Twenty-seven years ago, on this day, my older brother Doug was killed in an accident.
He was 19. What I felt for him at that time was love that bordered on hero-worship. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was a typical thirteen-year old girl, hanging out in my room, lying across the bed, most likely reading. I remember this because I can still remember sitting up when I heard the phone ring, hoping it might be a friend calling me.
I remember being told the words, and the world spinning, back to three years before, when I first became aware of Doug. You see, he was the child of my father and his first wife, and I never even knew he existed until I was ten years old and he showed up at our door.
Our father was no deadbeat dad, however. He supported my brother all his life (my mother wrote the child support checks each week) and they had spent time together. For reasons my sister and I could never, and will never, understand, but have long since forgiven, our parents simply chose not to tell us about him.
Doug knew about us, however. And as soon as he was old enough to drive, he drove over to meet us.
There was a lot of catching-up. He came to live with us, which delighted my sister and I to no end. I remember the house suddenly being filled with teenage boys always lounging about, as he was popular and made friends easily. I remember my sister's friends all falling in love with him pretty much simultaneously, and they were at the house a lot more often, too. I remember the dumb stuff, like the logs of cookie dough we'd talk my mom into buying at the market so we could eat it raw. I remember him wearing leather jackets with only thin t-shirts or tank tops underneath, even when it was chilly outside. I remember the ridiculous white Miami Vice suit he wore on special occasions, and I remember that he played the guitar and liked writing songs. I remember him always admonishing me about being too young for boyfriends. I remember that his favorite song was Round and Round by the group Ratt.
But without a photograph, I can't recall the exact details of his face, how he looked when he smiled. And for the life of me, I can't remember the sound of his voice, or his laugh.
I don't think I cried the day he died. I don't think I cried at the funeral, either. As an adult, I now realize that most likely, I was in shock. I was still getting used to the fact that he was in my life when suddenly, he disappeared from it. And at thirteen, I don't think I fully understood what that meant. The adults were so busy consoling the other adults that my sister and I got somewhat lost in the grief shuffle. We understood somehow that their grief was supposed to be more intense than ours, so we just stayed out of the way. I didn't talk much about him, though our family spent time with his children and my sister and I still hung out with his friends. Sometimes, I would wonder if it, or he, had all been a dream...but then, his children...
Time passed. As Robert Frost so elegantly stated, "The thing about life is, it goes on."
For us, it did. And has, for twenty-seven years now.
In a month, I'll be forty one. This means Doug would be forty-six. In the almost three decades since his death, the world has changed dramatically. His two children are grown, married, with children of their own. They are each the spitting image of him, as we say here, but in vastly different ways. These children, and grandchildren, they are solid proof that he existed once, as are the few photos I have and the small brass wolf pendant he gave me a few months before he died. Sometimes I hold it, trying to recall what he said when he gave it to me. It's an unusually masculine pendant to have given to a young girl, and I wish I could remember something, anything, about it. Did he buy it for me? Was it his and I asked for it? Did he find it somewhere?
Doug's photo hangs in our hallway, and my son likes to speculate on what relationship the two of them might have had. I bet he would take me fishing. He went fishing sometimes, right? I say yes because I can remember seeing a photo once of him when he was close to my son's age, holding up a large fish. And because my son wants to think his uncle would have taken him fishing. And I want to think that, too.
Each day, on the way home from work, we pass the cemetery where he is buried. Occasionally, we pull in, park the car, and walk among the headstones until we find Doug's. Many times, I've been touched to see items left there: flowers, stuffed animals, balloons, even random items - a strand of mardi-gras beads, a fancy Zippo lighter, a faded photograph of no one I recognize sealed neatly in a ZipLoc bag...
Why are there tears in your eyes? my son will ask.
Well, it's been a very long time, and when I see this stuff, it just makes me happy that so many people still remember him.
If you're happy, then why do you want to cry?
Because...I need to remember him, too.
In memory of Douglas Franklin Loftis July 9th 1968-September 4th 1987