Catching myself wondering what kinda life this would be if Liz had died. Though there were long periods where we weren’t soundly in the same city, long periods when we were out of communication, long periods during which the slightest thought of her rescued me from quiet despair, I’ve never once considered her not being out there somewhere. A touching point, a lodestone. My taliswoman. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have had someone to look out for all these years. So I can only imagine what it’s been like for Wendy. To lose her younger brother. Marcus. Without hope of ever seeing his eyes sparkle again.
She’s intimated how trying it’s been. How long it took for her to stop going into his room with his name on her lips. Expecting to see him lying on his bed throwing a tennis ball at the stars on his ceiling. How she still has raw moments of wanting to pinch herself. Hoping sunlight might banish the shadows in the corners of whatever room and reveal his hiding place. How she anticipates he will inhabit her dreams for the rest of her life.
This morning I woke to her laughing in her sleep. The look on her face was pure delight. “You’re sposta follow your hands, goofball,” she chortled. “Not leap like a tiger.” She continued to laugh. I watched her face lose its lines of laughter. Soften into a lopsided grin. Then seamlessly assume the smooth contours of that placid mask she wears in deep sleep. She woke a few minutes later. Squinting, stretching, trying to clutch the warmth in the sheets.
Over coffee she told me she hasn’t gone swimming since before Marcus died. Just seeing a pool reminds her of him. She cradled her coffee cup, eyes dancing after a cloud of memories. Looking toward the windows she went on to explain that swimming was Marcus’ thing. He learned at the lake where her grandparents had a cottage. An example of his determined character. Anything he couldn’t do well he’d try to teach himself to do better. And he wasn’t a very good swimmer. Sloppy. All splashes. As a child he was scared of water. Didn’t even like taking baths. Hysterical tantrums every night. Eventually the fear passed. Mom’s encouragement, dad’s patience. Pools and lakes became his favorite places.
She smiled. I poured her another coffee. She brought her gaze in from the window. “The lake was his playground. There was a boardwalk pier. Where we tied up the boats. Marcus loved it out there. Especially the jumping in. Could do it for hours on end. Cannonballs, belly-flops, and anything feet first. But he was a terrible diver. For the longest time he just couldn’t get the physics right. Instead of diving he’d leap off the ledge and let his body fall flat into the water. We teased him like mad, me and the other lake kids. But he paid us no mind. Just kept on flopping in. Long after the rest of us retired to towels.”
A boy jumping into water. The image has been with me all day. Along with memories of Liz as a kid. The costumes she got herself into, the messes she left behind, the constant need to defeat any prospect of boredom, the protests she staged in the backyard every time a new nanny was brought on board. Her dread of heights and being too far away from me, her undeniable cuteness, her warmth to strangers, her limitless creativity, her obsession with using her hands to paint. The epitome of child. How she cried when dad went away on his trips, and clung to him for days when he returned; how she acted happiest when mom wasn’t around, and endlessly sulked when she was. A family hastily defined. Not dysfunctional. Just the way it functioned.
Retiring to towels.