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  • The last time I touched my brother was March 5th, 2010. This wasn’t the last time I saw him alive. But it was the final time I put my arm around him, hugged him, offered a reassuring touch, let him know I loved him.

    It was at the funeral of our great-grandmother, Goldie Robinson, who after years of caring for three children, thirteen grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, four great-great grandchildren, and countless foster kids, passed on. Though she was nearly 98, when she slipped away on the last day of February, peacefully holding the hand of one of her granddaughters, it didn’t hurt any less. She’d loved each of us our whole lives. We were more sure of Nanny’s love than we were of even our own parents’ affection. So March 5th, 2010 was a hard and beautiful day, difficult not to realize what an incredible gift we’d all been given, and the magnitude of what we’d lost.

    As the first of her great-grandchildren, and “The Professor,” I delivered the eulogy, written on the red eye early that morning, fat tears threatening to wipe away the words as soon as I’d written them. After we’d all taken our last look at her in the coffin, as we started to file out of the funeral home viewing room to make our slow way to the cemetery, I looked up from the front of the room. I saw Andrew standing, still in the pew, wracked with grief, struck by the loss of the only person whose love he thought he could count on. He sobbed so heavily that his tall reedy frame shook and the force of it sent him back into his seat. I walked quickly to him. I threw my arm around him and helped him up. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s gonna be okay,” I said. “Lean on me. Stick with me today. I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” I said.

    I didn’t really. But on March 5th, 2010, I did. I stayed near and kept him close in sight. At the repast, I watched as he easily talked with the most elderly members of our family, listening attentively to their stories. I smiled as he played with his niece and nephew. And every chance I got I gave him a hug or touched his arm just to let him know I wasn’t ever very far away. When it was time to take family photographs, I pulled him next to me. By rights, he should’ve stood in the back because at almost 6 feet tall, he towered over the rest of our relatively short family. Instead he sat on a stool so we would be just about the same height. I have my arm around him. Our brother Joshua stands on my other side, he has his hand on my shoulder. There are more than a dozen people in the photo but after Andrew died, I cropped it and enlarged it so it’s just we three. This is the only picture of the three of us together as adults.

    I saw Andrew again on my next trip to New York in June. But by then so much had happened, I could barely look at him, could barely soften my voice, let alone touch him. He wasn’t around much anyway. He spent his daylight hours sleeping and playing music and video games in his room, tucked away on the top floor of my parents’ house. At night he shirked away out into the depths of the City. I only knew he was there by the smell of weed coming from the third floor and the dirty dishes he left in the kitchen on the first. Even then I think I knew I’d lost my chance to hold him and hold him up, needlessly given it away in the heat and stench of coming summer.
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