Sunday, 11 December 2011

My brother

My brother would have been fifty-nine yesterday.  He died many years ago now and I am ashamed to say that months will go by when I don't think of him at all.  We were not close for much of our lives.  In fact we did not see each other for years.  He was in the army - in the catering corps - and stationed in Germany for some of that time, but it was more that we seemed to have nothing but our surname in common.  I arranged to meet him at Waterloo Station one time, to go and see our other brother, and I walked past him twice.

If you have not experienced it yourself it is very hard to explain what it is like to outlive an older brother - and he was six years older than me.  When I reached the age that he was when he died - forty-four - it felt wrong.  And I can never see him old.  I cannot imagine him as fifty-nine.

He had survived a heart and kidney transplant and was progressing well when he fell victim to an infection.  This was his second heart transplant.  The new kidney was down to the fact that the existing one would never have coped with another round of the drugs involved.  I saw him the morning after and marvelled, as I had at the first one, at how well he looked.  The new heart seemed to refresh every cell in the body making it look ten years younger.  It was a welcome distraction to the huge scar creeping up his chest.

This was his second heart transplant because the first would have failed in the donor had they lived long enough.  It was just one of those things.  My brother did not get many breaks in life, although to be fair, much of that was down to his own recklessness.  He was wild when he was young.  Just the mention of his name was enough to protect me on the estate where we lived.

He died very shortly after my son was born.  It was a cruel confluence.  I drove to the hospital with one of those brick-sized mobile phones we had in the 90s fearing that my wife would go into labour while I was gone.  It seems like only moments later in my memory that I see my mother holding my baby son against her black dress and I am driving my parents through relentless rain to my brother's funeral.

My memories of my brother are almost all conversations.  We would go to the pub if we were home (he from the army, me from college) at the same time and then, over the years, we seem to have had a series of long conversations, too many of them in a hospital of one sort or another.  For some reason, although I was younger than he was, he would open up to me.  I think he trusted me.  His life was always full of drama - mostly tragedy.  I'm not sure he ever really knew what he wanted from life.

One time we met up just the two of us and went for a meal in Soho in London.  He was really taken by the little pasta place I took him to.  It was the kind of place he would have liked to run, he said.  Maybe there is a parallel universe somewhere where that dream came true.  I hope so.

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