Posted on April 14, 2015
As far as I knew, I was born with three siblings. I had a brother, seven years older than me, a sister, five years older, and a twin brother, born twelve minutes before me. I had a mother and a father, and this unit of six was my family.
It stayed that way until late in March 1992, when my parents told us that we had another brother, nine years my senior. My mother gave birth to him at age 16. It was the 1960s, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy was hidden, and closer to the end she was sent away to a convent in Melbourne to have the baby in secret. He was taken from her and adopted by another Catholic family.
When adoption records were unsealed in the early 90s, my mother registered an interest with the relevant authorites in meeting her son. An official letter was sent from those authorities to him, informing him that his birth mother had expressed a desire to contact him. At 26 years of age, my brother was contentedly immersed within own his happy life, which may be the reason why he was willing to go ahead with the meeting *. So it was that first my mother, then the rest of us, met him the day before my 18th birthday.
You hear of many stories like this going wrong, but it wasn’t the case with us. My older brother struck it off with all of us, and us with him.
For exactly nine months, I had four siblings.
Then, at the beginning of 1993, my father, and my brother, Grant drowned.
I have often mourned that, at 18, I had only just reached an age where I could have gotten to know my brother as an adult. In fact, I went to the pubs of Fitzroy and surrounds often with my new older brother in those nine months, but I can only recall two times with Grant.
Looking back, Grant is curiously absent from my recollections of that year.
I remember that his relationship with his girlfriend of seven years had recently broken up, and that he was living in a share-house in Brunswick. He was working at the video shop on Brighton Road in Elwood, while studying his second degree, in Town Planning. He was doing free-lance graphic design work, building his portfolio, and playing indoor netball or basketball.
He often came to our family home in Northcote. He would raid the left-overs from the previous nights dinner, do a load of washing, relax on the couch. His black dog, Bucket always came with him. In late October he went to a Nick Cave concert at The Palace in St Kilda with my cousin, on a ticket earlier earmarked for me, and they ended up having to go to the band’s hotel room to collect the free tickets from Bad Seed Conrad Savage. He wasn’t even a fan, so I was pretty pissed about that one. He gave me a cassette of The Good Son afterward. I had gotten him to play it on his car stereo on the day that he died.
I read my 1992 journal, searching for a trace of him there among my fickle love affairs, my falling the man I would stay with for another seven years, and the excitement of getting to know our new brother. I look for a mention of the pnuemonia that almost killed him in November, but there is nothing, and though I know that he was everywhere in my life, there is just one mention. On the 10th of December, his dog disappeared, presumed drowned at Dights Falls. The line that I wrote says ‘Poor Bucket, poor Grant, who never seems to lose some sadness.’ It hurts to read this, and watch the calendar dates in that journal dwindle toward the second day of the next year, when it would all end for my brother.
He was 25 years old.
You can read about the last day of his life here.
Twenty two years later, I look back and I ponder on what remains.
The answer, in part- is love in abundance, an unhinged Mexican tin trunk full of ownerless memories, artwork and graphics portfolios entombed in protective wood, the family caricatures that he used to draw, a childhood stamp collection, my middle name, chosen by him, and passed onto my daughter, stories told and retold a thousand times over until they are as burnished with love as a child’s story. A black marble tombstone engraved in gold with his name and the dates, between his father and now his grandmother.
The essence of him lives in fragile and unexpected ways. This morning I watched my small, autistic son staring deeply, intently into the depths of Grant’s water colour on the wall.
Love remains, written between the words that I never wrote.
*The paragraph above was edited to reflect a correction in the story of the way that my older brother came into our lives. The original version said that our mother listed her details in the event that he ever came looking for her, and that he did at age 26. The edited version reflects the details of that contact correctly. Apologies to my brother for rendering his story off track, because words matter xx
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