David would have been 56 today. A photo of us, my head resting on his right shoulder and our brother Tommy sitting at his left, pops up in my Facebook feed as a “memory”—as if I would forget this birthday without this visual reminder. The photo is from a restaurant in Houston called Julia’s where we had a fantastic dinner years ago, a restaurant that, like my brother, is now gone.
In my inbox, a daily email from the Writer’s Almanac says today, March 13, is the birthday of Percival Lowell, Janet Flanner, Pope Innocent XII, even Uncle Sam—at least the day he was “born” in the form of a cartoon character in 1852 in a publication called the New York Lantern. It seems David’s name, far more important to me than any of these, should also appear here in the list of VIP birthdays as I scroll.
Wikipedia says, “March 13 is the 72nd day of the year (73rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 293 days remaining until the end of the year.” There are 365 days—or 364 if next year is a leap year—before I feel quite this feeling again.
I saw Tommy last week when he turned 53. I know the proximity in their birthdays brought both celebration and competition growing up. Now it causes only sadness. Already, Tommy has surpassed David’s life by six years, which seems like bad math; David was born three years before Tommy. But this is what death does; it changes math. It made Tommy my oldest brother.
Forty-seven years isn’t so bad, and anyone who knew David knew he lived more than most people do in a lifetime in that span. Still, it’s hard not to feel cheated each and every year, as I am greedy. Wanting more, so much more. And unable to add much.
Though I had a rare dream about David a couple of weeks ago, so rare in fact that it might have been only the third time that he has appeared in my unconsciousness this way, unsummoned by me, a welcome visitor. In the scene, David was driving a speedboat—too fast, no surprise—while I sat in the seat behind him, being splashed with spray and laughing raucously. It felt dangerous and safe at the same time, a sense my brother provoked easily. Upon waking, I cried as I cried when I lost him the first time, in real life, the way waking up reminded me of the reality each and every day for years, and not just on his birthday.
It was strange last week, as always, to be back “home” in Houston, surrounded in our mother’s house by her photos and mementos of David—her own shrine, different from mine, from Tommy’s—reminding me of our deeply varied relationships, the relationships that still go on for each of us, even now, as a wise writer recently wrote me.
I have not yet lived as long as David did, but I hope to, and I hope to surpass him too. As the baby of the family, I wonder if I will outlive everyone eventually, if not also go beyond their years, their numbers, their experiences. I wonder, as we all must do, whether we will meet again, somewhere where numbers don’t exist.
I love Tommy, and I know he loves me too, but we are unlikely to put our heads on each other the way I did that night after dinner, warm with red wine, with good food, and with the comfort, the security, the assuredness of my siblings, with our brother David between us.
We are minus one and counting.