Silence in the night; no bedroom door flung open, banging into the radiator in the wee hours, no odd tapping, no creaking wood, no sharp crack emanating from the armoire making my heart jump. Except for the faint accustomed noises of the night, echoes of far-off laughter bouncing from one building façade to another, carried closer on the wind before being whipped away into nothingness, hurried steps of lone stragglers down in the street fading into the distance, the occasional screeching of car tires on the cobblestones below, the warm, gentle snoring of a pup down the hallway breaking through the silence, there is nothing. Most would be comforted by the utter noiselessness and calm of one’s home, yet I lie awake in the darkness waiting, hoping for a noise, a sign, something…. anything that will let me know that he is still here. But no ghosts remain. The doors don’t slam anymore.
Three years is a long time, almost forever. So much happens, so many places visited, two sons grown up. Three years flies by in the blink of an eye; it seems like yesterday we were gathered together, a dozen or so of us, standing in the sweltering sun of a Florida September morning. It was an otherwise ordinary early autumn day, already too hot for any sane person to be outside in anything other than swimsuit and flip-flops. Barely the whisper of a breeze, no shade whatsoever to speak of, even under the white, white tent perched above us in the guise of shelter. Little respite from the rising, hellish temperatures. My eyes averted from the glaring blaze of light, a bead of sweat trickling down my back, shifting from foot to foot, the heels of my sandals sinking into the soft grass, clutching a crumpled handkerchief already damp with tears, I wait for the Rabbi to begin, a Rabbi called away from the Rosh Hashanah holiday preparations to perform the saddest of rites; not the joyous celebration of the New Year but a funeral. Three years ago, through blinding tears, I watched as we buried my brother.
The odd noises began just after the funeral, a few shorts months after I returned to France. Unexpected, random slamming, banging, tapping woke each of us. Breathlessly, hearts pounding, we called out into the inky blackness of the night, “Who’s there?” White feathers lying on the landing before our front door, white innocence and ethereal lightness against earthly dark chocolate wood, glaringly out of place. So many signs, yet it took me just too long to realize, like hearing the phone ring, yet not quite hearing it through the haze of a half-awake dreamy obscurity, an indistinct background noise seeking your attention. Then all of a sudden, snapping back to reality, not quite knowing for how long it has been ringing as you plunge for the receiver. A ghost playing jokes, trying to make contact, yet finally – hands balled into ghostly fists, fists propped onto ghostly hips, that trademark smirk playing on ghostly lips – his determination and persistence paid off and we understood that it was he. Not his cackling, infectious burst of laughter, not his comical shrug and familiar sarcastic eyeroll but rather a bedroom door flung open wide and fast, a door that had been securely snapped shut and nary a breath of breeze. And at the very same moment, at the other end of the house, a tap tap tapping on another door, waking his nephew inside who called out “Who’s there?” Or a sudden, ear-rattling crack of wood emanating from our armoire as we, husband and I lie reading in bed before turning out the lights.
Fearful at first. Fearful of the inexplicable, curious nighttime events, the chaos visiting an otherwise peaceful, uneventful home. And then it dawned on us, it was Michael come to call and we welcomed these friendly visits. Understanding Michael’s dry wit and sense of humor, we laughed each time it happened, laughed and simply rolled over and went back to sleep. And knowing how protective he always had been of me, recognizing our closeness as a brother and sister, we felt comforted that he thought of me and of coming back to tease and to play and to let me know he was still near me. That everything was okay.
And then it stopped, as suddenly as it began. Dead silence now echoes through the house each and every night. I often wake up in the middle hours, eyes open to peer hard into the darkness searchingly, or I squeeze shut my eyes in a little prayer, begging him to show himself. It has been a year, a very long, quiet, lonely year without his presence. I utter his name when I am alone, listening, looking for a response, a fleeting shadow, a bump in the night. But I know that he has slipped away.
Three years is a long time, an eternity. Three years flies by in a flash and the guilt still lies heavily on my heart for not being with him, holding his withered hand as he died, the sadness weighing on me like a cold, hard stone. Life is often described as a long, quiet river or as a bumpy road with so many twists and turns; life brings both expected and unexpected joys and sorrows and that, as they say, is life. All we can do, they continue, warm hand lying softly on your shoulder, sympathy-coated words playing somewhere around the periphery of your senses as your mind wanders elsewhere, all we can do is remember and focus on the good times – and there were so many! Concentrate on the happy times the two of you spent together as kids making up games, singing, acting out plays and tv shows in the familyroom at the back of the house. Stir up memories of time spent cooking together in your twin apartments in that old Brooklyn walkup, Thanksgiving and Rosh Hashanah meals, bottles of wine opened, loaves of bread baked, pies and cakes galore. Be thankful for the time life afforded your sons with their fun uncle; visits to museums and Ellis Island, rambunctious family reunions and joyful kid-sized sightseeing around New York, Paris and Milan; all the things he had the time to teach them, share with them, impart and interest them.
If only he had hung around a little longer, both in life and in death. Three years, a long, hard slog of time without his laughter, phone calls, gossip, news. Three years of restaurants he’ll never be able to try, films he will never see, voyages he won’t be going on. A lifetime of not seeing what becomes of his nephews and niece, a lifetime of the four of them not being able to enjoy his company or profit from his knowledge and experience. Time flows by, I’ve watched my boys each start college, one fly off to volunteer his time, energy and passion in the rebuilding of New Orleans, the other to create a company and a reputation. I’ve changed my own course, am living a new adventure; we would have spent hours on the phone analysing, debating, celebrating and planning strategies for each and every exploit and undertaking, struggle and success. My big brother.
I could spout platitudes just about now, but I won’t. Those of you who have lost a sibling, a best friend, understand already. Each September, every Rosh Hashanah that comes and goes, slips by in the golden glow of an autumn day, I pause to count the years on my fingers one-two-three and add to that the months and then the years that his spirit has slipped from my home, leaving silence in its wake.