Yesterday was my brother Gary's birthday.
He died in 1999. We think he was murdered, in New Orleans.
The coroner said he died basically of blunt force trauma to the head. He said it could have been from a fall but he'd never seen a fall that hard. So probably homicide, with robbery as the motive. Never solved. Or really investigated.
When we found out about Gary, he was already on life support. None of us ever got to say goodbye or that we loved him. But we all did, my mom, my sisters and brother, and I.
He was named after Gary Cooper. My dad apparently loved Gary Cooper.
I think about Gary a lot. Sometimes when Brody is in surgery, I imagine Gary and my dad, who died in 1989, in the operating room with Brody, watching over him. And sometimes I can feel them in the room with me, waiting with us.
Anyway, the point of this is not to dwell on Gary's death, but on his life.
Gary saved my life, quite literally. It was the 1970's, and my family had a pinto station wagon. The kind that eventually got recalled. We were all packed into the pinto on the way home from a festival. There was a lot of traffic, and it was bumper to bumper.
I was sleeping in the back of the station wagon, and Gary was in the middle seat.
We got rearended.
Hard enough so that the back hatch popped open, and my little 6 or 7 year old body started careening out the open hatch, into the other car.
Until Gary grabbed me by the collar of my shirt, and prevented me from flying out.
I remember that choking feeling, how strong both forces were, physics pushing me out the back, Gary making me stay in safety.
Gary had to have made that decision in less than a second. If he had hesitated at all . . .
I also remember Gary always wanted me to walk on his back. To crack it. I thought it was very weird, but what the hell - he loved it, so while he would watch those beloved westerns (probably starring his namesake) of his on TV, I'd walk on his back and feel the crunch under my feet.
When I was younger, and lighter, he would lift me upside down and throw me over his shoulder and hang me by my feet. I was terrified and giggling all at once.
Last night, in honor of Gary, I did the same to Brody. Hung him upside down by his legs, then flung him over my shoulder and pretended I was going to drop him. He loved it just as much as I did. I hope Gary was in the room with us.