One thing I love about September is it's sunflower season. Here in Salt Lake they grow along sidewalks and off-ramps, taller than I am - plus much more cheerful - and waving at passersby to brighten their days. My brother Tom loved sunflowers; he planted them up and down our lane and late summer always looked like him. Those sunflowers started to fade with waning years, a little like my memories, and soon the last one was stamped out by our new neighbor, a tiny in stature, medium in width man with rapidly diminishing follicles and a truck much too large for his height, because he "didn't want it to scratch the side of his RV". This hurt me deeply, and many a time I have resisted sprinkling the entire length of the lane with sunflower seeds in the night like a thief.
The sunflowers along the lane are really a metaphor. Tom would have turned 38 today. I'm not using the passive voice by accident. He died too young at 24. And like the fading sunflower crop on Jackman Lane, I fear my memories of him are fading as well. I've recently acquired a song by one Taylor Swift, entitled "Ronan", written in memory of a 4 year-old boy who died from cancer. The song was inspired by the blog of the boy's mother. As Tom's birthday approached, I found myself hitting repeat on this song a lot, because it made me think of my brother. I think I want to write the rest to him.
I try not to wonder what it would be like if you hadn't died with Andy on that highway in the desert. It won't change anything, won't erase the last 14 years of the void in my heart. It won't bring you back. And I find myself not thinking about you as much as I feel I ought to. Certain things churn up memories... Everclear, the mention of Sega or Sonic the Hedgehog... every time I go to test prep in the Warnock Engineering Building on campus... I know that buidling was after your time there, but I want to seek out the chemical engineering department and find out what I need to do to get you an honorary degree. There were 12 people in your class, you were one semester away, it seems logical.
After 14 birthdays of you not being around I still expect to have pumpkin pie on September 22nd. And Mom still makes it, though Max has taken on the role of loving everything pumpkin. I made some pumpkin chocolate chip cookies a few weeks ago and felt remiss about not having your recipe. Those were the best, huge, densely fluffy cookies I ever ate. And while mine are good, they're not yours. I miss being in the kitchen with you while you made them, one of two things you actually could bake. I find it funny that I miss that, because when I bake or cook, or even clean the kitchen, I prefer solitude and an iPod to company. Perhaps that's me taking after you - sans depression rock - when it comes to personality quirks.
I remember when I was 15, just before my sixteenth birthday and just before a trip to New York for UEA, I stepped too close to the edge of a stair and slid - boom boom boom boom - down the last four to the floor. I probably fractured my tailbone because it was so painful I just sat there on the floor for some minutes. It was 2 am, your light was on, and out of your room you came, as I sat there stunned by the pain. You asked if I was okay and in my sweet sixteen haughtiness I nodded. And sat there. Just sat. So you came over, and sat with me, until I was ready to get up, then helped me to my room and put me back in bed. What's most amazing about this is the sound level of music in your room. You couldn't have heard me fall.
One thing I always admired about you was your determination to go your own way. You were a man of science and had a difficulty with faith; you chose to leave the faith of our fathers behind. That was the first time I understood that good people don't come exclusively from religion. I think there was genuine shock when you chose Utah, especially coming from a BYU football season ticket holding family. I followed your memory to Utah, for reasons that had nothing to do with yours, but partly because I wanted to honor you with my degree from the same school. Maybe it seems trivial, or pointless, but when I walked onto the floor of the Huntsman Center at commencement - an event you probably would have shunned - the tears welling in my eyes were not only for me.
Sadness makes me feel silly. Crying is absolutely the worst. If I have to do it at all I prefer no one see or know about it. But I've been sad lately, because I've been missing you so severely. I know I miss you all the time; it's just become noticeably conscious as of late.
I'm making 20 centerpieces for a gala at work tonight. I thought about ordering a bunch of sunflowers to leave at the cemetery. Then I realized you'd hate that I spent money on something like that, so instead a used mason jar that once housed tomato soup made with tomatoes from the garden will be anchored with a rock from the yard, and a bunch of wild sunflowers will fill it. It will be placed on the bench, or maybe to the side of your name, completely devoid of any cost but nostalgia. So happy birthday to you, my oldest brother. I miss you. I love you.