January 27, 2009

Looking Back...

As I change into my bathing suit – a new Roxy lavender two-piece with turquoise sequins lining the edges – I can’t help but think about how different my life has turned out. Just four years ago, my family was pretty conventional. I was ten years old, living with both my parents, Bonnie and Mark Malone, here in Ft. Myers, Florida.

It sometimes got crowded in our shoebox-sized house, but all in all it fit our family fine because my older brother Billy, a 25-year-old financial adviser, lived with his new wife Gretchen and their newborn son Andrew across the country in Milford, Connecticut.

But then Billy died in a car accident on his way to his New York City office. The details are fuzzy in my memory – as if someone has covered them with a blanket – but I know that a garbage truck ran a red light and smashed into four cars, one of them Billy’s. It became a huge news story in Connecticut, and there was a big criminal trial against the company that owned the truck. That’s when my mom began to read all the Connecticut newspapers – to feel close to the story, and to help make sense of it all.

After the accident, my mom and dad became very distant from each other – and from me. Dad, who had been a lawyer for almost 30 years, began to spend more time hiking and kayaking and less time at the office. Mom, who wrote children's books, kept missing her deadlines, until she finally stopped writing completely. And that’s when Dad decided to get an apartment of his own.

I felt a little lost – and honestly, a little mad at Billy. And guilty for feeling mad. I loved my brother, and I was devastated when he died. But Billy had been more like a distant uncle than an older brother to me. He was 15 when I was born, and he moved to Massachusetts to go to Harvard University when I was only three. I saw him on some holidays, and on my birthdays he would always send me really fancy gold jewelry that I would never wear, but other than that, Billy was a stranger.

I used to think that when I was old enough for Billy to finally stop treating me like a kid, we would be best friends. Like real brothers and sisters. Billy would help teach me how to drive, or give my first boyfriend the third degree on the front porch, or call me just to talk. But now that was impossible. And if I felt like an only child before, I really was just "only" now.

The high-pitched sound of my cell phone ringing snaps me back into reality.

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