My sister just wrote an essay about the death of our sibling. To be precise, my half-sister wrote a story about a sibling who was her half-brother and my stepbrother. He died in 1990, when he was 19 and I was 10 and she was 1. There are other siblings: my half sister (essayist’s full sister) who was 4 and my stepsister (essayist’s half sister, full sibling to our dead brother) who was 17 at the time. It’s complicated.
Anyway, I read the story this morning and I wasn’t in it.
All other characters were present and accounted for (except his mother, another missing piece). I understand that the story was written from my sister’s perspective and the point was to describe how she learned about and processed his death. But I wasn’t even in the background where she describes the other siblings.
It reminds me of a conversation we had years ago on one of the occasions when we were discussing what things were like growing up. I asked how she remembered me from when she was a kid and she said that she doesn’t even remember me being there. I was 9 when she was born and by the time she was starting to build memories I was in high school and busy with teenage things. And I was splitting my time between my mom’s and my dad’s. Still, it surprised me quite a bit that she said that.
How could it seem like I wasn’t there? I was there first. I was there before your own father was there. I was at the wedding and I was there when he moved in and later when his son came to live with us. I was there the night of the phone call and I was there the day our brother died; I was standing in the living room in front of the TV when our mom told me. Our dead brother’s room was right next to mine. I remember what it looked like and I was there when they turned it into a guest room.
I don’t blame my sister for writing it this way. She was writing from her own perspective and in that sense it was honest. She remembers what she remembers.
It hits hard.
And now, with a nine-year-old stepson who is living the old shuffled-around 50/50 stepkid life, I can think of this in the moment. I don’t want him to grow up and feel this way, like he was not a part of the family. It’s difficult because life goes on when he is not here. As a kid I was ok with that, I understood and accepted that. But I can see how that would be difficult for someone else. Life goes on and people grow up and with one foot in one house and the other foot in another, you miss some of it and it misses you.
Art credit: Kai Samuels Davis