Life is Full of Hellos and Goodbyes

January 1, 2020

My mother sat next to me on my older brother’s bed. Then, I scooted onto her lap. She held me, as I cried and I cried. “There there, Dear. What’s this all about?”

“Everyone is leaving…..me,” I said as I looked at her.

“Who is leaving you?” Her thick eyebrows raised. She appeared baffled.

“Everyone in the family is gone!”

“But, I’m here,” she said. “And, Nate is still around.”

Nevertheless, Tears flooded my cheeks. In my mind, I never thought I would see my oldest sister again. Irene was sassy, (especially to Mother,) and beautiful. She was a mother figure to me for sure, when our’s was drinking, or sleeping too damn much. I think that I felt alone and abandoned. Who would take care of me when Mom couldn’t?

Irene, who married at 19 (I was nine) had just moved to Colorado with her new husband. It was a dreadful feeling, as I recall. I sensed feelings well up inside of my stomach that just did not feel good to me at all. It was as though many butterflies were fluttering their wings like mad to get out of the pit of my stomach. Heated energy rose up through my chest and stayed there. Surely, I was suffocating.

For the better part of my life, up until that point, I was part of a wild tribe. My siblings may have had long hair, listened to loud music, had smoking and drinking parties when our parents were away, and were not anything like my friends siblings, but they were still my family and I loved them for the most part. The sense of order I felt of them being there in our unpredictable house began to change when they went off to college one by one. And, now with the adjustment of my sister gone, it felt like to much, too soon.

I remembered sitting on our front porch with all of my siblings one evening when the fighting between my parents was too scary to stay in the house. There is power in a group of people together, especially when were related,  I felt buffered by our bodies closely sitting together. It was as though the insanity of doors slamming, the violent physical interaction between my parents could not penetrate the walls of our connection outside on the porch. I was the “baby” in a family of six.

I drifted back to the present when Mother pulled the snotty strands of hair that were sticking to my mouth and asked, “Did I ever tell you about my brother, Charles?”

I shook my head, no.

“He was my favorite sibling, too. One night he didn’t come home. Mother and dad got a call from the police station. Charles was put in jail. My parents received the most dreadful news. One of the police officers beat him over the head with a billy club and he died all alone.”

This story did not sit well with me. I felt the uncomfortable feelings that had settled into my chest, unfurl, and the heated energy migrated up to my throat. It felt painful to swallow.

“Life is full of hellos and goodbyes,” she said.

I began to cry more, and buried my head into her thick dark hair. Then, I looked up and met her eyes with mine. “That is a horrible, horrible story,” I said between deep breaths. “I don’t think you are making me feel better at all.”

“The death of a sibling, especially the death of someone you love, like my brother is something I never quite got over. So, I understand how you feel,” she said as she pointed to my stomach “in here.” Your brothers and sisters are going to come back…And, they will leave again.”

I did not want her to say it again, but she did. “Life is full of hellos and goodbyes.”

Years and years later, I learned that the uncle I had never met was manic depressive. Apparently, he was becoming even more incorrigible in the jail cell, because he needed his medicine. But, of course, they, the police, just looked at his odd behavior and deemed him a troublemaker. Beating the shit out if him, until he died was their answer. My grandparents could have sued the city, I am sure, but mental illness was something to be ashamed about. It would have been a huge scandal in the 50’s. It was easier to let the details slip away with time.

I think of this story when I remember my brother Nate who took his life in April, 2019. I think my mother was right about not quite getting over the death of a sibling, especially the one you loved the most.