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I lost my brother. People usually mean death when they say that, but I had no reason to believe my brother was actually dead. When I began looking for him, I couldn’t remember how long it had been since that one afternoon, when after years of absence, I had met him at his workplace- a Ford dealership in rural upstate New York. After, we back to his apartment for a dinner of take-out pizza. We talked- laughed even- for hours, all the while careful to keep the past in its hiding place.  

After that brief meeting, I wrote him, maybe once or twice. I also remember sending him a gift of artisanal beers. I don’t think he wrote back, and I didn’t write again. I know now that I should have tried harder. Some families, their ties are as strong as the cables that hold up bridges, whereas the bonds of my own family had all the strength of wet tissue.

When my mother died, she wrote in her will that she wanted someone to find her son and let him know that she was gone. That someone would be me. My brother and I never had a good relationship with her. I gave as much as I could, which wasn’t much at all. I think he tried too, to give something to her, but he just didn’t have it in him, and they were essentially estranged. It took some months after her death before I was ready to take on the task of finding him. I didn’t want to, but guilt forced me to try.

So, I looked for my brother in the last place I had left him.

And he wasn’t there.

I should mention that my brother is my half-brother. We have the same mother but different fathers. There is some resemblance, perhaps through the mouth and in the angle of our nose, but I doubt an outside observer would pick up on it. He was tall and broad with blue eyes. I am slight with darker coloring and brown eyes. But from the same womb we did emerge. No doubt about that.

I found the apartment he had been in during that last visit, but a different man opened the door.

“No,” he said, “I’ve never heard of him. I rented this place from an older couple about two years ago.”

I looked at the man’s hands, all calloused and grease-stained, just like my brother’s had been. The smell of stale beer and weed drifted through the doorway. The man before me would have been an adequate substitute. I should have just told him, “our mother is dead”. But losing a brother isn’t like losing a button and replacing it with one that looks similar.

He closed the door and I stood there for a moment, thinking how could I have let this happen? What sort of person loses their only sibling, their big brother?

Then, in a small voice, I thought, what sort of person loses their little sister?

My family was a braided cord that came unwoven years ago. Each of us had tried our best to weave ourselves with others and make new bonds. My brother, my blood, had untangled himself from us early on. He was a stranger to me now. It felt odd to stand outside of another stranger’s door and feel a pain I should have felt years ago.

After his apartment, I looked for him at his workplace. I had visited him there, the last time I saw him. He had been an auto mechanic. No, I thought, he is an auto mechanic. Or I don’t know, maybe he still is? He still is something. He still is my brother. My mother’s baby boy. There was so much love there. There had to be, all those years ago. But it just dissipated like a morning fog in bright sunlight. All that’s left are sharp shadows and edges that cut without leaving marks.

Where was I? Yes, of course, the dealership where he worked. No one remembered him. I asked if they could look up employment records. Hesitation at first, but I told them his mother had died. I told them what I was trying to do. I tried not to cry, but I did. They looked up something on a grease-stained computer that appeared to be decades old. Yes, my brother had worked there, but he left ten years ago. Ten years! My God, it doesn’t seem that long since the last time I saw him, but it was longer than that. I know it was. How could I have lost him?

My brother is nearly ten years older than I am. Our mother and his father divorced when I was young, but I have memories of them fighting, mostly shouting. She eventually remarried. The second husband shouted too, and he hit her. He tried to hurt me as well, but my brother protected me from his rage.

This seems ridiculous now, but for the longest time I didn’t know that my brother was only my half-brother. I remember him taunting me once when we were kids. He said, “at least you’re not my real sister.” I didn’t know what he meant by that then, but those words sting me now. He was young, though. A teenager, maybe. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt me.

His father died when I was in college. Pancreatic cancer, brutal stuff. At one point it occurred to me to wonder happened to the second husband- the one that shouted and hit. I searched for him online once, after all of this. He has an unusual name so I think I found him. But the photo that came up- I thought maybe, it could be him? But I wasn’t sure. How could I not remember a man who called himself my stepfather? How could I forget the man who hit my mother? Who threatened me too? The man that my brother protected me from? His face remains a blank in my mind.

As for my own father, well, I never knew him, and I don’t know if he knew about me. I haven’t had to think about these things in a very long time, and honestly, I don’t want to now. When I close my eyes all I can see is torn up tissue.

Where else could I look? I was out of my element. Drowning, really. No one I asked knew my brother. No one remembered him. It was like he didn’t exist. And as much as I wanted to protest, I wondered if he could have been a figment of my mind. A figment of my mother’s too. Maybe that would better, if none of it had ever happened.

I pulled a tissue from my pocked and blew my nose. I was crying again. Dead mother, unknown father, missing brother. Just me, turning round and round in the parking lot of a Ford dealership in rural upstate New York. At that moment, I had lost any concept of who I was, and I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life.

My next stop was another apartment complex, the one where the three of us had lived after my mom got away from the second husband. It had been me, my mother, and my brother in a two bedroom. I had shared a room with my mom when he lived there, but it wasn’t long before he ran away to his father and I got my own room. I remember, before he left, he punched a hole in the wall. No, two holes. He had been angry. I was too, but I just hadn’t realized it yet.

The apartment buildings were smaller and sadder than I remembered. On the way there, I stopped at a Wegmans and bought flowers. Yellow roses, mixed with baby’s breath.

I walked to the back of our old building where a dirty creek ran below a railroad track. I found a place to sit, leaning my back against a large oak tree. I set the flowers down next to me like an offering and I made a wish. I wished to be able to find my brother.

Then I thought about the father I never knew and decided I wanted to make a second wish. So I wished that somewhere out there a half-sibling that I had never met was searching for me too.

It was childish I know, but those wishes were the only thing holding my family together. They were invisible threads tethering me to something called home, and they were much stronger than I ever could have imagined.

October 28, 2021 21:51

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1 comment

Lisa Neuvelt
00:59 Nov 04, 2021

This story was very well written. It make people think about family members that they are no longer in touch with. At least that’s what it made me think. Thank you.


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