I am trying to think back to my very first memory of my brother, Chris. I remember him teaching me how to blow a bubble with grape Hubba Bubba. I remember him riding his bike without training wheels. And I remember him telling off our neighbor.
My brothers and I went over to play at the house a few doors down. They had kids around our ages, Brian and a girl whose name I can’t recall. I don’t remember what happened, but something upset their mother. She was livid, and I took that opportunity to tell her I lost my first tooth. I was just so proud that I was oblivious to anyone else’s emotions. I interrupted her mid-rant with the news.
“WELL, WHOOP DE DO!” She shouted before storming into the next room. We quickly left, and I was in tears as we made the short walk home.
A couple of hours later, Brian came to our house and tried to get in on a game we were playing. Chris would not let him.
“Your mom treated Kathy like dirt. And now, we’re going to treat you like dirt.” Ok, a bit unfair, but that’s the world of six year olds. All I knew, was that my brother had my back. He always did. And now he is gone.
I got the call from my mom this morning. I saw her name pop up on the screen of my phone, and prepared myself to hear that my grandmother, who has inoperable cancer, had passed. It felt like a horrible soap opera twist when she instead uttered the words “Chris is dead.”
It’s unfathomable. He was forty two. All day long, pictures of him are flooding Facebook. I keep seeing his face and I doesn’t seem real that I am never going to see him again.
Over the last two years, I made several trips back to CO to have my tattoo redone- a gift from my brother. The real gift, was getting to spend time with him because on those trips I would laugh until my stomach hurt. That was always the best getaway for me- seeing my brothers, drinking some beer, and just laughing until I might explode.
Sometimes he exasperated me. I remember going to a show with him, and he got so drunk, he started pulling down his pants and rubbing his bare butt on people’s laps. Maybe I’m not supposed to tell those kinds of stories now, but that’s who he was. His personality was so crazy and enormous, you just had no idea what he would do next. He was the guy who was going to take a boring night and turn it into a story.
On the surface, his life seems to have been a lot of funny stories like that. But he was still the guy who would always protect his little sister. When I ended an eight year relationship, I found myself crying in his kitchen one night, wondering where my life would go. I will never forget what he told me.
“You are a beautiful, intriguing person.” (It was the intriguing that got me. I don’t think anyone has ever called me intriguing outside of that moment.) “Of course you are going to find someone better and fall in love and be much better off.”
When I did find that person, and I got engaged, I was excited and nervous to tell my brother. He was in the middle of a separation, and I worried that my engagement would be salt in the wounds. But he was so happy for me. He stopped the party and told everyone “These two are engaged! Congratulations!”
He had two loves of his life, and I was lucky enough to share in both with him- music and his daughter.
Chris was always into music. He and I would call the radio stations over and over to request our favorite songs. We would speak in these horrible fake accents so that the DJ wouldn’t know it was the same two kids calling over and over (I think he may have guessed). Chris would request Hall and Oates. I would request Blondie. Just days before he passed, he was still talking about Hall and Oates.
He got his first Muppets drum set around fourth grade. That led to a snare drum, and a full drum kit. As teenagers, he and I would commute forty minutes to our summer jobs (we lived in a small rural town and had to travel to the city for work.) On the drives, we would sing along to hair metal bands, including my then favorite, Nelson.
Nelson was our first concert. I cashed out a savings bond to buy track shoes and Nelson tickets. We sat, or stood rather, in the second to last row and had the best time of our lives. From that moment on, he was hooked. We started going to every concert we could, including local shows. I tried to date the musicians. He tried to get in the band.
My brother is a legend on the Colorado Springs music scene. He has played in bands for more than twenty years, recorded countless albums, and won multiple awards. He was the “sound guy” at all the clubs. He has seen and played with hundreds of bands.
I was there for his first show. He wore my jeans, and I did his makeup, ha. I should have known the hair metal wouldn’t last. When I was trying to impress a real metalhead in high school, I asked Chris what bands I should tell him I listened to. He said to tell him I loved Pantera Cowboys from Hell, and that “Holy Wars” was the best track off of Megadeth’s Rust in Peace.
As much as he loved music, the real love of his life was his daughter, Allie Kat. Her middle name is Kathleen, after her maternal grandmother and me. His naming her that changed my life. First, I realized I could change my name from Kathy (a title I never really enjoyed) to Kat, the cool, hip girl I thought myself to be. But her birth and that name brought me back to my family.
In my twenties, I was not particularly close to my family. When Chris named his daughter after me, I felt a responsibility to be in her life. I didn’t want to be a distant aunt she had never heard of. I wanted her to know she could always count on me. I hate that promise may have come to pass now that he is gone.
I remember little Allie Kat as a baby. God, he just loved hanging out with her. We were watching her toddle along the room one day, learning to walk. Chris said “You’ve got to get one of these.” I said no, no. I didn’t think I was made for having kids. But he knew. He knew it would bring me joy I couldn’t have imagined. I have Chris and Allie Kat to thank for becoming a mom.
The last time I saw Chris, we drove to the town we grew up in, Calhan, and hiked around the Paint Mines. It was one of those full circle days. On the drive, he pointed out these three crumbling buildings. He would always joke that he was going to buy those houses and move in. Depending on where he was in his life, the occupants of the three houses would vary. One would be for me, one for him, and one for guests. Then one for him, one for his wife, and one for his daughter. On the last trip, it was one for him, one for his brother Casey, and one for Allie.
We went by our old high school and rang the victory bell. It was so loud, I had to cover my ears. Al Bundy-style, he told Allie and I about the time he scored four touchdowns in a single game.
We wandered the Paint Mines, talking about old times. The funniest part was that neither of us had seen the Paint Mines in the daylight until we were adults. That was our party spot in high school. We were both dazzled by how beautiful it was. Chris was so content. He had his daughter, his sister, his dog, and lots of old memories. We went to my sister’s and enjoyed a simple lunch, drank tea and lemonade and went home.
Thinking about him today, I wonder how we are going to get on without him. I know everyone says things like this in times of grief, but really, how do we do it? He is the heart of my family. The guy who makes everyone laugh. The guy who brings us together. I can’t imagine a family gathering without him. To travel to Colorado and not see him- it just feels wrong. There is a giant hole in my family, in my heart, in my being, and I don’t think it will ever feel right again.
The outpouring of love I have felt today is incredible. It is amazing to see how my brother touched so many lives. But please, don’t forget about us. We need you to lift us up today, but we are going to need you long after. Keep us in your hearts, lift us up because I don’t even know how to recover from this.