“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”
― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay
That is the main reason I haven’t written for many months. The grief that follows a sudden loss is a darkness that seeps through a person like a drop of ink in a glass of water. Purposefully. Yet in slow motion. Like fog on a September afternoon in one of Lebanon’s mountain villages. It comes in soft waves, much like the pain that follows losing a loved one. My loved one was a someone I spent my life loving, adoring, protecting, being the butt of his jokes, the target of his constant teasing…my baby brother.
As beautiful a soul as I have ever known. Very much an eternal baby. Prone to laughing at anything and everything. Smiling even in his pain. A light seemed to shine from his face that even his rare haters were compelled to smile when they saw the mischievous grin on his green eyes that echoed his lips in spreading joy wherever he went.
A professional practical joker, I used to call him. He elevated making fun of any situation to an art. I remember his friends were afraid to leave their phones unattended anywhere near him during the early Nokia days. The first thing he would do was to masterfully change their phone’s language to a choice of Chinese, Turkish, Korean, Amharic, etc…forever seen chuckling when his jokes were eventually discovered and his friends started begging him to change the phone back to a language they could understand.
His laughter was contagious like an out of control epidemic. No one was immune to it.
I remember when he was born. We were living in Byblos, I was the oldest child, I hadn’t turned eight yet when they brought him home from the hospital in a yellow baby carrier. I still remember my curiosity as my younger sister and I ran to the front door to see the brand new creature that was being ushered into our lives. He was shiny. That is the first thought I had when I saw him, a beautiful baby boy, his hair had blond fuzz and he moved his tiny head to watch us with his flaming green eyes. It was love and devotion at first sight. He was the jolliest of babies. He was mostly peaceful and a good eater. Yet he was accident prone and had his ample share of misfortune. He was pushed off a low-lying window by my older brother and dislocated his shoulder at age 3, he was pushed by the same older brother into a vipers’ nest and had his whole face and upper body bitten viciously and landed in the hospital at age 5. He broke his arm, also falling while playing with the older brother on a ladder. I know you are thinking that there’s a pattern here, but I blame it on the way boys play. Our George never lost his sense of humor no matter how in pain he was or what misfortune had befallen him.
I was in Dubai seeing his wife off at the airport when I last laid eyes on him. He and his wife and two young children were moving back to Lebanon and he promised that he would meet me at the movies to see ‘Interstellar’ in 4D. I bought the tickets. He was delayed and never showed up. I never saw him again. At least not alive.
I got the call one fateful morning in December-a week before Christmas. I was woken by the phone. It was my other brother. “George had an accident.”
“Be quiet! Which hospital is he in? Who’s operating on him? Where did it happen?”
“You don’t understand. His car went under a truck. He’s gone.”
Not a word.
Not a breath.
“Hello, hello… ”
I dropped the screaming phone on the bed and froze.
Everything after that was a mix of slow motion, then fast forward, then numbness, then a sense of doom firmly Velcro-ed around my chest. A tightening corset of anguish. A lot has happened since then. Some good, many bad, and lately very bad.
Almost 16 months later, I am finally able to write. I wanted to write as he liked how I wrote. He always called me wherever I was to ask me about a letter he was drafting, I would be in Geneva and he would be in Houston and out of the blue, the voice on the other line would say that he’s calling from the Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, or whatever his practical joking self invented, I would be fooled for a few minutes, then we would laugh, and then he’d ask me to help him write something. We had a very special relationship of big sister that blindly accommodates the wishes of her little brother, her being the one who will protect him at all cost, forgiving any and all mistakes. And practical jokes, of course.
What is strange is this feeling I often have that he is there. Somewhere. I can feel his soul and it fills me with peace. I sometimes talk to him silently, feeling that he will be listening, not judging, smiling. Whenever I am in pain, and for a while now I have been, I seek him out and I wordlessly tell him what’s aching me. He is there. Always there. Like a phantom limb. He is the amputated part of me that was viciously severed from my life never to be replaced. No prosthetic will be needed nor requested. He is irreplaceable. No one is George. The dull pain of grief is always there in the deep folds of my mind. It comes slyly lapping at my heart like gentle waves on our beach in the North of Lebanon where I taught him how to swim. Pain never really stops for long, but it gets easier as time goes by. It gets easier every time I see his family and I know I will be devoted to them for as long as I live. They are him, and he is them.
The rough time I have been having lately has reminded me so much of him and my loss and has persistently compelled me to finally face my screen and write my long-neglected blogpost. It had to be about my George. It just had to.
A tough and excruciating torment we humans have to endure with that one fact of life.