my “m”

the following is an essay i wrote today for my brother’s oldest daughter who is putting together a collection to honor him on the 10th anniversary of his death. 

Mike was my “m.” It was a family joke. Our initials, in birth order, were
M-P-S-M-P-S.
He was my “m,” & i was his. We would all tease each other by saying what the different letters stood for. Such as, “p is for perfect”; “p is for prude”; “s is for silly”;“s is for sarcastic”; “m is for moody” or “m is for money.” Of course, Mike & I knew that m stood for magnificent.

M also stood for movies. All of us loved movies, but I think Mike & I were possibly the most manic about movies.

We didn’t have a lot of money for things like movies and rarely went to theaters, but I remember the spring of 1980 when we went to see the long anticipated sequel to Star Wars. Mike drove us to see it, possibly in his Chevy Impala that he seemed to be constantly working on. Was that the time the Impala broke down in East Peoria, and we all feared we would not see the movie? But Mike got the Impala rolling, and we all tumbled into the theater to see The Empire Strikes Back. The ending came with a foreshadow of the next in the series with Yoda telling Obi Wan “there is another.”

Walking out of the theater to the car, Mike simply said, “It’s Leia. They were talking about Leia.”

It seemed like magic that he knew that. Mike paid attention to detail & the subtle hints that now seem obvious to those of us who have watched the movies a thousand times.

The summer of ‘81, he loaded us up to take us to another movie. I remember complaining that Raiders of the Lost Ark sounded like the most boring movie ever. However, I was blown away as we left the theater. I would eventually learn to trust Mike’s instinct with movies. His recommendations rarely disappointed.

Once he was away to college and bringing home VHS movies for us, a whole world opened up for me. I will be forever a fan of dystopian plots after Mike’s introducing me to Blade Runner, Terminator, and even A Boy and His Dog. I remember sitting in our downstairs room where we had a TV, VCR, and hundreds of movies, watching Terminator for the first time as Mike would gleefully exclaim, “Surely he’s dead now!”

The last time I watched movies with Mike was the Christmas of 2001. I was living alone in Lexington, Kentucky when he called me up out of the blue and invited me to have Christmas with him & his family. I was so grateful for the invitation and drove right up to Ohio where Mike, Heather, and the kids welcomed me into their Christmas.
I brought him some Knob Creek from Kentucky, and Mike took me to a pub and introduced me to the local beer, Great Lakes Brewing Company, by buying me their Christmas Ale.

To this day, I still buy Great Lakes Christmas Ale every Christmas season & drink one in his memory while watching one of the movies he introduced to me. This year it was Terminator, which I finally let my older children watch with me, gleefully waiting for the chance to say, “Surely he is dead now,” never suspecting that my oldest son would beat me to the punch.

Magnificence must run in the family.

ps. i am the one in the picture in a white t-shirt & jeans who looks like a 12 year old boy 

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

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