The Picture We Never Took

Last Friday was apparently National Sibling Day.  I didn’t know that was a thing until I saw the plethora of pictures pop up on Facebook and Instagram.  Hallmark used to be the inventor of fun but meaningless holidays.  Now it’s social media.

But maybe it shouldn’t be a meaningless day.  We have holidays to recognize mothers and fathers – why not brothers and sisters? They are, after all, our first friends and our first loves.  It is from our siblings that we learn to share – the affection of our parents, the space in the backseat of a car, the last piece of cake.  From them we learn how to fight fairly and how to forgive. We learn how to keep a secret and how to communicate without uttering a word.  We know each other’s greatest sins and biggest dreams. We have seen each other at our best and at our worst and we love each other anyway.

As I started to flip through old pictures, I found the cute ones of us from childhood.  The awful ones of braces, bad haircuts, and terrible fashion trends that captured the awkwardness of adolescence.  The silly ones of our family vacations.  The sweet ones dancing at each other’s weddings.  The happy ones of us at football or basketball games in Charlottesville.

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I love them all.  But as I looked at them, I couldn’t help but see all the pictures we never took.  The true bond between siblings is forged in the moments that no camera can capture. The times when we held each other’s hands and wallowed in the pain and loneliness of a condition that makes us different from everyone else.  The afternoons spent in the backseat of the car driving down the back roads of North Carolina while my dad introduced us to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.   The night that he talked me through the biggest heartbreak of my life.  The afternoon he called to tell me he bought an engagement ring.

My brother knows all of me in a way that no one else will.  He was there in the beginning and he will be there in the end.  When all is said and done, ours will be the longest relationship of my life.

And that’s when I knew the picture I was looking for.

It is a picture of us on the stone terrace of my aunt and uncle’s house, just hours after our dad had died, looking up at the stars and holding hands.  We lay there together in the dark, tangled up in the ghosts of all of our memories.  With every exhale, we saw them drift higher into the sky, rising like a crescendo until they collided with the ghosts of all the memories we would never get a chance to make.

We waited – I don’t know whether it was two minutes or two hours – until they came crashing back down on us. And when they did, when I could feel the weight of them upon my chest, I also felt his hand squeeze mine.

There is actual no photograph of that night.  There was no camera to capture the moment. It exists only in my mind’s eye.  But if it did exist, that is the picture I would have chosen. Because it was the moment we both grew up. Side by side.