twenty years and counting: for nicholas
i snapped this picture of my brother nicholas and my mother was taken on mother’s day sometime in early 1990’s. my mother LOVED mother’s day! it was one of the few times other than her birthday, she would dress up snd put on some lip stick. i think she loved this day the most because it always fell on a sunday and that was the day she would drink and listen to the oldies till midnight.
my memories of mother’s day changed 20 years ago. this story, this remembrance, is of my continual mourning of the loss of my brother nicholas.
may 9th marked the 20th anniversary of nicholas’ death. yesterday, i realized that i have survived life on this without him as long as i lived on this planet with him. some days, i feel a sense of redemption. like, “wow, louie. this shit could have left you broken but look at you!” some days, i am haunted by a deep sense of survivor’s guilt. “why you louie? what did you do to deserve life?” and in the days in-between, i am carefully wobbling on a tightrope.
the first years after his death in 2001, i could not remember the exact date. i knew it was a couple of days before mother’s day and a day before a friend’s birthday. i cannot remember if obituaries or prayer cards were handed out at his funeral. maybe i just didn’t get one. his gravesite didn’t get a tombstone until years later but i suppose that wouldn’t have helped me remember because i never returned to that site after his burial. the only reference i had was the airbrushed shirt with his picture that i wore to his funeral. but i packed the shirt away immediately after. all i could and did remember was the pain, the regret, the guilt. all i carried with me was the rage.
i have only written about my brother nicholas. i still have not found the courage to speak about this aloud with anyone. even the voice in my head whispers when thinking about him and all that he and i witnessed growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. shit that not only shaped our lives but shaped our relationship and our love and resentment for each other.
a few years ago, while i was home alone, i pulled the airbrushed shirt out of the box i kept tucked away in the closet. i unfolded the shirt and put it on. i wept. i felt so many emotions. i felt for the first time what it must have been like for him to fight people who called me a faggot – even on days when he didn’t want to fight. i understood for the first time why he would sometimes get annoyed at me recreating janet’s “if” choreography with my best friend robert in the middle of our busy street – even tho he would hold up traffic with his car so that the headlights served as our spotlights. i felt for the first time the impact of my not speaking his name aloud. my son knows almost nothing about him.
i have just three photos of me and nicholas together. they serve as the only physical proof of our childhood. this sometimes feels like a lack of evidence that we were children, but i remember. those memories live in my bones.
this grief has brought me closer to nicholas and to my mother. both of whom now visit me in my dreams. acknowledging this grief each year has brought me closer to myself and to some sibilance of healing. it has brought me this far even though it still feels so close to where i was 20 years ago.