Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • This fine, modernistic yet poignant piece of art was apparently done by me in the second grade .One of many fragments of memories we find in starting the process of sorting out Mom's possessions, I have no recall of making this, but it is undeniably my image of our family:

    I have a father, a mother, two sisters, and a brother

    Yet "and a brother" is crossed out and the period move inward.

    And now starts a wave of emotion that has been compressed firmly below the emotional substrate, the story of David, my brother I never knew.

    David was my parent's first born, but something, never explained, went very wrong at birth, and he was severely mentally retarded. Something about not getting enough oxygen, but the mid 1950s were those days where films shows us was in black and white, doctors smoked in the hallways, and held information "in the interests of their patients".

    The doctors tried to convince my Mom that taking care of this child would be too much to handle, that David should be institutionalized, but she refused.

    Once again, my parents, married just three years, skimping by on a meager living, and this is what they face with the birth of their first child.

    I may never fully appreciate the strength and will of my Mom to do this, to override "medical" expertise. It was her son.

    So my parents did all they could to make David happy; the old silent 8mm movies show him over and over again rocking in this chair, wearing a smile the size of Pennsylvania.

    My two older sisters came along, the family grew, and ten years later, by the time I was born, my parents were overloaded with taking care of David and now 3 others... and then they made that hard decision to put David in a state hospital.

    Rosewood it was called.

    Once more, I can only begin to understand the strength they had to have to make this choice, the opposite of the birth one, but at this time, perhaps the reasonable one.

    I recall a little bit driving out to visit David at Rosewood. It was dark and smelled of urine and antiseptic and maybe 100 other aromas. I did not really understand it all, but just the thought of that place creeps me out. Yet David still lit up when we came; I was told he was at a mental age of 2, unable to feed himself. He should have been a young adult at that time, acing his university exams, driving a sports car, teaching me how to fish.

    But I had no brother like that.

    And I remembered picking up this (wrong) logic, that it was my being born that forced my parents to send David to Rosewood, that it was my fault. It makes no sense, but these things get burned into your psyche as a kid. The simmer there long enough to pass themselves off as a semi-truth.

    And I always had an extra kick in the gut when kids would tease each other by calling each other "retarded".

    The trips to see David grew farther and farther apart (ones I remember, I like to be positive my parents went more often). Sometimes I had these day dreams that I would grow up, become a doctor, and find a "cure" for my older brother.

    And then we pretty much stopped going at all, or at least I cannot remember going to Rosewood.

    In the Spring of 1987, I was working my last months at a job I did not care about, and preparing head west for graduate school in a few months. We got a call that David had passed away from pneumonia.

    He was 34. Middle aged.

    The funeral was small, surreal, and David was buried in the cemetery where my parents had their plots pre-purchased It was strange, because I could not summon up emotion for this brother I did not know... I felt more of a gap. Had he been "normal" I'd me missing the man who taught me all about baseball, fishing, girls, etc, or at least thats the way big brothers seemed on TV.

    In 1987 I could not reach a feeling for my brother beyond not knowing this person I was related to.

    So I moved to Arizona, planted my life here. It may have been another 8, 10 years before I finally sorted out my connection with my brother, and realized I was still carrying this nonsensible child guilt.

    At the time my parents were selling their house in Baltimore to retire to Florida, I made a trip back, and asked them to go to the cemetery with me-- and there I read out loud a letter I had written for my brother, to finally express what I could not when we passed away.

    Enough tears ran to start a new river in East Baltimore.

    But I made my peace.

    It was ten years ago that I should have crossed out "a father" and now I am in Florida, doing these things to cross out "a mother".

    All that remains on my caption is me and my two sisters.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.