My Brother, Michael

Alyson Shelton writes about women across mediums + genres. She’s written about a superpowered and multi-faceted heroine in her comic Reburn, and uncovering childhood secrets in Eve of Understanding, the award winning feature she wrote and directed. In her award winning screenplay, The Night We Met, she tackles a psychological thriller through fractured realities and self-invention. She is working on a memoir in essays and her writing has been published widely at outlets including The New York Times, Ms., The Rumpus and more. Her generalist knowledge and approach make her the perfect fit for her podcast, Fine Cut, in which she and a guest take a deep dive into one scene of the guest’s choosing. You can learn more about her through her website, and her Instagram @byalysonshelton where she hosts a weekly Instagram Live series inspired by George Ella Lyon’s poem, Where I’m From, where she’s hosted over 70 writers and creatives.

I was only 10 when my older brother, Michael, died. Our lives, so far, had not been particularly carefree, not really, our family was a minefield and when I looked into his eyes, to share a smirk or a flinch, I knew I wasn’t the only one living in fear of being blown to bits.

I could sit on his bed, shed my worries for a moment and listen to baseball games and the scratch of his pencil. His deep, baritone laugh.

He could laugh about anything. Together we could laugh about anything.

He never cried about it. There was no space for boys and men to cry.

I did enough crying for all of us. I was much younger, a girl, I could get away with it.

He died in what felt like the most impossible of ways,

Falling from a cliff.

He, the least athletic, decidedly not a hiker. He liked watching, not participating. He adored baseball. He loved running odds. He liked watching two games at once on tiny black and white televisions and listening to another on a portable radio. There’s nothing he loved more than an underdog.

When I heard that he died I…no words really describe the sound, it’s involuntary, out of our control. I fled to the privacy of my room and…let’s call it a howl, I howled, a lone wolf in distress.

When we were “celebrating his life,” in lieu of a funeral, we held hands in his favorite childhood park, scattered his ashes (the only way to get his body across state lines) and shared our favorite memories of him.

I felt shattered by the loss of him, of course, but also sickened, by the way they held memories of him in their hands like gemstones, turning them toward the light to find the most dazzling angles. The most dazzling angles for them.

They made jokes at his expense at their impromptu wake, which was clearly just an excuse to get good and drunk.

I stayed with my cousin that night to break away from my family that looked visibly fractured now with one less member, instead of just feeling that way.

She wanted to sneak out, celebrate her birthday, and go drinking with some boy. She was 14 to my 10. I mustered up the courage to say,

“I don’t feel like it.”

“Ugh, why are you being such a downer?”

She mentions that he’s “Only a half-brother.”

My half brothers, all four of them, are the only brothers I’ve ever known. The distinction of half meant very little to me. They were my brothers. My family. They hurt me, they loved me and they were mine but now the one who loved me best was gone.

No one, other than my mom, seemed to think my grief was worth taking into account.

“He was so much older than you.”

“He was your half brother.”

“He didn’t even live with you anymore.”

“What is it you miss exactly? You have three more brothers.”

As if they were interchangeable, as if they were anything alike.

It’s been decades and yes, memories fade, but the feelings never do. The love I felt for him, I feel it still. And the grief changes, it’s not debilitating anymore and it’s not only sorrow, sometimes I cry from gratitude that he was ever in my life at all, however briefly.

In my head I can conjure his baritone laugh, but I also hear it in the laughter of my son, that I desperately wish he knew.

Outsiders could never have guessed that the quietest of us all. The gentlest. The funniest. My brother, Michael, would leave such a gaping hole behind, but it’s because they never took the time to know him. They never bothered to sit with him, to lean against him, feel him warmth, feel protected by his presence. They allowed themselves to be fooled by his shyness and self-effacement.

It’s a gift to write or say his name, remember him. He mattered. He mattered to me. And the love he showed me when I needed it the most, lives in my bones. He will be with me always.

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