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  • My brother David was born January 20, 1953; yesterday he would have been 60.

    There should have been a big party, or a tropical trip, or some adventure like parachute jumping. But he passed away in 1987, not in a place known for parties, having spent his last 24 years on this earth at Rosewood State Mental Hospital.


    The name fills me with darkness.

    All I recall from visits to Rosewood were dark halls, distant cries, and that institutional smell of disinfectant not quite masking other odors beyond by recognition.

    Mom always said that David’s mental age might have been two, he could not talk, feed himself. He could not walk without some assistance.

    He could not teach me how to fish, how to drive, how to catch a baseball, nor fill me in on what women were about.

    I really did not know him. He went to Rosewood when I was born.

    I have but these fragments of a life, of a brother who was a sibling, but a life seemingly not.

    I have his rocking chair and my own fragmented view of his life.

    When we cleaned out Mom’s house last year, I took a few more fragments, a book given to new parents where they are supposed to chart the development of their child from birth to near adulthood.

    The book has been sitting in m semi-official David dresser drawer, yesterday on his birthday was the first time I opened it and flipped through it.

    There’s my parents, black and white photos scotch taped to the page, themselves young parents, just three years married, Dad maybe 27 at the time with his Ricky Ricardo like slicked hair, Mom, smiling in a bathing suit only 24.

    They were kids.

    There’s my grandparents and David's grandparents, photos with those semi circle borders. Both of my grandfathers were gone before I was born, a maternal grandmother I can barely remember beyond a thick Lithuanian accent I may not have understood. My fathers mother, Janet, I liked to teasingly call “Granny”, who adored me. She outlived her husband by more than 50 years, outlived six brothers and sisters, outlived both of her children, and her grandson.

    In the first pages of the book, there’s my mother’s handwriting, in very short fragment,s describing what must have been a horrible nightmare as a first time mother. I can only guess what their experience was like.

    According to the log here, David was born January 20, 1953 at 7:02 am at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. Samuel Rubin was the doctor and Dorothy Cunningham was the nurse. His weight was 6 pounds 6 oz. Seems normal.

    Here are the fragments Mom wrote on his birth:

    “Baby has deep scars at temples from instruments use. Disappeared after a few months. Gained 1 oz in hospital.”

    Wow, there is a lot of story missing here.

    Mom always said that she thought the use of forceps on David was the reason for his brain damage. Her pediatrician, Dr Goldstein, really never provided a satisfactory explanation. He encouraged her to give up the baby to an institution. She refused (and got another doctor). That was her son, she would care for him.

    There’s David’s first photo, Mom’s hand caressing him. Did they know what it would take to raise a child who would never fully develop?

    There’s a photo of David in a stroller, playing with his feet at 7 1/2 months, out on the front yard in northwest Baltimore, classic big old cars with find and curves, and squat, unadorned brick homes in the background. Life in black and white photos can look so grim and stark.

    There’s a yellow frayed newspaper clipping of distant hope (?)- and article titled "Epilepsy Cure Seen" It reads

    “The Public Health Service has told Congress that it has found the ‘first brain vitamin ever produced’ which may help solve mysteries of the brain.”

    Many many mysteries remain. Epilepsy remains uncured. And David?

    There’s the last fragment handwritten in the book, Nov 20 – Dec 20, 1954, age twenty three months, listed in the section of “record of development from eighteen months to two years”. My mother wrote:

    Says Da-Da. Picks himself from playing position on his back to sitting. More playful. Not eating well.”

    It's not hard to imagine why my parents stopped writing in this book, close to the real age of two he died at. I am always carrying the idea that his mental age never exceeded that. The book stops here.

    How difficult would it be to continue writing in the book where the child’s development is scheduled to take off at age two?

    It’s only conjecture I can make because all I have are fragments.

    And thus the rest of the book, like his life, is blank.

    The later sections of this book covers the years of 14-16, all things he never got to do like “Trips, Excursions, Honors, Camp Records, Etc.”

    Yes, this is very sad for the life not lived, but also it is not really all of the story. There are numerous photos elsewhere of David smiling, playing, there is old silent 8mm film of him clapping his hands, clutching his stuffed bear, and rocking in the chair I can glance at now in my living room. I was not even there for the ten years my parents raised and loved him at home. There was undoubtable joy in those missing fragments. There had to be, There has to be.

    How do I really know what his life was like? I see it through my lens, I know not his. He knew love. How could he not know love? You don;t have to develop to the script of some pop psychology book to know what love is.

    When you have these memory fragments, and all stories really are fragments of a whole that we can never fully take in, it is easy to think about the missing spaces between the fragments as sad ones, but it’s not always the case.

    All of our stories are fragments, and it’s our minds, hearts that can fill the in-between, or just keep them present. When those fragments are gone, forgotten, not old... we have nothing.

    I cherish my fragments. even of a brother I never knew.
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