brothers

I have two brothers: one living, one dead.
The living one was born 47 years ago today. He, too, is a prime number.

The day he was born was one of the happiest of my life. I was six-years-old. My father drove us to the hospital to pick up my mother. Much to my dismay, she was in a wheelchair, pushed down the hall by an ugly nurse.

The French have an expression – jolie laide, or pretty-ugly, which exactly describes this nurse. Her features were plain, but she smiled at me with such great kindness and joy as she pushed my mother toward us.

But perhaps I am mis-remembering. Perhaps my mother was jolie laide, wrung out but radiant.

As I ran toward her, I saw the swaddled baby in her arms. My brother! Que milagro.

I had adored my brother John, who died when I was four. I pined for parallel play, snail races, car chases on the painted cardboard track (with the gas station pump that fit perfectly into the little round hole on the side of the cars).

I was John’s interpreter, talking and explaining for him before he decided to speak for himself. One of his first words, or maybe just my favorite, was my name. I can still hear him exclaim – Susie!

In my world, brothers were excellent companions. The best. I had good memories. And scary ones, too: of hospitals, and doctors, and nurses who wouldn’t let me see him. Incarcerated in a crib on an upper floor. Up. Away.

I remember standing outside the hospital, looking up and waiting for someone to bring him to the window. Waiting waiting waiting. So far away.

But so radiant to see me! Perhaps that’s when I learned to project, a useful tool for a performer. Up, up, up to John.


I sat in the back seat of our Plymouth Valiant and held my fresh-born baby brother, James. But I didn’t call him that. He was Didi to me. And to the tune of “Hello, Dolly!” I sang to him while Dad drove us home. “Hello, Didi. Well, hello, Didi! It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.”

I can still feel the weight of his snuggly warm body in my oh-so-careful arms. See his gorgeous old man face, his true blue eyes. Love incarnate.

But it wasn’t love at first sight, oh no. I had been loving him for months, listening to his heartbeat with my ear pressed against my mother’s belly, feeling him kick and laughing! laughing with glee.

Our family was too small, then. Just me and my mother in an apartment on Hill Street. Two too small. John and Dad were both gone, strange facts I couldn’t quite grasp. Dad alive but living elsewhere. Why?

So Didi’s birth was anticipated like Christmas. This, I thought, would set everything right.

But it didn’t. John was still dead, Dad still lived elsewhere. And my mother foundered and struggled for homeostasis. Today she would probably be diagnosed with clinical depression.

But it also did (set things right). Didi and I had a very different relationship than the one I had with John. But, of course, how could we not? I was six years older, the big sister, the caretaker, the little mother.

I painted his toenails red.
I dragged him around on his skateboard or in the wagon.
I bossed him and cleaned him and patched him when he fell. Put on puppet shows. Watched him surf. Cheered him on.

But I loved all that, caring for Didi. I loved him.
So imagine my dismay, these many years later, to find that we are estranged. Another fact I can’t quite grasp. How did it happen? Why?

I don’t know.
But I’m still glad he was born.

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