Yesterday was a significant day in my life. Sunday, February 19, 2012, was the day my twin brothers would have turned 14 years old, and it was the first anniversary of their birth to pass after their untimely death in April 2011.
It was a tough day. A day for looking back, a day for looking forward, and a day for shedding tears.
Admittedly, the tears didn’t come quite so easily for me on the twins’ birthday. The situation just seemed too surreal — like a long unwanted dream, swallowing up time as though years were passing over the course of one night’s sleep.
It’s moments like these that I still find myself asking the basic questions:
Why did it happen?
How can this possibly be real?
The only answer that I come to — and I only come to it when I am able — is that the accident is real. Loss has now become a more or less permanent fixture in my life.
A boy in a hooded jacket
The loss has become apparent to me now, as I frequent stores and hubs of social activity and try to go on with my life. I see the twins everywhere.
Sometimes I will see one of them asking an innocent question or prying to learn the answers to the world around them. Sometimes I will see one of them running or skipping, hiding or playing tag. Sometimes I will see them pushing their glasses back up on their nose — round little faces that they had with “Harry Potter” frames — or I will see them smiling up at me.
And sometimes all it takes is a boy in a hooded jacket.
I can only see the back of his coat, but it is patterned in red or blue, and the hood is pulled up over his small youthful head, covering more of him than is necessary. He is holding hands with his mom as he crosses the street or walking casually down a grocery store isle, and suddenly, the boy is one of my brothers.
There, right in front of me, is Thomas or Lawrence.
He has the same boyish gait, or the same childish giggle. He wears the same shoes, that light up in the dark, or he has the same watch, so thick and plastic around his skinny little wrist. He is the same height, or he has the same big feet, with pants rising too far up his ankles as a sign of a healthy growing kid.
It’s just like in the movies, where you (if you’re the main character) see someone that resembles someone you’ve lost, and you want to try to reach them, to call out to them and have them turn around. All you want is one more glimpse of their beautiful face. All you want is to touch them lovingly one more time. But alas, if they turn around, instantly you know it is not them, and all hope of seeing this loved one again is lost.
Just one more time
Don’t get me wrong. I am not hallucinating. Each time I see these young faces and endearing children, I know it is really not Thomas or Lawrence. I know that they are gone. I saw it for my own eyes.
That doesn’t change anything.
I still miss them with all my heart. I miss them with all my soul and every part of who I am. Between loving them as an older sister and learning to care for them in their mother‘s absence when I was just 14 years old, they were like children to me — brothers who could have been nephews or even sons. I was often mistaken as their mother.
What I wouldn’t give to see them just one more time.
The first time I experienced this yearning desire to see them again — reflected in the image of a young child looking back at me — happened in the week they died. I remember it so clearly.
I was in my hometown in the days after the funeral, desperately seeking a latte to ward off fatigue and rejuvenate my exhausted body. But I come from a small rural town, a town that can’t sustain your modern day coffee shop, not even one, and quality coffee seemed to be nowhere in sight.
Finally, I stumbled upon a little start-up that was attempting to fill this void. The coffee shop hadn’t even been in business a week. But as I ordered my coffee with Matt beside me, a little boy started energetically doing circles around another table. He was small, with dark hair, baby cheeks, a tiny voice and pressing questions — about the clouds, or maybe the sun or the earth… I couldn’t know exactly.
To my surprise, I stared at him. I stared long and hard and I had no peripheral awareness of what the boy’s guardians might have made of my stare. I watched his face, his glistening eyes and his soft nose, and I began to tear up involuntarily. Grief had staked its claim on my emotions and any composure I had disappeared into thin air. I wanted so badly to see the twins at that age again, to hold them and circle aimlessly around tables with them, and answer their pressing questions about life.
My sister and I were so incredibly close to the boys.
It’s a love that is difficult to know. It was born of a modest upbringing, in a broken family that was still trying to recover after my parents’ messy divorce. It was born in our adolescence, as two young women — still playing with dolls — tried to learn how to foster fragile human life. As we tried to learn how to hold the baby’s head up, and what to do when one of the boys wouldn’t stop crying.
We spent many of our nights as teenagers in the same role that a new mother might find herself in. And if ever one of us had to take babysitting duty on our own, that meant holding not one young babe in our arms, but two. There was something to be said for our arm strength by the time by the time we graduated from high school.
It was so worth it. Every moment.
One of the great mysteries of children is that they are so wise, without even having experienced the world. They utter the most unbelievable phrases, and there are times when instantly we know what they say is true.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
Perhaps I want to experience this mystery again. Or perhaps I want to look harder to try to find meaning in such deep loss. Whatever the case, I feel really drawn to that new movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
Matt and I nearly went to see it in theaters, but when we watched the trailer for the movie, I broke down in inconsolable tears. All I can clearly remember about the preview is that there was a young boy, searching tirelessly through the city of New York. I believe the movie is about the death of his father, who was killed in the tragedy of 9/11.
At the center of the scene was a key, a key to an unknown lock that the boy was left with after his father’s death. And this little boy was determined to find the meaning behind the key.
So, as irrelevant as the movie may sound, here I am.
Here I am looking for a key, looking for meaning in this terrible time of grief. This time of profound loss. I am looking for meaning and hoping that my family did not die in vain.