is that you need him.
A couple of weeks after my brother’s boating accident last year, I walked on campus through crowds of students, reading an essay for class. I was about to turn the page when behind all the the breathing and the footsteps of the passersby I heard a faint siren from an ambulance truck in one of the distant neighborhoods.
If I hadn’t been reading of death (coincidentally I was reading about a dying moth), thinking of death, remembering death, perhaps I would have never heard the siren, I don’t know. I don’t know if those around me heard it either. Some of them were reading too or talking on the phone or parking their bikes. (All of us miles from the sound, from the almost dead.)
I remember thinking about this stranger in the ambulance truck, perhaps alone with the paramedics and their still water faces, their hearts beating five times as hard as the victim’s, the blood in their veins pumping harder and harder to compensate for the 8 out of 12 units lost.
He may have lived, the stranger in the siren truck, I don’t know (I don’t know if he was a he). But for a moment—the hesitation between one step and the next—I thought of this stranger fighting to beat if not with the rest of us, to beat at all. I thought of this quiet siren (an anthem for the still living) behind all the walking feet and the breathing of the unawares on their way to their classes, where they would scribble notes and whisper to their neighbors, perhaps rolling their eyes at the professor and clicking their pens out of boredom. And for another moment, I feared the quickness between life and death, hope and change (the kind that hurts forever).
The siren faded behind brick buildings and cement hills.
I waited a little. I turned the page.
I thought, A siren between the turning of a page.
I thought, between the time it takes to turn a page; My brother was on top of the lake swimming toward the Maryland shore where his young wife was watching and waiting, the sun ricocheting off her blond hair. Then my brother was under a motorboat, his right leg and abdomen entangled in a propeller because the boaters did not see him.
A moment and my brother wouldn’t have lived. “In God’s hands now,” is what the paramedics said of my own brother. In God’s own hands was the fluttering of my brother’s human heart and all of us who loved him–we waited behind all the busy sounds to hear what God would tell us.
I’ve never written about those weeks after my brother’s accident until now. I’ve never told my brother everything that went through my mind during those weeks when he was in a hospital on the other side of the country and I was in a new apartment with a new husband of only seven days, afraid of growing up on my own and of single moments when everything could change. After all, my brother is alive now, perhaps more than ever, and healthy and turning 25 today (though he will always live with the scars and perhaps the metal rod in his leg).
I still don’t know how to write what I felt then, other than, all over those days, I kept thinking about how all my life my older brother has loved me and something about having my older brother is that I need him, whether or not he lives, Please, God, I need him because he has always been.
There are a billion things I love about my brother that I could have told him about before he was ever in a hospital. But when it came down to it, in the moments when I could talk to him while he was lying in his hospital bed, the reasons why didn’t matter anymore, only that I did and that no moment could change a love that has no reasons.
I learned while he was away, when I wasn’t sure if he would come back, is that I love him because he is, because he has always been and would always be and that there is such a thing as love that has no beginning or end.