Shine a light

Tom with fire.jpg My brother and his trusty Bic lighter.

The boy in the photo above is my brother Tom.  My mother named him Thomas, but we all called him Tommy.  At seventeen he dubbed himself Tomas (pronounced toe-mas, accent on the second syllable).  He took to wearing sunglasses and being quietly mysterious.  It was the first of many personas he would try on for size while looking for how he fit in the world.

It wasn’t easy for him, figuring it out.  He had a handicap from the start: Youngest of seven; born colicky, and needing a lot of soothing in a busy, boisterous family. He was often lost in the fray.

At two he fell through the heating vent in the bedroom floor, bumped accidentally by another brother as they jumped on my parents’ bed.  He landed in the dining room below, barely missing the table. Astonishingly, other than scaring the hell out of us, and knocking the wind out of himself, he was fine.

When he was three, I dumped scalding hot food on him.  Also an accident.  A pressure cooker containing what was meant to be our dinner exploded when I tried to lift the lid.  Tommy was standing by my side.  I was blown backwards, while lava-hot meat and potatoes shot straight up from the pot and rained down on his back.  I can’t remember how long he was in the hospital, but I do remember feeding him ice cream there.  The scars never went away.

After that he managed to make it through the rest of his childhood and adolescence with only the usual bumps and scrapes.  But he was always kind of quiet and a little aloof.  He liked to climb trees where he would sit for hours looking out at the world.  I asked him a few times what he thought about up there, but he wouldn’t tell me.  I think he was dreaming what life could be.

Tommy lived with me three times in my life, beginning when he was Tomas at seventeen.  I lived in Colorado then.  He wanted to finish his last year in high school somewhere other than where he was born.  We joined the local Y and worked out together, ran around the indoor track together, then went for donuts afterwards.  He wore his sunglasses and skipped classes and shared falafel with the homeless guys who hung out in the park.  At the end of the year he went back to my mother.

The next time he came to live with me I had just moved to Rhode Island.  He slept in my basement and got a job as a cook in a nursing home within walking distance of my apartment.  Eventually he met someone, and moved in with her.  He got a job at Electric Boat and learned how to weld the seams of atomic submarines.  In his down time he helped my husband and I build our house.

He had a baby with the woman he lived with, a boy who looked a lot like him.  He took photos and put them in an album where he wrote things like from father to son and, a man with song and dance not to mention poise across the pages. Then the woman took the baby out of state and had Tom sign a paper relinquishing his paternal rights.  He signed it because “it was what she wanted”, but it broke his heart to do so.  He never saw his son again.

He tried to fill the hole by being a fabulous uncle to his nephews.  He took them for walks and held their hands and watched cartoons with them.  He listened to their dreams and understood.

The last time Tom lived with me his life had begun to unravel.  By then he’d been diagnosed with a disease that would increasingly stiffen his spine and cause him pain.  A few days after he moved in with us, he simply stopped going to work.  He was tired of smacking his head on the insides of the submarines he was welding.

When I turned 35 Tom told me that I was old, being just 5 years from 40, as though 40 was near to the end of it all.  He must have believed that, since he took himself out of the equation at 33.  I’ve written about that choice in a more oblique form elsewhere on this blog.

Today is Tommy’s birthday.  By his thinking he would be old.  To the rest of my siblings–Amy, Kathy, Jaime, S.K.–and myself, he is still and will always be the youngest, the most fragile of us all who, nevertheless, keeps us buoyed and connected to one another by the memory of his life.

Happy Birthday, little brother.  Tonight the light in my window shines for you.

Uncle Tommy with my the Boy, taken two weeks before he left us on our own. Uncle Tommy with my Boy, taken two weeks before he died.

While my heart gently sings

The Boy is home.  Which is, in itself, a joyous event, but he is also playing the piano in the den.  The sun is bright, near-white from the frigid air outside, but slanting through the window it brings in only warmth that spills across the room. The music rides the sun’s coattails and radiates through the entire house.

What more could one wish for in life than this?

The boy plays, my heart sings. . . .

The Boy plays, and my heart sings. . . .

We are all contributing to the meal today.  My husband is doing the mashed potatoes because no one mashes potatoes like him.  The Boy is giving us his version of mac-n-cheese.  I’m doing the roast and the vegetables.  I’ve made brownies for dessert, extra dark and extra fudgey.   It’s all about easy-peasy today.  And togetherness.

There are no pilgrim hats or cornucopias overflowing with fruit on our table.  I didn’t make a pie.  We are a small group, the three of us, and we are not big eaters.  This year we’re shooting for something more intangible than mountains of food.  Something to fill our spirits rather than our bellies (though our bellies will do well enough). The cherry on the top of our day will be when we settle in to our comfy living room later and listen while the Boy reads aloud the last 50 or so pages of Fahrenheit 451 because I haven’t managed to finish reading it yet, and it’s time.  It is most definitely time.

Oh, that we were all wealthy in love and good will.  That everyone could be kind.  For the wonderful people I am blessed to love and care about (and there are a LOT of you out there) I wish you all that and more.  I wish you peace and gratitude wherever you may be.  Here’s to filling your souls to overflowing.

Because it’s time.

A clear blue sky

Oh, September . . . you are a hard month.

I hadn’t intended to do a post on 9/11 today.  Though, the fact of the day was on my mind as soon as I woke.  I acknowledged the sadness tied to the date and then checked my email.  There was one from my brother concerning festive plans for the weekend and I engaged myself in thoughts of a happier nature.

Later, while drinking coffee and glancing at the news on the internet, I thought of it again.  I looked at photos of the various commemorations, read some of the comments and anecdotes from people who were there or experienced a near miss.  Their words and the images filled the space I had meant for other things.

I am floored by the enormity of our collective grief. Almost everyone, it seems, knows someone who was directly impacted by that day.

My husband’s cousin and his wife both worked on Wall street.  She worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the north tower of the World Trade Center, while he was in a building across the street.  The sky was clear and blue on the morning of September 11, 2001, and because it was their first wedding anniversary, they decided to take the day off.

A guy I knew growing up in tiny-town northern New York was voted Most Likely to Succeed when he graduated from high school.  He was a sweet, smart guy with unassuming charm.  Years later his son succeeded in snagging a dream job on Wall Street.  Ironically, also at Cantor Fitzgerald in the north tower.  His name was Shannon Lewis Adams, and he did not have an anniversary to prod him into skipping work that day.

I’ve been in New York City many times in the last twelve years.  But I could not bring myself to make the trip to that painful place in lower Manhattan until last November.  I was stunned by how different it looked.  The makeshift walls surrounding the site, the construction still going on.  I think that it will be beautiful one day.  On that afternoon, though, it felt desolate.  My ears ached from the cold wind that was blowing, but I found what I was looking for.  

I have nothing wise or special to offer up today.  Just a tugging in my heart and a name. The name of a boy I didn’t even know, who was probably sweet and smart and unassuming like his dad.

That is all.

shannon adams