Stone columns leading toward a brightly lit doorway down a long hall.

Start with the way you used to coast to the side of the Jersey turnpike, cars whizzing by so fast our old woody wagon shivered, to point out the deer clustered along the tree line, how we pressed our noses to the window to watch, you pointing out bucks from does and the way you spoke, in the same soft voice you read stories to us, the brood of us spread down a sofa, each of us clambering for the privilege of being next to you, to run our small hands down your days-end prickly cheeks. 

Maybe don’t mention the time we crept to the garage at dusk to watch you skin the rabbits you had shot that afternoon, the way you packed the pinked meat in a cooler and I came up silently behind you. You let me pet the knots of their heads flopping from their pelts and slapped in a bucket, then must have thought better of it, turned me away. Sent us to our mother. 

Possibly how you stormed to the church basement on Easter Sunday and berated the Sunday school teacher (a woman I now suspect you had a problem with long before that day) for explaining the gruesome act of crucifixion to a bunch of five-year-olds. So wrong, you said. And I hoped that meant it was all a lie. 

Definitely tell them how you pulled our car over on the way to the airport, took a pair of shoes from your suitcase, and gave them to a barefoot panhandler. Who needs loafers in Florida? And we all agreed, offered our own small shoes as well.  

Not to mention: when I feared you didn’t love me and you explained that you didn’t like me, and there was a difference.  

Maybe how you stoically suffered the unspooling of your mother’s mind, tangled memories strung to the floor, so patiently explained that you were her son, not her wayward brother. Even braved a pounding on your chest, wrapped your hands around her flailing wrists, and sang an Italian lullaby. Stella stellina, La notte s’avvicina, La fiamma traballa.

Too personal? The way you rushed to my side when I feared my marriage was over, commiserated as to the breadth and scope of the mistake my husband was making in leaving me. (Say nothing about when I suggested I was hard to love, and you had nodded in sad agreement). 

Probably shouldn’t mention the petition you circulated to forbid wheelchairs in the lobby of your building because, as you explained, why should I have to look at that? 

Our secret, the time you took me aside, thought I might convince Mom she would feel better if she just lost some weight, unable to see the obvious, the thinning of her shoulders that revealed a fragile clavicle, focused as you were on the girth of her belly, insidiously bloating to feed a greedy tumor. 

I’ll end by telling them you were a moral pillar, a guiding light, believed in the sanctity of marriage, yours was a life well lived—all the platitudes that will have them sniffling into their tissues. (Though I suspect your own marriage was a penance—with me, the firstborn, seeding the crime.)

One more thing—the tender way you touched our mother’s cheek as she lay sleeping in the last of her days, the way your eyes filled damp and glassy, but you didn’t let them spill for fear she would wake. (Don’t tell them how you spent the bulk of those days outside, tending to suddenly urgent chores when all she wanted was to have you by her side, talking her through the fright of it all.) 

I won’t tell them that you had leaned into her last breath and told her you had never loved her more than in that moment and how I knew then that no one angle is the measure of a man and regret is the touchstone of death.  

Photo by lensmatter, used and adapted under CC.