An Answer Set in Stone

Written by Erica W. Jamieson

I remember my brother asking the question, the one ambiguity, that had plagued the two of us into and past, middle age.  It was in the ebb of a wet winter on a brilliantly lit morning, the air was dry and a warm breeze blew in from the north. We walked through wildly weeded trails of sage and chaparral growing in the Santa Monica mountains.

“So,” he said, “I mean, I know this is silly, but you don’t think they might ever get back together again, do you?”

For a moment, brief and fleeting, wandering un-tethered, I did not know of whom he spoke.  This they he referenced in his hesitant question.

It was all so long ago, dusty like the faded blue jeans he wore that day for our hike.  I’m not sure that he even owned a pair of shorts, and his cotton brown Members Only jacket, dated and decidedly Midwestern, hung on his simple frame.  Wide sculpted shoulders on a body that was only lean and yet wispy like the wind.  He was this odd mixture of skinny and muscular all at the same time.

My brother’s hair framed his angular face in the tight curls of a tamed afro.  He was blonde as a day at the beach and his eyes were a brilliant beseeching blue, a sea of lost and forgotten days, that looked out and into me.

I remember him as underfed, undernourished this brother of mine, always hungry.  I was the heavy one, zaftig and round, fully formed and firmly packed.  In my tie dyed blue yoga pants with the peace sign on my rear slightly stretching at the seams, and a snug gray T-Shirt with the words “Humanity Before Politics” emblazoned across my chest, we looked like such an odd pair, a caricature of Jack Sprat and his wife who could eat no lean.

There was a small leaf, still green, that wavered and held precariously to the edge of a branch just beyond where my brother stood. When he asked me this question a million moments of teenage angst whipped against my stilled body.  I remember. I remember all of the fights and the nights without Dad.  I remember tears and frantic pleas of forgiveness that floated through open windows like the desperate song of failing cicadas. I remember meeting mistresses at the ballet and errant earrings found snug between car seats. I remember the wedding that neither my brother nor I were invited to attend. I remember stepsiblings and family vacations where we felt like the unwelcome ones.  I remembered it all, and in my dreams, in all of my dreams, I still clung to a fabrication of their marriage, to a frivolous fantasy.

I was as hungry as my brother.  I was insatiable.  I wanted only to alleviate this welled up hole with the comfort of childhood.   I was as incomplete as he was standing before me.

I was a child of divorce.  I had come from a broken home and I would forever be fighting against that moment, that fracture, that fissure between what I was told to believe in and what the reality of forever meant.  Here I stood with my older brother, almost fifty, as he asked me the question that permeated all the years of our youth.

I smiled at this man, this brother of mine.  “You’ve got to move on.”  I said.

No.  They will never get back together again.

And then we laughed.  He and I, brother and sister, in that moment in the hills, on the dusty trails between Santa Monica and the ocean.  We laughed over the impossibility of it all, over the fact that with hairs beginning to gray and our walk perhaps slowing just a bit, our hearts were still thrust backward into that past, into that shared story.

We talked about the old days.  We cleaved upon a moment filled with laughter, a vacation we both remembered well, an escapade here or there, a misunderstanding, a turn of a phrase so defining mother, father, our parents, that even the hurt felt welcome in communal hindsight.

We talked about the reality of today, and the fact that the step-wife, villainous though she may have once seen to us, now takes good care of our father.  The man behind the oversized wheel of the Cadillac, the man who moved within a cloud of nicotine smoke for our entire lives, the man who counts the minutes of his breath, the man who exchanged the wheel of the big bad caddie for a canister of life that rolled behind him for a good ten years and eventually steam rolled right through his last breath.

My brother had asked the singular question that was finally answered in death.

My father died in spring.

And now we both know, my brother and I, the certainty in our parent’s eternal divorce, the answer forever set in stone.

11 thoughts on “An Answer Set in Stone

  1. …..”his eyes were a beseeching blue”…like this essay the words looked right into me. Ah Erica. It took me a a full day to properly digest this brilliant creation. With your work I never know weather to get out the magnifying glass or the holy water. You are our true Literary Moma. Your words are like a thermos, they know when to be hot and cold and just how long to savor the memory. Thank you.
    So grateful to be a part of TLS. Mary Rose

  2. Very poignant, Erica. We all have questions, ones we really care about, that we are afraid to mention. It was good to see him ask and, in the end, the universe had to give an answer, but you were the one who captured the answer and wrote it down beautifully and eloquently.
    Laura H

  3. Wow Erica, i loved it! The entire essay but, as you can imagine, the beautiful relationship between brother and sister that you so eloquently captured. Beautiful!

    • Thanks Rossana. I still remember when he asked me that question, hiking and having this great moment with my older brother and then being in total disbelief that he was asking me that, and yet completely understanding.

    • I appreciate your commenting on the ending. I had written this before my father died and as I reworked it to put up here it felt dishonest not to make it factually accurate in as far as that went. It’s one of the things I work on with memoir, preserving the moment yet staying honest to the current time frame. Does anyone have any thoughts on that?

      • I think ever since that controversy about that book that wasn’t really a memoir but was a fantasy (I think it was called a Million Pieces or something), it is essential to be accurate with memoir. Of course, each participant would have their own point of view but it is essential to be truthful. Readers count on honesty in memoir, Erica. I am glad that you re-worked this essay.

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