His bedroom was across the hall and down a bit from mine, but I could see it pretty well from the doorway of my room. It seemed smaller than mine did , maybe because it was full of all of his toys and lots of mine too, because we always played there. In my memory, the floor is still cluttered with the tin western town, the battered metal yellow dump truck, our rubber Donald Duck car, and countless Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and plastic cowboys and Indians. We played there so many, many hours of our childhood, fashioning elaborate stories filled with unlikely heroes and villains-- our favorite rumpled bear, simply called "Teddy" , the evil "Richard", a saggy, sad-looking panda, "Martha" my tiny plastic nurse doll (really a witch in disguise), and so many other characters of all different sizes and personalities.
His room was drab. I remember even as a little girl gazing at the walls trying to decide just what color they really were - gray, brown, or a combination of both. His bed was pushed into a corner out of the way, a plain dresser beside it, with drawers that always stuck horribly. I was always glad that he had that dresser and not me. The one window in the middle of the west wall looked out into the back yard, with its sloping lawn and the houses of our friends beyond. My room across the hall was light and airy, with pale pink walls, a pretty white bed and dresser and double windows looking out on the road and nearby fields. Still, I loved his room- the coziness of it, the welcoming of it, and I remember it much better than any other room in that house.
We became teenagers, left behind the toy-scattered room, replaced with a desk, shelves, record player and old easy chairs. Our evenings then were filled with homework assignments, made bearable by the likes of Ray Charles, James Brown, Roy Orbison, and eventually the Beatles, all turned up loud enough for us to concentrate on them and our homework at the same time. Our dad always went to bed before we were ready to, and we had to turn the phonograph down so low we could hardly hear it. It seems that's when we really finished our homework.
We did finally grow up and apart, I guess, although we always tried to get together on our birthday. If we were both home, our mother still made two cakes, mine white with white frosting and coconut, and his chocolate with chocolate frosting. We talked by phone every few months, sharing our latest news and sometimes engaging in heated discussions about the state of things in general. He'd grown into a tall, kind looking man with deep-set eyes, and I was always aware of him in my life- companion of my youth, childhood and infancy. It felt good just to know that he was in the world, in my reality.
A bright snowy morning is always linked with the saddest call, that he was dead, suddenly and forever. How completely strange to know that I would never find him again in the world, no matter how far I looked.
I came home on the airplane, and my children greeted me ecstatically, overflowing with clinging touches and close, searching looks. "Will you be different now, Mommy? Will you be different?" Laurel asked, holding my face still to look into my eyes. And memories of life with my brother, all of our days together, swept over me. I knew I would never be quite the same for having lost him. But how fine it was to have known him and to have shared so much of my life with him.
When we were little and got into trouble, our mother routinely sent us to our rooms. We sat cross- legged, exactly even with our doorways (We are in our rooms, Mama!" ), whispering across the polished hallway, waiting to get back to our play. We are in our separate rooms again now, in a way, farther apart than even before we were born. Yet I do still find myself whispering to him across the gulf, and sometimes I hear him whisper excitedly back to me.
Reprinted from Well, Well, Well (transcribed by Debbie Parks)