I often wish I had more memories of my brother. The ones I do have, I hold dear: Kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard until the ball hit me too hard, either in the face or in the stomach, and we would stop (I later became a goalkeeper, which in hindsight is not a surprise). Sometimes we would kick the ball off the back of the house, despite the risk of breaking a window, and despite our mom’s admonishments not to. There were two large magnolia trees in the backyard, and I would follow my brother’s lead balancing precariously on branches to go between the two of them, washed in the youthful ignorance of the perils of falling. There was the time he tried to teach himself how to skateboard, and would get me to estimate how high he was jumping, over and over, and I would willingly comply. He would discover new video games and computer games, and eagerly teach me how to play them, despite the fact that I would then demand equal turns playing. I sometimes would just watch him play for hours, listening to his music in his room. I became acquainted with Green Day, Nirvana, and Hole, because I could hear them playing loudly from his room while I played with legos and micromachines (small toy cars) in my own room. To this day, these bands remind me of him – they were his first.
Recounting these memories now, I realize that I have more of them than I thought. So many of these memories are seemingly insignificant. After all, how many pairs of siblings kick balls around and play video games? But as we grew older, we grew apart. We grew apart so gradually, that I remember a point in high school when I realized that I hardly knew him at all. We had long since grown out of our video game-playing days. I made a point to spend more time with him, but he had begun a slow spiral into mental illness that I didn’t understand. I did not know until after he died, that he had been proud of me, and had bragged to his friends about me. “This is my sister’s room. Isn’t she cool?” he would tell friends he had over. One of his best friends told me this when I contacted her shortly after his death. I had been proud of him too – he was a talented actor at the arts magnet school we both went to with our [step-]sisters – but I never told him. It didn’t occur to me to tell him. I left for boarding school shortly thereafter, followed by college, in my own world, in my own survival mode as I tried to sort out the difficult things in my own life.
When he died unexpectedly a few years later, after a period of numb shock, it hit me like a truck. He was gone. And I was forever deeply connected to him, and had always been, even when I didn’t know it. Even as he was lost in struggle, some deep part of me had assumed he was ok. We were a team, and we were just out on separate missions, to regroup later. Now the team is a man down. I have used this team metaphor to describe my sense of our relationship before, and it’s not meant to exclude other important people and family members from my life or his. It’s just how I feel on a deep level about my relationship with my brother. When he died, I felt like I had lost a limb that I didn’t know I had but used all the time.
This weekend marks 8 years since his death, and also what would have been his 30th birthday. As I continue forward, his spirit travels with me, as I imagine it traveling with all of us who cared deeply about him. In his memory I find courage and confidence, and sometimes, I can even feel his pride.
My now deepening voice has begun to remind me of him, which brings me both sadness and comfort. I know that when my parents and [step-]sisters think of their son or brother, they think of him and feel sad, and this pains me. I never wanted to bring up more grief, but grief will ever be a part of our lives. This also reminds me of how gender is both a big deal and it isn’t. My realization that I am trans doesn’t change the love my brother and I shared, and doesn’t fundamentally change who I am. Being able to live into my whole self is part of how I honor his memory, since his opportunities to live fully were cut short. It is how I carry our team forward.
There are so many things I wish I could tell him. I wish I could tell him about my research, about the awesome Quaker community I am part of in New England, about everything I have been learning about privilege and oppression, about coming out as transgender. I wish we could learn together about how my being his brother and not his sister makes little impact on the deep love we share, as I hope I can do with the rest of my family. I wish he could give me tips. I wish I could be there for him as I would have wanted him to be there for me. In a way, though, he is there for me, and will always be. And now that the worst has happened, in more than one way, I know for sure that nothing can take his spirit away from me.