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I think I must have always been a writer. I think it’s something you’re born with. Part of you that is lying in wait. Patiently, quietly, waiting. Eventually, it awakens, stretching it’s arms and looking around, bleary eyed… blinking in confusion before the realization settles in… I am home.

I was in the third grade. Her name was Ms. Abraham. She was the anti-teacher. She was a rebel in a school of proper, southern, cardigan-wearing teachers. She was statuesque in front of the green chalkboard. Gum popping between her red painted lips. She was loud. Brash. She would roll her eyes and tease us while still commanding our respect. I felt more at home in her classroom than in any other. Her unique brand of sarcasm and affection and high expectations were both exhilarating and comforting to my eight year old brain.

She introduced me to writing. Creative writing was a staple in her lesson plans. The rules were simple. Use correct spelling and grammar. Other than that? Write about whatever you want. We would cut pictures out of magazines and use them for inspiration for a story. The lack of rules was confusing at first. The freedom to do whatever we wanted was unsettling. It was perfect.

My writing soul was born in that classroom.

I didn’t keep extensive journals or write a novel on the rainy summer days of my youth. I spent my free time reading, listening to music and running around the neighborhood with my friends. But I was writing, constantly writing in my mind.

I would lay on the floor of my room and daydream for hours while I listened to my favorite albums. I would concoct stories inspired by the songs. I could spend an entire day like that. Lost in my own mind.

I would rest a dog eared book on my stomach after devouring it and replay words and phrases over in my mind. Marveling at the sequences that rolled off the page and became a part of my thoughts, seeds of future inspiration.

I would lay in bed at night, never able to fall asleep at a decent hour. I would stare at the streetlight that filtered through my metal blinds and replay events of the day, editing and re-phrasing conversations, scripting and narrating.

I had scribbled notes and half stories and partially filled notebooks. But most of my writing took place in my head. Permanence was not a concern. It was the exercise that I was seeking, not documentation.

In college I slid between majors looking for my place. I dabbled in Biology and Journalism before finally settling on an English Major. My desire to indulge in classes that involved reading and writing drowning ideas of practicality. I told myself I’d get a job writing after college. I pictured myself working in a busy magazine office, surrounded by people who loved words as much as I did.

What I found was that getting paid to write usually involves paltry freelance fees that wouldn’t support a broke post graduate.

My desire to write became a notion. A luxury that would have to be set aside while I paid the rent and student loan bills and tried to avoid eviction from my apartment.

But it was still there. I was still narrating in my mind. I was still daydreaming and imagining how I would “write” whatever was happening in my life. I would relish road trips. Hours to drive with nothing but music and the wind and my thoughts.

Then life started moving fast. There was no time to actually write. There was work and marriage and then children. I thought less and less about my dreams of writing and focused fully on raising my children. Instead of listening to music for hours, I consumed parenting books and studied learning techniques and tried to create a warm home for my family. I could have made time to write. But for the first time since third grade I had little desire.

That all changed a few years ago.

I was driving by myself, I had the windows down and the music turned up. My music was on shuffle when the song shifted. An abrupt shift in tempo had me reaching to skip the song, but I paused.

Slow streams of music filled the car, begging me to listen. I slipped into a warm bath of words and sounds. I was transported.

I was back in third grade, running through neighbors’ back yards. I was back in my bedroom laying on the floor with my headphones on listening to music. I was back in the woods lounging in a makeshift fort telling stories with my friends, making plans for mischief.

The lyrics broke through the veneer of mom and wife and carpool driver. I listened to poetry playing out in haunting melody, the words swirling through the air like blue smoke, the tendrils finding their way to me. I breathed in the words and felt my eyes burn. Tears started spilling over, trickling down my cheeks. I laughed as I wiped away the tears. I hit repeat and took the long way home, not ready to let the feeling go yet. The song… the words… they stirred me. They opened up a part of me that I had filed away for future use.

My writing soul had been gently nudged awake.

I needed to have words in my life again. I needed to write. I needed to take the voice that had been accompanying me all these years and put it on paper.

I started writing. I wrote chapters that I had been composing in my head for years. I started writing for an audience and terrified myself with the thoughts of eyes reading my words. I started fretting over cliches and phrases and obsessing over what to write about. I felt nauseous the first time I hit Publish.

I still do. I feel nerves and fear and extreme vulnerability every time I publish.

But I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep listening to music that inspires me. Music that is written with pain and passion and longing. Artists that turn phrases that have my head spinning in admiration and envy.

The more I write, the more I find myself returning to what always sustained me. I will lay on the floor after my evening workout with my headphones on, lost in a song. I’ll brush off the thoughts of dishes piled in the sink waiting for me. I’ll take the long way home to feel the wind on my face and absorb the music. I’ll brush off my to do list for a few more moments of nourishment. I sit at my laptop and shuffle through my music until a song plays that has me feeling… something.

Music has always been my compass. It’s guided me through pain, through heartbreak, through grief. It’s been the salve for open wounds and the outlet for seething anger. It’s been the inspiration I was seeking.

It woke me from a long sleep. It reminded me of who I am. Of where I belong.

I am home.

 

 

 

 

“Remember the times that we used to share…  You got to remember the times that we used to share….  But the only way for you to survive is to open your heart, it will guide.”

-Lenny Kravitz, Sittin’ On Top of the World

I didn’t want a younger sibling.  I wasn’t completely opposed to the idea, it just wasn’t something I had wished for.  What I wanted was a puppy.  The day that my mom and step dad announced they were having a baby I knew the dream of a dog had just died. I acted happy, just kind of went through the motions of how I figured I should feel.  It wasn’t that I was unhappy,  more like indifferent.  I found the subject completely boring and all the talk about the baby for nine months (which to a seven year old feels like about 3 years) got really old and boring.

Then he was here.  My little brother.  Todd.  I was expecting to be unimpressed.  I didn’t expect to really care too much about this little thing that had taken over my family before he was even born.  But I was sucked in.  I had never seen anything so adorable.  I immediately felt love and protectiveness and awe.

My life didn’t change much at first.  Aside from having to tiptoe around our house when he was sleeping, I still went about my business.  I still played with my friends every day.  The only thing that was different was that I rushed home from school to see him before going outside.  There was  a different feeling in our house.  There was a light, an excitement.  He made our little blended family a real family.  We all were madly in love with this little person and we all laughed together at his every coo and grimace.

Eventually the baby became a toddler and no less cute.  He continued to charm us all.  But our roles became clear.  My sister was like a second mother to him.  She was 11 when he was born and had always had a maternal side.  I was his sister.  I doted on him briefly, then I would go do my thing.  As my brother got older, it was clear he and my sister had a very special bond.  He adored her and was very attached to her.  And it was clear that I was his sister.  I was the person he would harass when the urge struck.

I was defenseless against his antics.  I couldn’t respond in kind.  I was 8 years older than him and any retaliation would have resulted in swift punishment.  I couldn’t even really complain or tell on him.  The response would be Really?  He’s 8 years younger than you and you’re tattling on him???   I’m not saying he was ever mean to me.  His stuff was just mischievous little brother shenanigans.  But annoying to an older sister for sure.

One year, his best friend brought him a souvenir from a trip to Asia.  It was a Japanese spinning drum, just like the kind used during the final fight scene of Karate Kid 2.  I was about 15 or 16 years old.  Like any typical teenager, sleep was incredibly important to me.  Not at night, night time is fun.  But in the morning.  All week I would look forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning.  My brother was an early riser at that age.  He would get up early on Saturday mornings with my Stepdad and they would watch He-Man cartoons and eat Cocoa Pebbles together.  At some point, when he got bored with cartoons, he would sneak in to my room with his little drum and get as close to my ear as possible and spin it fast.  I would wake to the sound of this hellish toy, jumping out of bed in a startled flurry.  “Todd!!!” I never really yelled anything else.  Just his name.  What else can you yell at a little mischievous twerp who is so good natured at the very moment that he’s pestering you?  He did this off and on for months.   He would scamper out of my room gleefully.  He wasn’t scared of me at all.  And he was super proud of himself for riling me.

Other times he would sneak on to the phone while I was talking to my friends.  I would only realize he was eavesdropping when we would say something that made him laugh.  I would hear his laughter that sounded like light bouncing around the room.  He didn’t even try to muffle it.  “Todd!!!”  I would yell, then apologize to my friend.

When I went off to college our relationship changed.  I was still his sister and he still enjoyed playing his little jokes on me, but this is the time when we became friends.  He missed me.  Or maybe he missed having someone in the house to harass.  Either way, I had transitioned from his annoying older sister to his cool sister who was in college and did all kinds of cool stuff like go to awesome concerts and parties.  He occasionally would call me at school to ask for my advice about girl problems.  The first time he did this I got off the phone and cried.  My little brother was growing up, he was starting to be in to girls.  And he wanted my advice.  I was honored.

We both loved music.  He leaned more towards hip hop and I was definitely more into rock and alternative, but sometimes our musical tastes melded.  He started liking Bob Marley.  I started liking Biggie.  We both loved Lenny Kravitz.  I would make him cd’s when a new Lenny album came out and he made me cool mix cd’s of rap songs I liked. Even though our relationship had matured beyond sibling rivalry, he still didn’t miss an opportunity to tease me or make a joke at my expense.  Except now his humor had evolved and it always had me laughing hysterically.  I couldn’t stay mad at him.  He could annoy me one second and have me laughing in spite of myself the next.

Then Todd got sick.  Real sick.  He had Stage 4 cancer.  It was bad and we were all devastated.  He was only 16.  Somehow he still managed to be funny.  He took his comic antics to the chemo room with him, to the hospital, everywhere.  No one was safe.  His Doctor, who was brilliant and wonderful was also quite serious.  My brother always found a way to break through his facade and get him to laugh. He had a gift for making you fall for whatever prank he dreamed up.  When the nurses would flush out his i.v. lines, he would act like the saline was burning him.  They would fall for it every time, panicking for a second before realizing he was just having fun with them.  A lot of people laugh in the face of pain, but we were all amazed at his way of coping with things.  He actually was having fun, he was finding little moments, little pockets of time, when he could lighten the situation and have a good laugh and look around at a room full of smiling, laughing faces.

He took to prank calling me at work during this time.  He was missing a lot of school for chemo treatments and I would often meet him and my Mom for lunch near the hospital on my lunch break.  But he couldn’t just call me and tell me where to meet them.  He had to take advantage of these moments and be my little annoying brother once again.  He was a master at using different voices and dialects.  He would call me up, claiming to be one of my customers and would make up crazy stories about his pager and what he “accidentally” did to it, or he would be an angry customer getting me all flustered before revealing his identity with his trademark laugh.  A laugh that was pure joy and glee and self satisfaction.  I was barely able to feel happiness during this time.  Yet somehow he laughed and joked and didn’t let the situation get the best of him.  And in the process he helped all of us get through those days.  I know his intention when he would pull these pranks was not to brighten my day, he was doing what he loved doing.  Finding a situation that no one else would think of laughing about and figuring out how to make it funny.  Every time I would hear the laughter over the phone and realize I’d been had, I always said the same thing, “Todd!!”  I still had no other words of recrimination for him.  Even being the butt of his jokes I had to laugh and aside from the early Saturday mornings, I can’t say I every truly minded.

For 18 months life stood still and moved at breakneck speed all at the same time.  We packed a lot in to a year and a half.  Every Thursday Todd and his girlfriend would come over to the apartment where Joe and I lived and we would go out to eat dinner and go see a movie.  We took them to one of my friends’ Halloween parties with a lot of my college friends.  He later told me it was the best night of his life.  We took him to a Lenny Kravitz concert with us.  We spent a lot of quality time together for those last 18 months.  That time was a gift that I will cherish more than anything the material world could ever have to offer.  I got time with my little brother.  Time to bond as adults.  Time for him to really get to know my husband before we got married.  Time to laugh.  It was by far the most difficult time in my life, yet the most precious.  In spite of the gripping fear I felt every day that I would lose my brother…  in spite of waking up every morning for 18 months and being hit with the realization that it all wasn’t some bad dream…  in spite of everything, I wouldn’t trade those 18 months for anything.  And through those last months, he gave me the greatest gift.  He was still my little mischievous brother.  He still played his pranks, he still made me laugh.  He still annoyed the hell out of me.  I still said my exasperated “Todd!!”  multiple times a week.  He always said he didn’t have time for cancer.  By that, he meant that he wasn’t going to let cancer stop him from living and having fun.  But he also showed me that cancer wasn’t going to change our relationship.  Yes, it evolved, as it would have if he hadn’t gotten sick.  But he still was the little boy, catching me off guard, pulling off his jokes and making me laugh even when I wanted to get mad.

Even now, I revert back to those times.  Sometimes when my husband has teased me or pulled off a prank at my expense.  Or when one of my kids does something mischievous and funny at the same time.  I catch myself blurting out my little brother’s name in mixed joy and frustration.  Those moments, I know they happen out of a conditioned response to certain behaviors, but I also think it’s my brother’s way of telling me to lighten up a little.  There’s always a reason to laugh, always a reason to smile.  And it reminds me of what he and I shared.  Yes, it was sibling rivalry.  But out of sibling rivalry comes the best friendships.  And when I look back on my memories of him, the ones that come to my mind the most- the ones that make me smile- are the ones where he was being my little brother.  Those times when he irritated me and exhausted me and frustrated me, those are the times I cherish the most.  Those memories are the ones I share with my children so they will know who their Uncle Todd was.  Those memories are the ones that I reach for when I’m missing him most.  Those antics that helped me laugh through 18 months of pain and fear, and those are the memories that help me now.  After 14 years I still get caught off guard and overwhelmed with the pain of missing my little brother.  But I always think about those times.  Inevitably they have me shaking my head and smiling… laughing through my tears.

remember-the-time-blog-hop

Once again I have the joy of participating in the “Remember the Time” blog hop.  The subject this week was “Sibling Rivalry”.  I’m so grateful to the hilarious and talented writers of The Waiting and Are You Finished Yet for creating this and allowing me to participate!