HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL
“Get Out!” my six year old brother at the time screamed at me. I was ten and in his room taunting him like any bored older sister would be doing. I can’t remember the weather, the circumstance or why he was trying to boot me and why I would not be booted. I just remember him yelling at me to get out of his room, reasonable in hindsight as he surely was entitled to his privacy. I was his older sister, though and I had to save face, after all, who is the boss here? I dug in and wouldn’t budge. This was around 1976 when to tell time, you actually had a clock by the side of your bed rather than a cell phone. And a small orange and white circular plastic clock was what came flying at me slamming into my face. Right below my upper lip causing the bottom long part of the stand to make a connection with my skin causing a nice diagonal slice.
I can still see his face, somewhat disbelieving he had done this coupled with total satisfaction that he would indeed have the last word at last. That was until I bolted downstairs to report to my unsuspecting father of his crime, bloody face to prove it. I am not sure what became of my brother’s punishment for this, but I am sure my father was upset by this. This is how it often went with my brother and I imagine many siblings have stories that fall into the theme of protagonist and antagonist between the stages of their lives. My brother though was usually the one who got into trouble, but at the same time, I was a fierce protector of him in the outside world. He was my little brother and I loved him until the day he died which unfortunately was almost twenty three years ago, one month to the day of his 25th birthday. Today would have been his forty eighth year and the age difference is not as great, but this is something I will never know. I remember like it was yesterday having the conversation with him about death because it was at the time where we knew he would not be getting out alive. He was obsessed with videoing his every waking move with those old big cantankerous video recorders that held a full size tape. I was interviewing him Oprah style, tripod and all. We were both baked, smoking pot out of some gigantic water bong, better for the lungs, he would say and I was asking him questions.
“Are you afraid of dying?” I asked him this so matter of factly like I was asking him to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up milk and eggs. It was a courageous question for a 29 year old sister to be asking her 24 year old soon to die of advanced lung cancer baby brother. He never smoked a day in his life other than marijuana once he was diagnosed to help the pain. Before medical marijuana became legal.
He paused, took a long bubbly hit off the water bong, held his breath to feel the soothing effects of the THC that would be a saving grace for him. As he released the smoke he said, “The one good thing about dying young is that people will always remember you at this age.” Always had a funny twist to his words, usually looked at the bright side, old soul for sure, my brother Michael was. I know these words almost verbatim because I videoed him and have the videos to refresh my memory anytime there is a chance I could possibly forget. Unless I got dementia this conversation is not something I will ever forget. No one gets out alive, but burying the love of my life when he hadn’t even started his was one of those moments in time that will never leave my memory.
My brother knew the idiosyncrasies of our inside lives as only a sibling can understand. When he died, so did my personal collaborator of the mom and dad stories that only he would be able to recall. I can see us in my fantasy world of sitting around the dinner table at my fantasy relationship with our mother recalling all of our childhood adventures that she never likely knew about, that mothers shouldn’t know about until this very time. Of course even if our mother would have known, she couldn’t have because we lived with my father for most of our adolescence, my brother when he was ten, me when I was fifteen. But that is for another story, this story is to celebrate his memory on what would have been his forty eighth year today.
He was the first white boy most of us knew to have dreadlocks, back in 1985 in Portsmouth, RI back when white boys didn’t have dreadlocks. He also had a tattoo of a wizard smoking out of a bong that covered almost the entire right side of his very muscular and long back that made my grandparents in Florida demand full t shirt coverage when he visited. Michael was charming, handsome, kind. He had a sense of humor and a pragmatism about him that made him a desired friend to have around. He also lived on the edge, taking way more risks that I surely did at his young age, diving naked off of Fort Wetherhill cliffs with his friends, tossing fireworks back and forth causing my father to have to take him to the hospital for a burn that could have been much worse, BMX racing and stunts, skateboarding all over Jamestown when he was little. There was always an air of mischief around him and he seldom got caught doing anything unless it was something with his older sister so she could blame him. He loved peaches and cottage cheese as a snack and white cake with chocolate frosting and frozen chocolate chip cookies just like I did. He loved Reggae music and Seal and Lenny Kravitz. Michael Andrew Horowitz was an amazing human being and since November 20, 1995, i have never had a day go by when I haven’t thought of him.
As my own son comes into his 21st year, I try to stay calm for the next few years as I watch him climb his early twenties praying that he sails through 23–25 unscathed, undiagnosed. I am fully aware that everything is out of my control, that worrying about this is not helpful, but no matter how much I breathe, write, meditate, it looms. Trauma is like this, scars heal, but they show up like a tattoo. Every time I look in the mirror, that scar from that clock under my lip is a tattoo my brother gave me and I smile every single time I look at it. I will never know what would have become of my brother and my relationship if he had the chance to age right alongside me, but I do know that the time we had is etched into my heart and my face until the day I die.