April 11th is a loaded day for me…. It is the anniversary of my ex father-in-laws passing, it is the birthday of my ex-husband, AND it is my brother’s birthday… He would have been 45 years old today… We lost him on July 14th, 1999. Whew… isn’t that something? All of those ‘anniversaries’ on the same day? As the years have gone by anxiety over today has lessened…. I used to want to remove April from the calendar all together… Now I stop to acknowledge the day and then move forward… One thing is for sure though, I still miss my brother more than words can begin to express….
There was over 9 years difference between me and my Big brother… I was his “baby sister” through and through… He was my protector, my safe place to fall – and although at times we didn’t see eye to eye because of our age difference, I always knew that my brother loved me… Looking back, I don’t know how he put up with me at times… I was his shadow, and always wanted to be a part of whatever he was doing… If he went out into the street to play hockey with his friends, I wanted to play hockey too… If he was in his bedroom listening to music, I would sit outside his door trying to listen also…. I am sure when he was 15 and wanting his own independence the last thing he wanted was his 6 year-old sister tagging along… The age difference seemed HUGE then… but as we got we got older, we became a lot closer…. I think he always knew I looked up to him, but it went from being his burden to being his honor as we got older.
One of my favorite “birthday” memories I have of Dave is when I took him to see Phantom of the Opera for his 28th Birthday. Keep in mind my big bro was a man’s man… he was burly, and gruff on the outside to anyone who didn’t know him – but truly he had one of the softest hearts there could ever be. My Mom had arranged for us to get tickets when the Phantom production made its way through our city… I couldn’t have been more excited! I spent the whole afternoon getting ready, making sure my make-up and hair was perfect… wearing my new high-heel patent leather pumps (don’t tease, it was the 90’s! LOL!), making dinner reservations for after the play… It meant so much to me to be going on a ‘date’ with the guy I had looked up to all my life…
The first half of the play was SENSATIONAL… and I remember the absolute feeling of awe as if it were only yesterday…. We sat in the first balcony of the theatre, and if I close my eyes I can still feel the heat from the Chandelier that hung above us. I remember the scent of the artificial fog that was blown onto the stage…. And I recall the cologne my brother was wearing, and the feeling of his silk shirt against my arm…I think I spent just as much time looking at my brother’s face and searching for a reaction as I did watching the play….
At intermission, my brother bought me a glass of champagne… It is funny the small details that you remember…. I felt SO grown-up… I felt as if for the first time in my life I was actually my brother’s contemporary…. I had gone from being that bratty little sister to being a woman in my brother’s eyes… or at least that is how it felt to me. As I tried to play it cool, holding my champagne flute just so – and taking small sips as the bubbles tickled my nose, I felt a visceral change… It felt as if the cacoon had finally broken open, and a butterfly emerged… I went from being “sister” to “friend”, from being a little girl who never felt she measured up, to being a woman my brother respected.
The last half of the play was even more amazing than the first… and as the curtain closed my brother was the first one in the whole auditorium on his feet. If you knew Dave, you’d know that this was out of character for him. I rose out of my chair to join him in the standing ovation, and then noticed that my brother had tears rolling down his cheeks…. and I started to cry too…. We both wiped away our tears before the house lights came on, as if they never fell. But I know the truth.
We went for dinner at The Keg afterwards, and he was HUGELY EMBARRASSED when the waiters came over to sing him Happy Birthday! He faked being REALLY irritated that I had made those arrangements beforehand, but secretly I think he appreciated the effort. We laughed and talked about many things, and HE didn’t want the night to come to an end. I thought he would drop me off at my apartment right after dinner, but instead he asked if I wanted to go for a drink… GLADLY I said yes, and we made our way to a pub. We ended the night with a long personal conversation about where I was at in my life at that point, and the potential he saw in me. When we finally said goodnight, he gave me a big bear hug and said “I love you Joey”, and drove away…
I didn’t know then that I would only get to see 6 more of his birthdays… each of them were celebrated, but NONE of them ever compared to that night… It is something that I will never forget. Dave never stopped being the “big brother”, but after that day we began a beautiful friendship with one another.
We lost Dave just weeks before my wedding…. And so many things have happened in my life since then… He never got to see me walk down the aisle, he never got to meet my son… My Dad’s battle with cancer, the loss of my health, the end of my marriage… all of these things he has missed…. And I have often wondered what he would have thought about all of that… I wonder if he would be proud of the way our family has dealt with the hand life has given us…. I wonder what role he would have played in all of it.
But the one thing that I know for sure is that he loved me… and it was my honor to be loved by him.
Mostly I remember him with a smile in my heart when I look back at all the memories. There are times still that I cry, but I am not scared of those tears anymore… it is also my honor to shed those tears for him, because he is worth every one of them…
Dave was my protector, my big brother, and also my friend. Today I stop to remember, and to celebrate the life that ultimately changed my own.
Happy Birthday Dave! I love you.