happy birthday, big brother

today my brother mike would be 55. he died 10 years ago on december 19th. this photograph is from the last time he & i & the rest of us were all together in one place…my wedding.  thinking about him, i started this memoir….

the six of us assumed we were blessed for the mere fact that we survived our childhood.
survived our father passing out at the wheel.
survived drunk motorcycle rides with dad.
survived our father sending us into precarious places to do dangerous chores.
survived our father, drunk, angry, & armed.
survived family adventures. camping. hiking on natural bridges…up to starved rocks…into mammoth caves…all though the grand canyon. 
survived water skiing behind jet engined motor boats.
survived a back yard pond with a homemade diving board in the summer and ice skates in the winter.
survived snow mobiles, three wheelers, four wheelers, chainsaws, log-splitters, tractors, riding on running boards, riding on trailers, riding in the beds of pick up trucks.
survived no baby seats. no seat belts. cars driving fast down country roads so you can catch that stomach dropping hill just right.

six almost died when he had a head on collision with a gravel truck while riding his four wheeler around that one blind corner of the gravel pit. but six was the only one of us to wear a helmet (pants & shoes as well!) the helmet did not survive. six had a broken jaw, broken cheek bone, his femur snapped in half.
but he survived.
which was further proof that we were blessed.

one died when he was 45, and his death shattered all of us. it was beyond comprehension that he could really truly be gone.

some of us were quick to go numb. go into denial. some of us threw ourselves into the mystery, the drama of his death. some of us searched for someone to blame…anyone to blame.

i had talked to him on  his birthday just 19 days earlier. he sounded sad. stressed out. we had so much family drama happening as well as the drama he kept hidden from us. his one consolation was that he had gotten a red velvet cake for his birthday. his family left for a ski trip, but they had baked him a red velvet cake first. 
the same cake that two always got on her birthday when we were growing up because two’s birthday is just before valentine’s day. 
all these years one had been coveting two’s cake just like i had always coveted five’s cake. she got devil’s food every year while i was stuck with angel food–because i was “the good one.”

one finally got his cake. and then he died. and his wife and four kids would have to forever feel like shits for going on a ski trip on his last birthday….

my favorite way to make fun of one was to mimic our phone conversations. “so what else is new?” he would ask incessantly making me scramble for newsworthy tidbits to tell him.

i was on the phone with two around the time one’s plane crashed down. i was making fun of one again. i had just gotten his yearly–& much anticipated–christmas newsletter.
a newsletter so crisp & professional as it was designed & produced by a proclaimed “web guru.” yeah, my brother. 
between the smatterings of “keep christ in christmas” & photos of his beautiful children doing all the things beautiful children with money get to do were articles lamenting the newly elected president and calling for strength & endurance for this upcoming apocalypse of a democrat in the white house. 
thanks to the thorough brain-washing of my completely insane & devoutly catholic mother, one literally feared the evil baby-killing agenda of the left wing.
to me, a self-proclaimed anarchist, one’s christmas newsletter was hysterical in every sense of the word.
so i ranted about this to my sister as one died…for his beliefs. 

so this is the beginning. i hope to write more. another work in progress. hang onto your butts.

ps! if you want to support my art & writings…contribute to my getting microsoft word again so i can edit my stories…buy notebooks…journals…ink & paper…you can do this (and more!) by clicking here

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my big brother

while i typed novels
that no one
would
ever
read
on an electric
typewriter
he led the way
in that whole website fad
making a fortune
designing political
websites….
while he wore
a tie
& his million
dollar
smile
rubbing elbows
with bushes & kochs
i was
stomping about
in my doc martin
boots
head
half
shaved
& packing up my
compact car
at a moment’s notice
to go
where
the wind blew me….
we both kept pictures
of the other
to show off
with a laugh
& bipartisan pride
“can you believe we are related?”

twenty-nine days after all saint’s day (day of the dead) is my brother mike’s birthday. nineteen days after that is his death day. i spend a lot of this time of the year thinking of my brother.
so when i saw sarah’s post on her blog “fresh hell” about her amazing brother, i had to chime in in the comments.
and, of course, that wasn’t enough.
so it became a journal page of it’s own.

the color of my tears

the color of my tears
is the color of my eyes
some muted mix
of blue & green
that falls freely from my eyes

i get my brother’s birthday & his death day
mixed up in my head
he was born…
three weeks (& 45 years later)
he died
the last i spoke to him
was his birthday
so it is the last i remember of him
from the end of november
to almost christmas
it all blends together.
the end of him
& every time i see 12:19 on a clock
i forget that it is the birthday
of my children’s father
& only remember
it as my brother’s death
day.

loss…lost

i was breastfeeding
my second son
when i got the call
that my big brother
was dead
…plane crash
he crashed his plane
i’d just gotten his christmas newsletter
“keep christ
in christmas”
& his devastation
over the election of obama
to the presidency…
i had been making fun of him
to one of my liberal sisters
earlier that evening…
just around the time
his plane crashed into an ohio suburb

i usually start my pages with words & finish with a drawing. this one i drew first, and then the words came.
tomorrow is my big brother’s birthday. he would have been 54. he died 9 years ago.

my dead brother

having someone in your life die changes you as much as, say, having a baby.
i would not be the artist i am today if i had not become a mother. i would be a different artist.
and i would not be the person i am today if my brother had not been killed eight years ago today. i would be a different person.

my big brother…sigh.
he introduced me to movies. that is one way i remember him. he took me to see raiders of the lost ark when it was in the theaters and i was all like, “this movie sounds stupid.”
and then i was all like, “that was the best movie ever!”
he took me to see the empire strikes back when it came out
and i remember as we walked back to the car after the movie, he said, “it’s leia. they are talking about leia.”
and i had no idea what he was talking about until return of the jedi.
he brought a copy of terminator home from college and as i watched it, he would say, “surely he’s dead now” every time they thought they had destroyed arnold schwarzenegger.
he introduced me to one of my most favorite movies ever blade runner.
and to another dytopian influence a boy and his dog.

self2

these two pictures were done for a drawing class where i was supposed to do two self-portraits that were meant to be hung together. the top one is from a photo of me as a baby with my brother mike.
the second one is a self-portrait of me in tribute to the polaroid taken of sarah connor  at the end of terminator.

his life and his death are both heavy influences in who i am today.
sometimes i don’t know how to feel about that.

here is a poem i wrote in a writer’s workshop about it:

heavy

when someone close to you
dies
it becomes part of your description
she has brown hair
a nice smile
and her brother is dead

birthdays are the hardest
his last one
i didn’t know
it was the last
his voice sad on the telephone
my pledge to keep in touch
this time

we live in a world
where I can obsessively search for
intimate details of his death
available in short video
burning plane
gray matter splattered on a playground
his last words, “oh, fuck.”

notorious IT guy for the other side
the forrest gump of stolen elections
everything reminds me
of him
the sound of a single engine  plane
sad songs on the radio
politics, christmastime, and charismatic men

i drink irish whiskey this time of year
but it was scotch at his wake
four years now
four years since the last election
four years since the plane crash
a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream
murder republican style

when someone close to you
dies
do you let it redefine you?
hello, I’m connell
a mama, a student, an artist
let me tell you
about my dead brother

happy birthday, mike

my big brother
it was on this day
eight years ago
that i last spoke to him.

it was after his death
that i started going by the name
“em”
he was my “M”
he was mike; i was mary jo
in our family
there were two P’s
two S’s
and the two M’s
he was my “M”

now i am alone
em alone

i miss my big brother


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