Saturday, December 1, 2007
I was 12 when my brother, Danny, died. Next May will mark the 20th anniversary of his death. Today is World AIDS Day and I want to take a moment to remember my brother.
Danny was nearly 20 years my senior and he wasn't around much when I was young. He was the exotic brother who lived in New York City and would come home for the Holidays regaling us with stories of meeting famous people and hearing fabulous musicians and making art. He loved to cook and he adored his cats. I remember one visit home he was grieving because there had been a fire in his apartment building and he couldn't save his cats. I'd never seen anyone so devastated before.
Danny would promise that I could visit him in the city when I was older. When he would visit, we would take long walks through the woods and he wouldn't treat me as though I were a child. He'd ask deep, probing questions, trying to help me figure out who I was (sometimes it was a little more than a young kid could handle but I liked that he didn't just ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, that he actually cared about how I saw the world). I remember him describing Invasion of the Body Snatchers in such gory detail that I still get chills just thinking about it. I laughed at his description of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! and sat in awe the first time I heard The B-52's, courtesy of my brother.
When he got sick, my family rallied and took care of Danny. It was amazing. He came home to die and every Holiday and every birthday became a major celebration because it may have been the last time he was with us to mark that particular occasion. Although it seemed as though he was sick for a long time, Danny declined over the course of a year and a half. His illness was debilitating and he lost pretty much all of his faculties.
On the night he died, my mother and siblings were with him in the hospital. It was late and there was a raging thunderstorm outside. Slowly, one by one, my siblings found reasons to leave the room - a phone call to make, a stroll down the hall to get a drink. My mother was alone with Danny in his room and he was able to make the slightest of sounds (he had lost the ability to speak entirely). She got up, went to his side, pulled him close to her and held him in her arms as he breathed his last. For all of the suffering, it was a beautiful death.
I used to feel as though I hadn't "earned" the right to mourn Danny in the way that my other siblings could. Because my siblings are so much older than I am, we don't share the same childhood memories and I somehow felt that this meant that his illness and death couldn't leave as indelible of a mark as it would for my siblings.
I was wrong.
I miss you, Danny.