Today, had he lived, my brother would have been 57. It’s hard to imagine that, hard to wrap my brain around the fact that it’s been 28 years since we celebrated his 29th birthday, his last-ever birthday, on a Jazz Fest Friday just like this one in 1988.
It’s one of the last happy memories I have of Scott, who was then fresh out of yet another stint in rehab and, though of course we didn’t know it then, only had about a month left to live. I was 7 and giddy at getting to skip school and spend the day with my dad and my brother, two of my favorite people. We spent the day drinking strawberry lemonade and getting sunburned and dancing. Well, no, I didn’t dance. Even now, I don’t do much dancing unless I’ve been drinking something stronger than strawberry lemonade, and then what I do is better termed “moving erratically while music plays” rather than “dancing.” And as a kid, even at Jazz Fest, even on a gorgeous sunny day, I typically just wanted to be left alone to read. But Scott and my dad kept teasing me, urging me to dance, pulling me up and away from my book and moving my arms around to make me dance while I scowled (though I secretly loved the attention).
My dad and I have had some good Jazz Fest memories since then – at some point in the late ‘90s, we watched James Taylor in the rain, arms around each other and my aunt and uncle, all of us born in North Carolina, and sang off-key and swayed to “Carolina in My Mind” completely soaked to the skin. We danced to Paul Simon with a bunch of my college friends on spring break in 2001. We took Ruby and fed her mango freezes and watched her go crazy for the Imagination Movers in 2009.
(We also have the bad Jazz Fest memory of the time he was … overserved and forgot me at the Fairgrounds when I was 9 years old, but we’re not discussing that one.)
My dad is 78 now and no longer has any interest in Jazz Fest. “All these years, and I’ve finally figured out the lifestyle that suits me best,” he told me dramatically the other night. “My perfect life is as a recluse. And I’m sorry it took me five wives to figure this out, but I’m just not suited for matrimony."
I am 35 now and, at this stage in my life, no longer have any interest in Jazz Fest. I love my husband and kids beyond measure, but there are days when I have to admit a certain appeal in becoming a recluse (usually around the time I am hearing “Mom Mom Mom Mom MOM” for the 1,075th time that hour).
I still hold that Jazz Fest Friday, April 29, 1988, in my head as a sort of golden childhood memory, though – a very clear “before” in my life before and after my brother died.
“Wishing is fun, but don’t expect it to change anything,” I tell my kids every time they throw pennies into a fountain or wish on a star. “Don’t wish for it; work for it.”
But there are some things that you can’t just work for. Some things are out of your control, and even though I know all the wishes in the world won’t change a damn thing, the ache is still there – there are so many impossible things I wish for anyway, against all reason.
I wish Scott could have seen me grow up. I wish he could have met my kids. Even though I have no idea what kind of parent he would have been, I sometimes wish he could have had his own kids. I wish I had known him when we were both adults. I wish we could be marking his birthday with a celebration, with his favorite chocolate mousse, instead of a somber lunch with my dad where we both drink too much wine and get all maudlin thinking of what will never be.
I wish we could have had more Jazz Fests together.