Five summers ago today we were mid-air, the house sold, the condo shuttered against hurricane season a thousand miles behind us, ten days away from the new unknown across the continent. It has gone by, a blink and another, and I am landed now, feet covering over with moss.
Eighteen years ago this summer, this month, I was gasping for a whole breath, awakening after disturbed sleep to the news again, the news that refused to root in my memory. Kenny died. The brother I spent my entire life trying to rescue went missing. And then I found him.
Forty years ago this summer, this month, I promised to love and cherish with my “heaped-up heart”, the boy I fell for when I was fourteen years old, spring of my freshman year. At our country wedding in the little chapel, my brother was twelve in his awkward three-piece suit, and if I’d known, I would have taken him with me across country that time, wouldn’t I? Could I have saved him?
Forty-four years ago this summer, this month, I lied. I said I was going to the movies with Jay Enstad, but I was really meeting my boy, the one banished from my life and our high school by my raging parents after the cop caught us in the back of his Mustang. Catholic parents, oldest daughter, a small New England town in the 1970’s too soon, too close, barely risen from the summer of love and teen Armageddon.
Forty-four years ago this summer, this month, my father lied. He said he was on a business trip but he was down the street, next town over, at his girlfriend’s apartment. My brother was eight and deaf, fifth kid of six, skulking out of rooms when the mother-daughter arguing began again, when the theatrics of teenagers dominated the dinner table. My brother was deaf and no one knew, negligent pediatrician attending to the overwhelmed mother who suspected her husband.
Forty-eight years ago this summer, this month, I snuck past that guy’s mother watching the Watergate Hearings in her living room, heading to the basement rec room with a bunch of the Theatre kids, unknowing, unseeing. Last in a long line of crushes, that kid, Chris somebody, the little Chris with the rawhide headband, the stringy haired slender as a boy sixteen-year old Chris, who stopped, his hand burrowed under the button of my jeans, and said, “you don’t want to get involved with this, with me.” Unknowing, uninformed, hurt and rejected, I didn’t understand what he meant, the little Chris who smelled of hashish and rawhide. And heroin.
Fifty years ago this summer, this month, eight weeks at a Vermont fancy sleep away camp dominated by third and fourth generation private school girls from Darien Connecticut with their own horses and sailboats, I found a place in the small theatre department with my tent mate, the other middle-class shy girl. Aloha Camp was the penultimate outside-looking-in lonely, every waking moment of fifty-six days spent trying to understand those laughing blond girls, so easy and accepted.
We held that loneliness, my brother and I, trapped in our chests. Our secret otherness. We withered under the scorn of my mother, the fury of my father. No doubt our siblings also suffered. Mental Illness blooms in several. Stable love did not find them easily. I escaped. He escaped.
Fifty, fifty-five, forty years, now, this summer I have my soothed my too-close-to-the surface nerve endings with the beauty of words–for a while as an actor, now as a writer, always as a reader, I have escaped into story, into worlds not mine, into worlds exactly like mine where the characters dig themselves out from under the earth shoveled over them and emerge, gasping for breath. Salvation can be found.
He, he, my brother dug and dug and dug and hopped out, always running ahead of the wall of black suffocating dirt, never fast enough. His secret love found and revealed, his guy Harry, ten years they lived together, hands clasped until the very last moment, the very last summer. Even that was not enough, his secret out, his life accepted and embraced. Heroin found him at seventeen and he could not help but return to the only salvation he had.
Nearly twenty summers gone now without him, and still I gasp for breath when I wake and remember. July 6, my wedding day. July 6, the day my brother died. July, summer, the moment I found Kenny, translucent blue eyes open as if he were still alive.
I am safe, I am in love, I am loved. Summer, July at home, I tell the story and I find salvation. He is here with me, reading over my shoulder, laughing that he was right, he always knew he was my favorite.
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