Twenty-six years ago tonight — Jan. 7, 1984 — my older brother died at age 17 from asthma complications. I think the end came for him at 8:20 p.m., though I could be mistaken.
That day a trend began where I would befriend people a few years older than me. A couple of them would become best friends and die prematurely themselves. It was also the day that sparked a lifelong fear of loss.
Before you read further, you should know that this post will have a positive ending. So have no fear. But this story is an important part of my battle with OCD, so here we go:
It’s been so long since Michael was with us that it’s sometimes hard to remember the exact features of his face. But here’s what I do remember:
We fought a lot. One New Year’s Eve about 30 years ago, when the family was out at a restaurant, he said something to piss me off and I picked up the fork beside me and chucked it at him. Various family members have insisted over the years that it was a steak knife, but I’m pretty sure it was a fork. Another time we were in the back of my father’s van and he said something to raise my hackles. I flipped him the middle finger. He reached for the finger and promptly snapped the bone.
We were also both sick much of the time. He had his asthma attacks, which frequently got so bad he would be hospitalized. I had my Chron’s Disease and was often hospitalized myself. It must have been terrible for our parents. I know it was, but had to become a parent myself before I could truly appreciate what they went through.
He lifted weights at a gym down the street from our house that was torn down years ago to make way for new developments. If not for the asthma, he would have been in perfect shape. He certainly had the muscles.
He was going to be a plumber. That’s what he went to school for, anyway. During one of his hospital stays, he got pissed at one of the nurses. He somehow got a hold of some of his plumbing tools and switched the pipes in the bathroom sink so hot water would come out when you selected the cold.
He was always there for a family member in trouble. If I was being bullied, he often came to the rescue.
I miss him, and find it strange that he was just a kid himself when he died. He seemed so much older to me at the time. To a 13-year-old, he was older and wiser.
He was close to a kid who lived two doors down from us named Sean Marley. After he died, I quickly latched on to Sean. We became best friends. In a way, he became a new older brother. Sean died in 1996 and the depression he suffered has been one of the cattle prods — next to my own fight with mental illness — for this blog.
A year after Sean died, I found another, much older brother named Peter Sugarman. He died in 2004 after choking on food. His death sent me over the cliff with the OCD firing in every direction. That was the year I realized I needed help and started to get it.
I was lucky to have known these guys. They certainly helped shape the person I am today. I am forever thankful for that, because I have a life that’s Blessed far beyond what I probably deserve. I would not have reached this point without their lessons and love. Even in death, they each taught me to see the things that truly matter.