweet as him, who could receive how much he loves.

Another that says, you will never know. 

I avoid writing because then there will be feelings, and it is easier not to feel.

Easier to imagine that in each year, it gets better and farther away.

Easier to say, there is nothing to say about it now.

There will only ever be more to say.

When this woman wrote to me this morning, I clicked on her profile, because there is this part of me that is still hungry.

Hungry for the, you know what it is like.

I remember reading this story years ago, an article I’m sure some social media suggested to me, where a girl ran over her sister who was sunbathing in the driveway.

She didn’t see her and backed out over her head.

I consumed every article I could about this event, because it touched something in me.

Most people would say oh, I cannot imagine, but I can imagine, and that would be worse.

Same with the father who ran over his daughter who was hiding in a leaf pile.

That would be worse.

It’s not about feeling better because something is worse – there is this feeling for me of wishing I could hug these people, all of them, and say I know, but I don’t know, I don’t know exactly but I know the feeling of the phone call, of the discovery, of the screaming. Can we just sit together, in this?

This woman who wrote to me, she lost two sisters, and her father was driving.

I hunger too, to know how we move on in these incidences.

I know this – that we have to make meaning for ourselves.

Not about the loss, but about who we are going to be.

Who did you become, is what I want to know. We all let loss shape us, and some of us harden, some of us open, some of us choose lives that are fulfilling, some of us choose lives that are hard.

The loss of a sibling – especially at that age, I was 19, Damon was 17 – has always felt to me like a part of me was ripped away with it.

My siblings felt like extensions of me. Just us, in our home together, with our parents. The only ones experiencing the same things (although I’m sure we had different experiences of it).

At what point will I lose the memories?

Will there be a point, where I no longer can hear Damon’s voice in my head, laughing, saying my name?

We are 11 years in, but what about when we are 17 years in, and the length of time he has been gone is the same length of time I had him for.

It doesn’t pull me down the way it used to, but it’s still there, gently underneath the surface of everything else.

It usually happens in the beginning of November, this feeling that I can’t quite place, until I remember what month it is and then I do.

And everything is so happy as we lead up to my birthday, and it’s Thanksgiving and then my birthday and then Damon’s accident.

Who would he have been?

A question I didn’t allow myself to ask, until this year. Not really, because the exercise seemed pointless.

There is no knowing, the voice says. You will never be able to know.

But it is not just the loss of my 19-year-old self that I grieve.

It’s the fact that I would have had a 28 year old brother, and would we still have been as close? Or would we have been even closer? Would he come visit? Would he have matured? How would he have matured? What would he like? What would he have experienced? How would he be different?

I wonder on occasion what life would have been like if Damon had died.

It was one of the questions Jordan asked me when we had just started dating – do you ever wonder if it would have been better if he died?

And I felt safe, that I was with a man who understood loss, who was not afraid to ask me that question.

Let’s skip the social pretense, and ask the realest thing there is to ask.

I don’t know the answer, but it’s not the answer that is important to me.

It’s the question itself, the way in which I would never give up the Damon we have today, but that I wonder. Would it have felt cleaner, easier to go through the grieving process, if ..?

Would my mom have been so completely collapsed that she could not move on, or would she have eventually lived a life that made her happy without being responsible for his 24 hour care?

These are the questions no one can ask.

It is fitting that it is snowing here, because it was snowing there too, in Pennsylvania, at least at some point in December when I looked out the hospital window.

I don’t know if this is strange, but I see so much of Damon in Jordan.

It was the most bizarre thing, when we first began dating. His silliness and his sweetness, in particular. They have a similar sense of humor. This sweet, gentle love that wants to just care for me when I’m down. Jordan would quote something and I would think, Damon used to quote that. The not caring what other people thought, especially for the sake of something being funny. These subtle similarities that I wonder if they are part of why I felt so at home with Jordan so quickly.

I feel a little pang of jealousy whenever someone my age describes their brother. When they say, “my brother” and talk about something he does, and each time it is as if I have to remember that other people’s brothers get older, they are not permanently stuck at 17. Some people get to have an adult brother.

Do you know I barely remember anything of the months after the accident?

I remember every detail of the day it happened.

And then for the next year, my memory is almost entirely blank.

I remember one or two nurses, out of dozens. I remember little blips, like sleeping next to Damon’s bed. I remember eating Panera bread and chicken noodle soup while sitting on the floor of the ICU. There are things that I know happened – facts, like that I started going to yoga a month later and that I went back to school to retrieve my things, and that Damon switched rehab centers. But I have very few memories. I know my mother has written it down, all of Damon’s progress, when he got different surgeries, when he did different things. I know I drank a lot. My next year – next couple years, if I’m being really honest – is a blur.

My dad got all these home videos digitalized for us, and I’ve been watching them so slowly.

In one my sister sent me the other day, I am unwrapping a doll, on my 6th birthday.

My brother is on one side – he is 4.

My sister is on the other, 2.

My mom is behind me, and my dad is recording.

And it was so sweet to see myself at that age.. and as I watched, I thought, none of them know. 

How could any of them know?

This woman with her three little children, she couldn’t know what was going to happen to them.

This one, is going to be in a car accident at 17 and almost die, and will never be the same.

These two are going to have their whole lives altered, and turned upside down.

And I thought, stay there, where it is so happy.

Stay, in this little happy bubble, where none of this has happened yet.

Some philosophies say that all life is happening at once, that there is no real time. Time is not linear, we just experience it that way. And it is all happening at the same time.

I don’t know if this is true, but I believe it is true. Because when I feel into it, it feels like we are still driving in Damon’s car, while he drives up on the curb to make my sister and me laugh. It feels like we are still laughing on the floor all together on vacation in South Carolina, like I am standing at the counter telling him we are out of milk and he is offering to go get some, like he is still singing and dancing in the backseat of the van, like he is standing on the roof outside of my bedroom window where he climbed up to scare me.

I am still in the woods with him and his friend while they built a zipline, I am still in the hospital looking at his head all wrapped in a turban, we are still going through the security line in Aruba.

Aren’t we still, though?

Aren’t we still there?


Related pieces:

9 years ago today I lost my brother

10 years later

Wintertime (written Jan 2018)

My journey of becoming

maybe one day I will tell my children