My brother was a hunter. When he turned seventeen, camouflage began to show up in our house and he began waking earlier than the sun to go sit in blinds on the edges of fields--waiting for geese to fly overhead. We argued about it, even then--when I was just a ten-year-old girl, I had strong ideas and couldn't fathom that this brother who rarely so much as raised his voice had enough darkness in him that he wanted to shoot birds out of the sky. It was a jarring paradox to me--the kindhearted hunter. One time, just before Thanksgiving, he killed two geese and brought them home, dropping his muddy boots beside the front door. I was so upset that I didn't offer my congratulations like the rest of the family did...I stormed out front and sat on the porch, crying, the cold dusk closing in. A little while after, he came outside--sat on the bench beside me and said,
"So, what's up?"
"Nothing," I muttered.
He just sat there, the moment silent but for the voices of the family inside and the last leaves skittering down the pavement with the wind kicking up.
I blurted, "I just don't understand why you have to kill innocent creatures. It's so mean. You don't even care."
He was quiet, waiting for me to continue. I sat there and caught my breath instead.
"I do care," he said, "I say thank you when I get a goose--I am not doing it just for sport, I will eat it. It's going on the Thanksgiving table."
He laughed gently, "Yes way...Mom already said she'd cook it up with turkey." He paused, "See? You'll eat turkey--how come you're not angry at the farmer who raised it?"
I felt the contradiction--he had me there and I knew it, but all I could say was, "The farmer isn't you."
"I'm sorry you're upset," he elbowed me, "Come inside--it's getting cold."
Then he went back into the house and I sat for several minutes thinking of what I'd said...it was also true--I was upset because it was him--my brother. I just couldn't understand.
By the time he was gone, we'd had countless discussions about hunting, nature, and connectedness. I still didn't agree with it, but I had a deeper awareness about what compelled him to sit for hours in the blue-black cold, watching puffs of his breath rise and the stars dissolve into dawn. He hardly ever brought geese home with him--but, I understood later that this wasn't really what my brother was out to capture anyway. It was the stillness. He died in a September four days before his twentieth birthday and for weeks and months afterward, geese trailed through the sky in their perfect V-formations--making me cry and cry. Every single year since, I hear their jagged calls and watch them overhead and think of my brother and remember.
In my writing, my brother is often alive again--with a pen and paper, my memories of him flare up in real time. He is able to speak, to have muddy boots, to comfort me. I tried a little while ago to put an anthology together to honor him--to honor anyone who has lost a sibling and wanted to share their essay with me. A small publisher had expressed interest and stories began trickling in...something was happening. But, reading the essays--as lovely as they were--re-opened old wounds for me. I was ill for many months and with my physical strength depleted and my emotional strength taut, I shelved the project completely...indefinitely. Until very recently, when I felt that urge again to make sense of this loss in my life and what it has meant to me in a more public way. My sorrow is a very private thing--but I know so many others out there have experienced this loss--which is always considered secondary to that of the parents "who've lost their child" or spouses and children "who've lost lovers or parents". In my experience, it has always been a very rare person who acknowledges the full impact of what losing my brother did to my identity...I know I am not the only one.
So, when I sat at my computer on Friday and added a page to my website about my re-launched anthology project--my heart was pounding with possibility. I believe in the value of this work and I now have two years of editorial experience. I want to be an outlet for other sibling's stories--writing them out is such a powerful act of ownership and remembrance. I sat poised to publish the page online and I heard something outside. It had been ninety-five degrees with oppressive humidity...the heart of the summer pulsing in its parched rhythm, driving us to air-conditioned sanctuary. Impossible to hear what I thought I did. But then, it came again--the broken calls of geese in flight. I pushed my chair back and waited--my words about loss glowing on the screen before me. When it rose again, I leapt up and ran out there--not a day for fall, but winds had picked up in the sunset and great swaths of clouds rolled by, driving off the heat. I scanned the sky--empty--I knew it would be, I was just imagining the weeks-too-early sounds of migration. I stood for a moment and then they crossed, just overhead--dozens and dozens of them. More than I'd ever seen in one group...not in an orderly V-formation, but a misshapen cluster. I watched them fly by so low I could see their downy underbellies and hear the steady thumping of their wings. Their chorus of voices answered me and I felt tears rise at this uncanny coincidence...I felt blessed. Their call and response was a gift to me. I know now that I will do all that I can to get this project off the ground...