Phantom Brother

It’s my brother’s birthday today.

It’s also the day he died.

Or, I guess more accurately, the day he was delivered stillborn, not breathing. He was gone already and we still don’t know why.

He would have been twenty-one today.

I was five years old; I don’t really remember the events, and for a while there was no sense of loss, not really, not in the way you’d expect. I didn’t lose a brother because it felt like I had never really gotten to have him. My parents, my mom especially, were harder hit. I can’t imagine how they must have felt, to expect to take a baby home and to instead find themselves planning a funeral while also raising the other two kids they already had and trying to explain to them why there wouldn’t be a baby brother or sister coming home.

For a long time on this day, I thought about it mostly in terms of the impact it had on my family. My parents had another baby the following year, but losing my brother still contributed to damaging their marriage past the point of repair, and in 1999 they split for good. My mom is now remarried and has three more kids, but I know she still thinks of the baby she lost. My dad… well, my dad and I don’t really talk about it. Everything else, but not that, even though the baby was named for his own father.

The older I’ve gotten, though, the more I’ve wondered. Would he have been short? Tall? Stocky, like Mom’s side, or lankier, like Dad’s? Would he have had reddish-blonde hair like mine, or brown hair like Colin? Blonde, like Aidan? Blue eyes like Aidan and I? Hazel, maybe, like Dad’s? Curly hair, like Mom? What kind of person would he have been—would he have been quiet and serious? Outgoing and boisterous? Would he be in school right now, studying a field he’s passionate about, or would he, like Colin, be working instead? Maybe he’d be single, figuring out what he wants from life or from a partner, or waiting to meet someone who mattered. Maybe he’d be with somebody—who they were wouldn’t have mattered to any of us as long as he was happy. He himself could have been whoever he wanted to be, no matter what that meant. As long as it made him happy, we’d have been happy too. Would he have had a small, tightly knit group of friends, or would he have been friends with everybody he met for more than five minutes? Would he have had a dog, like Colin and I do? Maybe he’d have preferred cats. Or birds. Or no pets.

Would we have gotten along? I’d like to think so.

Today is just a weird day. It’s not like the days my grandmothers died, where I can look back and remember people who had long lives of their own and were part of my life too. He never got that chance—to be part of our lives or to have his own. So instead of a birthday it’s a quiet, vaguely sad day of wondering what might have been.

Kevin—happy birthday, little brother. (I call Aidan that, but you’re still little to me, even if he’s younger than you.) I wish we could have known you.



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