The last day I saw him, it was such a non-event. In hindsight, why didn’t I make it a big deal, throw out the welcome mat, plan something fun to do, follow it up with a great meal? I was in my late 20’s, he was in his teens. That was the last day I saw my brother Ryan.
Same dad, different mom. Ryan and his other brother Jeb were mostly raised in Annapolis with their mom. I grew up seeing them during weekend trips to our dad’s over on the eastern shore. Me, the only girl, with all my brothers: Ryan, Jeb, and my “full” brother Damon. We grew up learning how to catch crabs in the bay; tolerate a sunburn–as a result of our anti-sunscreen dad; duck waves at the ocean; launch water balloons off of roofs and second story windows; and cultivate a taste for takeout pizza from my dad’s favorite bar in St. Michaels.
From the time Ryan was 4 he would repeatedly ask us, in his baby-talk to “pay” baseball. I can see him slamming every whiffle ball that came near him with his yellow plastic bat.
Ryan was easy-going, happy, impossibly cute–with his blonde curls. He was not a worrier, not a conflict maker.
Back to my late twenties. My other brother Jeb had been staying with us for a few months before moving up to NYC to transition to a new college. After spending months hanging out with Jeb, chatting, eating a good meal, sipping wine… he invited Ryan to come over one Saturday.
I thought, great – it’ll be good to see him. And I saw him. I chatted maybe a little, and then he and Jeb, looking for some way to entertain themselves, were off and about. I think Jeb ended up showing him around Alexandria a bit or took him into DC – it’s a little fuzzy now.
Fast forward a few years. We moved to California, moved back, I became a mom and we had twin infant boys. By now I was 33.
I got the news he died in a car accident on April 14th, 2004. He was only 21.
At the funeral, after many of us had cried our eyes out, his mom, Connie, told us not to feel awful. She had a feeling Ryan was up there saying to everybody – “No worries. Look at me, I’m surfing the clouds.”
So, for me, that’s how I picture him, having a good time up in the clouds. But I do wonder, what it would have been like to know him now, as an adult?
I recently went to Jeb’s wedding. I know Jeb felt his absence–that missing piece of him. Jeb’s wife had also lost a sibling, her only sibling: a sister. Apparently they bonded over this shared loss on their first date.
Sometimes the things that shape a person aren’t what’s in their lives, it’s what’s absent from their lives.
We still love you Ryan.