Diarists end up over the years creating their own personal book of days. I’m always aware of this on my birthday, for example. It’s not so much the fact that I think of the day as any great occurrence (he said, modestly), but because I keep a daily journal I could tell you with some certainty where I was and how I was doing on September 24 for the last 30 years or so.
Other days have their own resonance, and one of the most significant days in my life, March 2, just went by. As always, I found myself reflecting on the events of that day back in 1968 as I have in journals around the country for decades, now.
This is what I wrote in my little blue Clairfountaine journal in Caffe Beano on Friday:
In my life, in the mythology of my family (of which there are few of us left for whom any of this really matters anymore, anyway) today is the anniversary of my brother Gary’s death. It was in 1968. He was 16. I was 11. It was an event that would alter my life and shape my personality more than any other in the 55 years or so I’ve been dragging my bones across the face of the earth. Nothing else, good or bad, even comes close.
For 30 years now or so on this day I have dutifully written about my brother, the tragedy of his death, the devastating effect it had on my parents and family, the way it skewed my entry into adolescence, the immediate repercussions and the ongoing lingering colourations of who I am and how I am.
It’s hard to believe that I am now the parent of a child who at 19 is now 3 years older than my brother ever got to be. My rudimentary math tells me he would have been 60 now. When I think of him, which truthfully isn’t all that often anymore, I think of that 16 year old boy and how he was the day he died. I remember him listening repeatedly to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the old stereo in our dining room and smoking a million cigarettes with his friends. I always think of him as being older than me. Not as an older man, but as a boy. Despite my advanced age, I still think of that boy as being my elder, superior in every way to me.
That being the case, it would seem that I still must maintain within me something of that 11 year old boy who woke up one morning in the late winter, eager to play a game of basketball with his team, only to have his world rocked. When I woke up, my mother called me and asked me to come into her room. She was still in bed. She had been crying. I was about to have the rug yanked out from under me in a dramatic and decisive way . . .
As I say, that’s just one of probably 30 such entries I have made on that particular day of the year, March 2. Last year’s was much grimmer, and written in poetry. Here’s just a fragment:
funeral, etc/the sudden too much attention/ paid to a shy 11 year old boy/I didn’t want it didn’t welcome it/family crumbling/ undirected/unfocused/undisciplined/music refuge/literature refuge/this journal/some drugs some sex/I liked having sex I think . . .
You get the idea. It’s too hard emotionally to think of going through my big suitcase of journals and find more examples. But I think the point is made.
And so this day serves as a constant in my life and in my journals. It demands a summing up of where I am now, how I’m doing, how I’ve dealt with an event that happened so long ago. Still dealing with it at some level, I suppose. Even more than my birthday, it is a day for me to take stock and once again, and yet again, to try to define myself as a man.
Dylan Thomas said, “After the first death, there is no other,” and I have to agree with him. (“A Refusal to Mourn” is the name of the poem, it’s a good one.) I think my dad died sometime in March but I am not aware of the date. My mom died sometime in the late fall, but I’m not even sure of the month, I think it was October. Much as I loved them, I’m hardly sentimental about such anniversaries.
Ah, but that one death, on that one day, will continue to haunt me forever.
Thanks for reading . . .