Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spotlight on My Brother. Three Years Later

We do not remember days; we remember moments. ~ Cesare Pavese  

So, here we are again. Three years later. I'm keeping my promise to write my brother's story or at the very least, my experience of it. I've been thinking for weeks about what to do, how to handle it, this time around. Tears come easily this time of year, often unexpected. So I started to try to think about simple moments. Ones not steeped in any deep heartache. And I ended up crying then too. But, I decided that this time around, I would use my words to tell the simple stories. The ridiculous ones that some of you have already heard, or may have even been there to experience. I've done these "Shining The Spotlight" on other people in my life over the course of this blog, pointing out what makes my relationship with that particular person unique and by always telling a story. So I figured maybe it was time to do that with my brother.

When you are one of 6 kids, especially at the tail end of the birth order, your siblings are always just there in your memories. There was no time in my life that I didn't have 4 older siblings and only a few years before Crissy came along. So, I always knew life with Ralph but that wasn't true of that for him. He was about 11 1/2 years old when I came along, and just one more person in his space I'm sure. My earliest distinct memory of Ralph was him bringing me to a party at the neighbors when he was a teen and I was a preschooler. When I say party, I mean keg party. Seriously. I guess my mother thought she was safe to leave him in charge of me, so he hauled my butt up the street to a teenage neighbor's house and put me in a chair in the corner. And there I sat while he partied with his friends.

Much to Max's delight, my mother, the consummate storyteller, would often sit with him and tell her stories of us growing up. This was a favorite past time of my mother's in general and I hold those simple moments of laying at the bottom of my mother's bed, from childhood to the very end, listening to her reminisce close to my heart. But Max's all time favorite story was one that involved Ralph at about 14 years old and me, at about two. Again, my mother thought she'd be okay leaving Ralph to tend to my needs for a short time, while she ran to the store. I was in diapers at the time and while she was gone had made a bit of a mess. Upon my mother's return, she noticed he had changed my diaper. Now, knowing my brother, I think that's pretty admirable in its own right. But what my mother also noticed was that the dirty diaper was nowhere to be found. When she asked him where he put it, his reply was, "I ran down to the end of the yard and threw it across Chandler Road into the woods." My mother then asked him a question only reasoned out by those with fully developed critical thinking skills, "Ralph, do you think everytime she dirties a diaper, I run to the end of the yard and throw it across Chandler Road into the woods." Given the lack of biodegradability of disposable diapers in 1973, I'm guessing its still there.
I'm going to skip over those tough years that followed my father's death, where, looking back, I realize, my brother was desperately trying to fill a void. Although I will disclose that I recently found a birthday card he made me when I turned 12, only 6 months after my father had died. He had taped a $20 bill into the middle. On one side he gave me points for my positives, which included being smart, pretty, funny and a snapperhead. On the other side, he gave me deductions for all of my negatives, which I really don't remember. Except for an ingrown toenail I had had recently removed. For that I got a 12 point deduction. I ended up with 20 points, hence my monetary reward. He was 23 years old at the time. 
I've told the Live Aid story and the Amnesty International concert story a million times but those are also favorites of mine because I realize now that by bringing his bratty little sister to those concerts, he was letting me share his love of music, while appreciating mine.
Another of my favorite concert stories was when Ralph took me, my sister Patti and our friend Tom Gosney to a Peter Gabriel show (or it could have been the Grateful Dead. Honestly, we saw alot of concerts). I was 16, still relatively naive and just excited to see one of my idols in concert. The show was great, and by the end my brother was trashed. And driving us home. Over the double decker bridge coming out of Philly, passing large tractor trailers on the way. He was singing and yelling a number of his famous "Ralphisms" including, "We are dancers! We are dancers!" We stopped at the Chadds Ford Tavern and he did donuts in the parking lot all while singing  "We are dancers! We are dancers!" At one point, Tom grabbed his seat belt, slowly put it on and leaned over, whispering "Don't leave me...." I realize now how dangerous that was but at the time...well, hell, I knew it was dangerous then too.
While everyone knew my brother as the big teddy bear, hard partying, happy go lucky guy, he could be incredibly kind and thoughtful. I will never forget when he found out I was getting divorced. I had hid this news from my family for a few weeks out of shame, embarrassment and devastation. I remember him calling me to ask if I was okay. And I could not go there with him. He wanted so desperately to help me and I would not let him in. I pushed him away. And yet, I knew he was there. And that was enough.

Max loved Ralph and Ralph loved Max. He beamed when he was around Max. That kid could do no wrong in his eyes. I sat one day and watched him let me let Max play dress up princess with his cousin Lauryn at around age 3. Lauren had on the blue dress and Max excitedly put on the yellow one with a tiara. It was killing my brother. He looked at me several times, silently pleading for me to make it stop. I loved watching him squirm.

I could go on and on really....which is actually incredibly refreshing given all the tears I've shed in the last three years. And while my brother left behind no wife or kids of his own, he left us behind. With a whole lot of memories. And laughs. And a secret handshake that he taught each and everyone of us as little kids. And we taught it to our kids. 

And he also left us with one favorite quote by The Temptations that any of you who knew my brother will remember well. It was his trademark goodbye....I know you want to leave me but I refuse to let you go. 

And so it goes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thoughts on Father's Day

Spoiler Alert: This is June, which means I am forced to confront the 30th anniversary of my father's death (June 18th), my brother's birthday (June 26th) and the 3rd anniversary of his death (June 30th). Short's not my best month. I starting getting anxious about a week ago and based on past experiences, it will continue until the last day of the month, when I hold my breath and remember that I've made it this far. Again.

And it's Father's Day. The same weekend I lost my father all those many years ago. I'd be lying if I said I feel a deep sadness 30 years later over the loss of my father. It's been 30 years. I was 11. It took me close to 20 years to recognize the impact his death had on me and that was 20 years of living in the fallout of his passing. And I assure you, I am of the very strong opinion that there were years of fallout. Even today. But he was my father, I loved him and his loss set the stage for many, many subsequent events in my life. Including how to parent my own child.

So, Father's Day has largely gone unnoticed and uncelebrated in my life. I give my mother much credit on these types of holidays in general. Mother's Day was not a particularly difficult day for me even though I'm only 1 year out on my mom. We were and are, a low maintenance auxiliary holiday family. Labor Day, eh.....Columbus Day...when's that? Christmas, Thanksgiving - we celebrate but the closest thing to china we ever used was Chinette. And I'm 100% ok with that.

But Max has a father. A wonderful one who deserves to be blogged about. I've said many times that God had a plan for me and part of that plan was Stephen and Max. Meaning as a package deal. Because without Stephen, there would be no Max. Not this Max anyway. In fact, I'm sure his name wouldn't even be Max because the only reason he has that name is because my mother needed Stephen to stop referring to Max as "Baby X" in the womb so she came up with the name herself.

And for all of those who scratch their heads and wonder why on earth I would feel the need to write about someone I'm not even with anymore (including the neighbor who told Stephen that our situation wasn't as "screwed up" as her and her soon to be ex's...btw....not even close....not even close), I will give a short refresher on civil responsibility and parenting.

While I recognize our situation is unique, in that Stephen and I never stood before God and family promising to love, honor and obey (which I would have refused to even say anyway), we did spend 7 years together before splitting our family apart. There were conscious and unconscious decisions made about how to do that. While we both knew we could no longer stay together, we also understood we were still a family unit. There has not been a single day since Stephen and I split up that we have not put Max first. Not a single day. Yes, we have fought (although he claims this is be an impossible task since I never let him get a word in) and have been frustrated with each other. We have differed in our opinions on how to handle situations related to Max. We have even gone so far as to shave his head without the other's permission...oh, that was just Stephen. But we have always put Max first.

I love that we have been able to, despite being apart, be a family. Early on, Max used to ask when or why we couldn't be together again. We never ignored his questions. We never told him he shouldn't be sad. But now, 3 1/2 years later, Max has settled into his unique family. He has 2 homes, goes on 3 vacations a year; one with me, one with Stephen and one with the three of us, as a family.  I know...that one blows everyone's mind. But its our normal. And its good.

And Stephen loves Max in the way every little boy should be loved by his father. They are playmates (which drives me nuts) but when Stephen lays down the law, the sheriff has come to town (which, again, drives me nuts). Stephen has high expectations for the my relationship with Max also. He holds motherhood just below sainthood, likely due to his own mother's passing when he was a teen. But it is a comfort to know that Stephen will always place my relationship with Max in its own category, just like I do for the two of them. As I've said before, we are blessed.

I was married many moons ago to a man who I believed I wanted to be the father of my children. I was devastated when that didn't happen. And now, I thank God everyday that it didn't.

"Small boys become big men through the influence of big men who care about small boys."