My fingers humored me as they stroked the keys on the grand piano that occupied the front sitting room in our home. It was a grand piano that would tease me throughout my childhood. After all, I never did learn to play.
My wool tights sagged around my ankles as my legs dangled carelessly. I slid my body back and forth from end to end on the bench, my favorite hand me down skirt tucked under my bony knees.
Despite my failed attempts at creating music, my body compensated by swaying to an imaginary rhythm in my head. The morning sun streamed in through the bay windows, illuminating the faded oriental rug and warming my back.
Beside me, the wooden doll cradle with painted flowers decorating each side was empty. It was the perfect size for my baby, “my Tom Cat.”
Tom was white with black markings between his ears and on his back like a hat and a cloak. There was nothing special in his appearance, but we all agreed he was one of the coolest cats we owned. There was no debate either that he was all mine.
Today, he would be spared the humiliation of being swaddled like a baby and rocked in the cradle. He was free to roam the neighborhood and hunt his next prey. He certainly lived a doubt life.
I still smile when I envision him being held in my vice-like grip wearing a baby doll dress, his tail hopelessly hanging from the ruffled edges.
In the adjoining room sat my eldest brother, one of three I was blessed with. Being a twin and the youngest of six children, I was given endless opportunities for interaction with any one of them.
I, however, was incredibly fond of quietly observing the activities that surrounded me. It is intriguing to me that I am now compelled to recount a meaningful part of our family’s history, one that may reveal me as a quite the passive participant.
Oddly, there was little activity in our home this Saturday morning except for the cacophony of sound I was creating.
As I spun my body around on the bench, I came to the realization that my brother sat unmoving the entire time I played at the piano. I scanned my memory of the past twelve hours.
He had not moved his position in the time since I had gone to bed the night before.
Curious and uncertain, I moved closer to him. His eyes did not register my presence. My chest, mind, and stomach felt numb as I slid past him into the kitchen.
Hushed voices subsided; I unknowingly interrupted a conversation between my mother and my step-father. They sat around our large round kitchen table, empty cereal bowls in front of each of them.
My mother acknowledged my presence with a smile while my step-father greeted me, “Hi little honey.” His deep, steady voice was comforting and my mother’s smile reassured me that everything was okay.
If they were worried about my unmoving brother in the next room, they allowed no traces of it to touch me at that moment.
It was just weeks ago, he was living at college. He was undeniably handsome, intelligent and kind; he had the world at his feet. Today, his feet refused to move from under him.
I did not understand the illness that now held him in its grip. No one did.
I did not know what questions to asks and I certainly did not know the answers.
I did not know if he needed help.
I did not know the indescribable fears that now paralyzed him.
I did not know how our family would be forever changed.
I continued to skid through our kitchen, my tights providing me with just the right momentum, “Hi. Bye!” I replied nonchalantly.
With conviction, I called for my twin, “Pat, where are you?”
I ran up the winding wooden staircase and was relieved to find my constant companion coming to meet me.
We spent the afternoon together, playing make-believe schoolhouse on our front porch. One of her walls served as a makeshift chalkboard with a green painted surface.
It never mattered that he liked trucks, dirt, bugs, and sports. We were simpatico, bonded by not only our birthday but by our genuine and unwavering love for one another.
As young children, we may not have been able to remotely express it, but it was always there wrapping us in an invisible security blanket.
No matter what was happening around us, we had our constant…each other.