Ten years is a long time: when you’re 5, it’s the difference between being a kid and being a teenager, when you’re 15, it’s the difference between being a high schooler and being a post-grad, and when you’re 25, it’s the difference between feeling like a kid and becoming an adult.
I had been 15 years old for 15 days when my oldest brother died. That’s 10 years ago today. There’s things I remember about that time and things I learned and things I’m still working through. For one, I’m not special. Hundreds of thousands and maybe millions more have been 15 and have lost their big brother. I did not earn a badge of honor when I lost my brother that day and I do not wear one now having survived these past 10 years. No, I’m not special, but my life is and Andrew’s life was. I was watching the Oscars with my mom when we got a call that Andrew wasn’t doing well: he had a bad case of pneumonia and it wasn’t looking good. He’d lived for ten years twice already, beating the odds of not living at all every day, every hour, every minute of his life. We drove up to Madison that night and sat with him in his hospital room. The next three days were a blur: I remember when family and friends came up to see him and us, and eating salads from the hospital cafeteria, and also the butterfly photo they put outside the hospital rooms of patients who weren’t going to make it. And then he just died. I was at his feet, my parents were by his side and that was it. There’s this crazy idea that when we see someone die our world stops, everything changes, and you’ll never be the same. My world didn’t stop, it kept spinning and spinning and spinning, for 10 years now it’s been spinning, me trying to grab onto something to slow it down. And maybe everything did change, maybe nothing changed, maybe this was exactly the plan the whole time, the plan didn’t change. And I’m not the same as I was that day. I maybe even understand things less than I did ten years ago.
It’s maybe even taken me these full ten years to realize he’s really gone. My life is in these two sections: the first, filled with Christmas Eve trips to see Andrew and watching him turn his head in music class, the second, this stunning reality that I was a kid once and suddenly I wasn’t anymore. Anyone who’s lost someone can tell you it absolutely, positively never gets easier. It just gets different. I don’t spend every second of my life thinking of my brother, nor should I. But I do spend every day catching glimpses of the first section of my life, the one where I said “two” every time someone asked me how many siblings I had, the one where I walked around the house and saw photos of Andrew’s face staring back at me, and the one where my childhood was defined by this other awesome force. I don’t mourn that section of my life, it’s just memories for me now.
I’ve moved across the country twice in these last 10 years, first to Nashville to pursue my dreams of music, to turn Andrew’s head, to bridge the sections of my life. Years later I moved to where I am now, Los Angeles, to turn everyone else’s heads with laughter and light and reality. With me, for these past 10 years has come a blanket. It’s a blanket I made for Andrew. On it is the Green Bay Packers logo, fading every day, but proof of our kinship. In the corner is a sticker that has his name “ANDREW W” and the place he lived his entire life “CENTRAL WISCONSIN CENTER”. Next to his name is the date “12/30/03. Over thirteen years. This blanket got to sit on Andrew’s lap for more than three whole years. And now it’s here next to me, reminding me ten years is a long, long, time. But ten years will become thirteen years and those thirteen will become twenty and it will never stop. It will keep spinning and spinning and spinning. And I’ll have this blanket to hold onto.