This is one of my favorite photographs. That’s my older brother, taking a leak on my car’s rear tire just outside Angelfire, NM. We’d been close as children — sharing a bed and talking together late at night. But I was a few years younger than he, and when our father left home, my brother took over my primary care. He stopped being my buddy and became my “big brother,” looking out for me, helping me grow up. Then before I knew it, he was grown and had a child of his own. We drifted apart.
Suddenly, his kid was grown and he wanted to reconnect. I was into backpacking then, so we each picked a place we liked, and showed it to the other. He chose the Iron Mountain range in New Mexico. Because he’d been an alcoholic since his teens, I was used to him emptying his bladder pretty much anywhere he felt like it. It was funny at the time. To commemorate the trip, I took a series of pictures of him “marking territory” throughout the journey. I’ve lost the rest, so I only have this one photo as a reminder.
A business rift (between him and an older brother) resulted in him moving several states away. He and I stayed in touch — I’d go visit him and we’d take long motorcycle rides together. But when our father died, something happened. My brother never forgave our father for leaving home and joining another family. At the old man’s funeral, he sat apart from the rest of the grieving loved ones, so I sat with him to offer moral support. After that, he started withdrawing from the rest of us. I heard less and less from him. After I became too sick to travel, he dropped off the radar. My last few letters went unanswered, so I thought it best not to bother him anymore. He was big on holding grudges, so I figured that some imagined slight had caused this problem. I thought if I left it alone, he’d get over it. After all, there’s plenty of time.
It was our sister that told me he’s dying. I would have expected his liver to go first, but, since he’s a lifelong smoker, it was lung cancer that finally did him in. They caught it late, so, baring a miracle, it’s just a matter of weeks now. I find myself at loose ends, not sure what to do or to feel. You see, with all my health issues, I’d always expected to be the next family member to ‘bite the big one.’ Then he’d be sorry he ignored me. This is cheating — it’s so unfair!
He’s sent out word to the family that he doesn’t want to see, or hear from, any of us. I don’t know why. Of course I tried anyway, but got no response. What did we do? How can we fix this? In spite of everything, he’s still my big brother. He’s always been like John Wayne to me — bigger than life. How can he die? Even more important, how can he shut us out of this? His death affects more than just him, although, admittedly, it affects him the most.
And yet…how do you say goodbye to someone who won’t talk to you?