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 Category:  Biographical Non-Fiction
  Posted: January 12, 2018      Views: 32

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I am happiest with a book, a blanket and a cup of coffee or glass of wine.

I have always loved writing but not loved letting others read it. I'm to the point in my life that I want to start putting myself out there. I have 2 teenagers, - more...

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Memories of my brother's death; memories lost.
"Memories Never Made" by Amy DeValk

I don't know what day of the week it was. If I looked at a calendar I could figure it out, but it's an unimportant detail. It was April 21st, but that wouldn't matter to me until later. It was a school day. My dad was in Europe for work. My mom was hiking. My oldest brother lived on his own and was working or doing whatever 21 year-olds do during the day. One sister was at college; the other sister and brother were at the high school. I was in my 4th grade class in elementary school.

My teacher was Mrs. Kilborn. She read out loud to us every day. I can still see her sitting in her chair and us sitting on the floor, caught up in Where the Red Fern Grows. At least that's the book I remember the most. She lived in my neighborhood, one street below us.

I remember my friend, Carrie. She had hamsters -- even a doll house for them to play in and miniature leashes that she could use to take them for walks around the house. She was the one who stayed with me that day.

Towards the end of the school day, Mrs. Kilborn told me that my mother was late getting home from hiking so I was going to stay after school for a little while and she would drive me home. Carrie would stay with me. I didn't think much about it. I was nine and didn't question what she told me. I was happy that Carrie and I would have the whole playground to ourselves for a little while and that I got to spend some extra time with her. It's a rare and special thing to have a wide-open playground and no adults to tell you not to jump off the swings.

With the hindsight of an adult, I can see the signs. The guarded look on my teacher's face. The story about my mom not being home. A friend staying with me at school to keep me company. My teacher giving me a ride home. All plausible but definitely not normal.

We got in Mrs. Kilborn's car. It was a brownish coppery VW Jetta. I sat in the front; Carrie sat in back. There were automatic seat belts that scared me. Killer-attack seat belts connected to the ceiling that automatically retract when you close the door. A safety feature but alarming to someone who doesn't expect it.

We dropped Carrie off first. She later told me that when she got home, her mother explained what was happening. Carrie said she ripped the zipper off her jacket. Out of anger or just because she didn't know what else to do, I don't know.

It's awkward to ride in your teacher's car, especially when you're shy and don't know what to say. The rest of the car ride was quiet and unremarkable, until we turned into our neighborhood. To get to my parent's house, you turn up a street that is straight and then branches in two directions to form an oval. Houses line both sides of the street; my house sits at the top of the oval on the hill. We turned to the left at the fork in the road. Cars lined the right side of the street. They could have been on the left, too. That's something I don't remember.

I was puzzled because I'd never seen so many cars on Fireweed Drive. It was the first whisper in my mind that something was wrong. The closer we got to home, the more cars I saw. We approached the driveway and I could see that all of those cars led to my house. I felt a mix of panic and confusion growing in my stomach.

I remember getting out of Mrs. Kilborn's car; flinching from the seat belt. I don't know if she got out with me. My memory is that she stayed in the car and dropped me off but that doesn't seem like what she would have done. I think the front door was open. Inside, there were people everywhere.

I walked in, not understanding, bewildered by the number of people.
I don't remember if someone greeted me. I don't remember if I saw my mom or anyone else I recognized. Looking back, it's just faceless people moving around and my memory is blurry and hazy, like looking through a thick fog where images are just out of reach.

Then I saw my sister, Julie.

She led me to the couch in the living room. The one with orange and brown flowers; it was in front of the window. She sat next to me on the couch and said she had something to tell me.

Remember when Mr. Fenner died?"
I nodded. He was a friend of my father.

"Well, Tim died, too."

At least that's how I remember it.

Our dog, Sandy, walked by and I tried to reach out and pet her. I felt everyone looking at me and someone commenting that Sandy wanted to make me feel better.

Feel better? I felt... nothing. I found out my oldest brother was dead and I felt nothing. Now, I know I was in shock. Then, I thought there was something wrong with me.

I should be crying. Why am I not crying? I'm having the wrong reaction.
I made myself cry.

I have no memory of the rest of that day.

My next memory is of that night.

My dad was on his way home from Europe. My mom had me sleep with her. I don't know if it was because she thought it was comforting me or she didn't want to sleep alone. Neither was accomplished.

There was a pine tree outside my parents' bedroom window and I could see the shadow from the branches on the ceiling. The curtain was open. I pretended to be asleep, on my side with my back to my mom.

Over and over, I listened my mom plead with God.
"Why did you take my baby? Why did you take my baby?"

Eventually I feel asleep. I doubt my mother did the same.

People would hug me. My arms stayed limp at my side. I couldn't seem to hug anyone back. Except once. I don't remember her name or what she looked like. She was one of my sister Jennifer's friends. We were standing in the living room and she hugged me. I finally hugged back. It's the only hug I remember.

I wasn't allowed to listen to the radio, see the newspaper or watch the news on TV. They were all running stories about it. I had so many questions but everyone seemed to think the best thing was to not tell me anything. The only information I was allowed was that there was a fire where Tim lived and he died of smoke inhalation.

Much, much later, I would learn that there were reports of his death on the radio, before anyone in our family was notified.

I remember my classmates sending me a giant card they made and signed. I don't remember seeing it after the day I got it. I wish I still had it.

I don't know how many days were between the day he died and the day we buried him. I have no memory of the days in between.

I was nervous about the funeral and what to wear. I couldn't choose between two sundresses. One was blue and white gingham, the other was dark green and blue flowers. I'm not sure if it was my mom or Julie, but one of them told me to pick the one Tim would like best. I chose the dark green and blue flowers. It was a little too small but that was okay. Tim would have liked it.

I only have snapshots of the funeral in my mind. Full church. Closed casket. Songs I still can't listen to without crying. Sitting in the unfamiliar front pew on the left side of the church. Being pulled by my mom to quickly take communion.

We had a private burial. Only my family and the priest at the cemetery. I remember driving away and looking out the side window of the station wagon at his casket with flowers on top. The flowers were beautiful.

That is my last clear memory of that time.

Beyond that, there is a swirling, gray haze. We didn't talk much about it. I was afraid to mention his name. I didn't want to upset anyone. It's been 37 years and I'm not sure I've actually processed what happened or if I'm still the little girl in shock, forcing herself to cry. At 46, part of me is still back there, sitting on the couch, waiting for comfort and trying to understand.

These memories, as difficult and sad as they are, are not the worst things. The worst things are the memories I'll never get to have. I never really knew Tim. He was 12 years older than me. I was 6 when he graduated from high school and was out of the house. There wasn't much opportunity to make memories. I have moments, like snapshots, that I remember about him. I remember he called me Spider Monkey. Everything else I know is from other people.

I have become the keeper of Tim. I have the archives of his life. I can look through photos, keepsakes and documents and learn things. He was a Boy Scout. He skied. He liked the outdoors. But I don't know what his favorite color was. If he liked to read. If he was funny or liked to play pranks. If he was aloof or shy. My brother is like a character in a novel and I have to fill in his back story.

I can't talk about the time we rode roller coasters or I accidentally ruined his cassette tapes or he helped me out when I was in trouble with our parents. None of those things ever got a chance to happen, none of those memories made.

My most powerful memories of my brother aren't of him, but of his death.

I suffered two losses. The loss of Tim and the loss of the relationship we could have had. The loss of potential memories.

Memories I wish I had, instead of the painful void where they should be.

True Story Contest contest entry
Pays one point and 2 member cents. Artwork by eileen0204 at

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