"I love that old phone with a passion. It was the only real property Seymour and I ever had in Bessie's entire kibbutz. It's also essential to my inner harmony to see Seymour's listing in the goddam phone book every year. I like to browse through the G's with confidence." -Buddy Glass, explaining why he doesn't want his old phone disconnected four years after his brother Seymour's death. Franny and Zooey, By J. D. Salinger.
I love the quote above so much that I used it to begin one of my chapters in The Empty Room. It really gets at the point that though the people we love cease to physically exist when they die, there is a sense of continued connection. And because of that, it's hard to imagine ever, say, erasing said loved one's contact information--now, alas, unusable--from one's address book.
Or, since we're now in an era when phone books may soon become defunct themselves, erasing Facebook and LinkedIn pages. We like some reminder that our people were here--and why shouldn't we? The idea that love and connection ceases when the physical bond does is absurd.
Along these lines, it occurred to me, awhile ago, that I could Google my brother. And it was in pursuing this occasional past time that I happened upon some really weird bookmarks, so to speak, of his presence.
Here's what I found: A Facebook page. And a book on Amazon. Both in my brother's name. Both seem to have somehow been generated by Wikipedia (where he also has a page--mostly generated from my book, it seems).
I suppose I should be happy that he's been noticed and noted by someone besides me, that others know he existed and find him interesting. But my first reaction, I must say, was more along the lines of WTF? A fan page?
Maybe it's because these marks of his presence were not made by me, not controlled by me. Buddy, after all, was ostensibly the one who placed and renewed Seymour's listing in the phone book. So, it could be just a case of mineminemine.
With the advent of public sharing in the form of Google, Facebook et al, we both gain the ability to browse well beyond the phone book with confidence with regard to lost loved ones. But we also lose a little bit of control, too. Now, everyone gets to browse them with confidence.
Or maybe it's because I know that he'd be so (so) pissed. Ted hated the media interest he generated. As unusual as his life was, he really was not interested in how it fit into some bigger picture. When people suggested he write about it, he'd say: "I have to live it, why should I write about it?"
Maybe he'd have felt differently if he'd lived beyond the experience somehow. But he didn't.
I'd love to finish with some deep kicker...some great insight on life after death on the internet, or real life characters who become fictional ones on the internet after their death. But, for now at least, that's all I've got.
That and the simple fact that writing about Franny and Zooey makes me want a chicken sandwich like the one Franny asked for at the beginning of the book. And my older brother back. Just like Buddy.
First, an apology--to anyone who found themselves on this blog recently and registered the fact that my last post was about two years ago. My youngest son (I have two) is just over two years old. There are other writers with kids who seem to have figured out how to get everyone fed, get them to school on time, tend to illnesses and just hang with them, etc. without losing some productivity. But for me, it's a work in progress. Slowly, slowly, I am figuring it out. Henceforth, I hope to be on here more regularly.
Second..A little musing. In my last post, I wrote about not having witnessed much sibling fighting...a state of affairs which feels very remote and amusing right now. Two years on, I have witnessed A LOT of sibling fighting. And while the prospect of it, two years ago, clearly filled me with apprehension and dismay, I can happily say it doesn't now. And it's not just that I'm used to it, though that's definitely part of it.
It's that it's so clear to me, watching Henry and Luke go at it, that they are working on things--relating, empathy, compassion, knowing how to push the other's buttons (i.e. getting into one another's heads, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as theory of mind). Having a sibling is a relationship PhD. And like most PhD work--so I hear--it's not always fun. To experience or to watch. But I'm blown away by the way that our relationships with siblings force us to learn to deal with others, and ourselves.
Overall, I think it's a good thing. But what will they think, twenty years on, when they're looking back on their early lives and cataloging the good and the bad?
Last night we were at a book party, and I got to talking to a friend who is writing a book about couples deciding to have only one child. She asked me if I'd had a second because I wanted one, or because I wanted a sibling for Henry. I didn't have a short answer for her on that one. (In fact it's a freaking long story.)
But it got me thinking about how profoundly we changed Henry's life by adding Luke to the mix--from having to share attention and the aforementioned PhD work, to the ever present playmate (they play a lot now). And then there's Luke...who has grown up with this enormous presence, in the form of Henry, to love and admire and also to challenge, as he increasingly does, for his place in the ecosystem.
It's staggering and a little scary, the power we have as parents, to change someone's life to the degree that you change a child's when you make him a sibling. And yet, we can't wait until they're adults to ask them how they feel about the decision.
You hold your nose and jump. Or at least that's what I did. And that's what I told my friend. I couldn't find any logical inroad into making the decision that would stick, so I just went with my gut.
And here we are. Watching it play out.
Not long ago, I got off a plane in Phoenix and confronted the words “Ted is Here,” painted on a pillar in bright orange. I almost cried. Ted, I realized, was the name of a budget airline. But it was also my older brother’s name.
My Ted died of an immune disorder 27 years ago, when I was 14 and he was 17. His story, along with that of another boy in Texas, were merged in the movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” (Which my family did not authorize.)
Like most people who’ve lost someone they love, I’ve always wanted him back, or at least present, in some way. As a kid, I wished for a spectral sighting. As a young adult, I sought out psychics and mediums, one of whom once instructed me to ask Ted to give me signs that he was still present. Once, I asked Ted to show me a clown. Two days later, at a coffee shop, I looked up and realized I was sitting under a clown mural. My elation was short-lived, however. Had Ted contrived it, or had I unconsciously found myself a clown?
I’m not making a case for the supernatural here. But seeing that “Ted is Here” sign gave me the old I-see-the-clown feeling again.
This blog, which I’m launching on May 27th, the anniversary of Ted’s death, is an invitation to those who knew him—and those who didn’t—to share their thoughts and memories about the Ted they knew, or the Ted they imagined. Hearing about him, knowing that others are carrying a bit of him around with them, is another way of keeping him present. Honestly, I’d like that much better than seeing a clown.
I’ll also be posting thoughts and commentaries on siblings, sibling loss, families and grief—subjects I have, not surprisingly, become interested in. And for those of you who’ve read my book, The Empty Room, which tells my story and those of others who’ve lost siblings, I welcome your thoughts and messages.