The last goodbye

11F737E5-4892-453C-AD7D-1E2DA0C45096So much has been written about ‘the last’. The last goodbye. The last hug. The last time you picked up your baby or your toddler. The last diaper change. The last kiss. The last time you held a hand, shared a meal, a laugh, a touch. And yet, there never really is enough said. The last is different for each of us and for each of our relationships. And perhaps the most difficult ‘last’ is when we don’t know what the last was. When we don’t remember. When we can’t keep in it our arsenal of touch, of connection, of memory.

I have a photo from the last time I saw my brother, the evening my sister and I spent with him having dinner at a local Mexican place not more than a mile from the house in which we all grew up, long since sold to a new family who raised children in our old bedrooms, ate dinners in our old dining room, chatted in our old kitchen and rode sleds down the hill in our old back yard, the one with the trees and rocks we knew like the back our hands to avoid.

Since taking up drawing late last year, I’ve tried repeatedly to draw Marc from that photo. And I’ve failed every time. In my mind, he is so clear, the depth of his eyes, the smirk, the laugh, the bearded face of my oldest brother. But I can’t get it right on paper. No matter how hard I try.

Anyway, that afternoon in late December, my sister and I drove from her home in Rhode Island, calling Marc just a day ahead to make sure he’d be around, to pick him up for dinner. A very private man and a bachelor who had lived in a third floor walkup for more than two decades, Marc didn’t invite us up but rather met us out front. We hugged him when he got in the car and we chatted as we drove across town to the East Side where we had grown up. Marc still spoke in the heavy Manchester accent of our youth. He never left Northern New England, save for a couple of trips south to Maryland and Rhode Island to visit his siblings. His speech rattled a bit like someone with loose teeth, but his beard and mustache covered any opportunity to see what was going on in there. My brother’s eyes twinkled in a way that made you know there was far more to him than we ever knew. Not big on small talk, Marc answered our questions and asked about our families, but more than that, we just enjoyed the comfort of each other’s presence, the kind of comfort you can only really feel with your siblings, those who have know you since birth. And my brother, Marc, knew me perhaps better than any of my siblings and, in some ways, better than anyone.

That evening after dinner, Carolyn and I took the check expecting to pay. With Marc, we always had, but Marc gently took it from our hands and said he would like to pay. “After all,” he said, “it’s not like I don’t have a job.” And this was true. My brother, who had spent nearly two decades in my parent’s attic, was now well-employed, contributing his incredible talents and planning for his own retirement. The photo we took that evening is the last I have of him, and though he looks old and kind of crazy, in his eyes is the boy I knew growing up, the big brother I looked up to, revered and cherished.  And, to be truthful, also the one I resented for all his failings. It was apparent that night that the other patrons didn’t see the same man I did, perhaps saw only the odd outward appearance, but that doesn’t really matter because the last time I saw my brother Marc, the twinkling eyes were still those of my big brother, still those of the brilliant mind and the innocent boy. That was the last time, the time I said goodbye forever, the last hug and the last kiss, and in this case, I remember it and I cherish that memory just as I cherished my brother, three years gone.

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