Monday, April 2, 2012

Thinking of him today.

The memory now is more like a flickering home movie cast in a yellowish light, faded with time. He stands at the top of our neighbor's driveway, basketball tucked under one arm, the other arm extended in a slow wave goodbye. On his face a big grin, like only Hunter had, a promise that we'd see each other again soon. I drove away, back to Dallas, leaving him in my rear view mirror.

My brother and I were dancing through adolescence together. He, four and a half years my junior, had started showing up at beer parties at friend's houses. I remember standing with him and my cousins, drinking Coors Light and watching Kids in the Hall one night at a party. "This is the little brother I want to hang with", I thought. "Finally."

He loved Steve Miller Band and we played it unceasingly in the miles that we drove up and back to our neighboring town in the weeks after Dad died. Dad's Corvette was a sweet ride and just sitting in the small, leather-encased compartment of the car made us both feel calm, closed in, held safe. Mostly we just drove, listened to music and kept moving, trying to make sense in our own way of what had happened. Ten miles up, ten miles back. Repeat. Looking back at the relationship Hunter had with my dad, I can't imagine how he struggled in those days. I look at my own son's relationship with his dad and can't imagine them being separated.

We had our stories, Hunter and I. I was the sister who would come home from boarding school, grab my brother and the car and go for drives in the country so I could smoke cigarettes and we could catch up. We had a huge wood-paneled station wagon that was a favorite for going fast down dirt roads until the day the pedal stuck and we both thought we were going to die or the car was going to blow up. Then there was the time the VW bug got stuck in knee-high Oklahoma clay and we had to dig it out and hay the tire ruts for traction. That time Hunter turned the hose on the inside of the car to wash out the mud, thinking it was like the VW Thing with holes in the bottom. That image of him with the running hose pointed in the car is like an Instagram photo seared on my brain. But time passes and the memories feel like black and white photos kept in a book you only take down every once in awhile, tapping the picture and muttering "now that was the time...". When the person has been gone longer than they were with you, you have to dig deep and muster the memory, even as their names live on with your children.

I was standing in my apartment in Dallas when the phone rang. "Hey Fran, it's Kim. I'm in the neighborhood. Can I stop by?" My beloved cousin Kim was on the phone. Kim who wouldn't be just stopping by unless something was wrong. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. My hands started reaching for things to put away, to pick up, to neaten, to tidy. Grandma? Did something happen to Grandma? Oh my god, it couldn't be Mom. Oh please don't let it be Mom. Who else could it be? Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. Hunter, Gunner, the beer drinkin' lover (as my dad used to call him, given his Italian and German roots). Gone. I can see him driving down the road so many years ago today, seconds before the car flipped end over end into a field of green. Arm out the window, wind in his hair, smile on his face, world at his feet.

I used to try to make myself feel better about losing him. "Who knows what his life would have been like," I'd tell myself. "Anything could have happened. He could have been awful." It was a way to convince myself that it was ok that he was gone, that dying at 15 somehow kept him from heartache of his own or from hurting others. Now I wonder who his 37 year old self would be.

There was a Snoopy sleeping bag that the new baby brought. "He's a baby, how did he know I wanted a Snoopy sleeping bag!" I asked my mom. "He's your baby brother, Frances, you get to help take care of him," the adults said. My five year old brain wrapped around that and held tight. This was the baby I'd hoped for forever, it seemed. This was the day of big banners on the front of our house made by friends who were welcoming my adopted brother home. This was the gift of a lifetime.

I miss you buddy.

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