I Remember: Brothers

www.joelmacphersonillustration.comI remember flicking the curved segment of an orange peel into traffic. It looked like a boat, and I was certain it would sail like one, floating three neat stories to the ground from the top level of the parking garage. I remember, instead, how it tumbled and slewed on the wind, topsy-turvying along for the better part of a block. I was nine or ten, my brother six or seven, and “Dang!” he said, as if I had impressed him, though the two of us didn’t often impress each other in those days—brothers but not brothers.

I remember the thump the orange peel made as it struck the windshield of a car, or at least I seem to, but that can’t be right as the wind was blowing and I was far away. I must be imagining the sound, or else I must have imagined it back then. I remember, though—I do—the shriek of the car’s brakes as it veered from its lane. What did the driver think he’d seen: a small fish flapping its tail, a leaf that had grown curiously heavy, or just something spilling across the glass, a piece of trash, some blown-by bit of garbage shaped like a smile?

I remember the way my scalp prickled as the car corrected itself and then drove on, as if I’d been caught breaking the law. My brother made his basketball noise: “Swish!” I remember knowing exactly what he would say next because he always said the same thing at that age. “Two points!”

I remember nothing else about that day. I’m more than thirty years older now, a middle-aged man staying in a house that’s not my own, in a university town where the winter keeps reaching into spring, and last night the book I read ended like this: “All I want is to know what happened—I want somehow to grasp every detail of the events of that day, that one day like a tiny dewdrop … but now it’s all engulfed in the profound darkness of time.” I remember so many stories, you see, but there’s not enough of this memory to make it one of them, not enough even to make it an anecdote. There are only a few stray images, a few stray phrases, two boys who once existed as children and no longer do.

I remember something that I call my life: a long string of incidents and all of them connected, like the strokes of an oar propelling a boat through the water. But is that—has that in fact been—my life? Because I remember something else, too: motions and colours, wisps of feeling, a thousand loose moments floating free of my history. And more and more it’s these fugitive glimpses of otherwise forgotten days, tumbling and slewing on the wind, that seem to give my life its meaning.

Kevin Brockmeier's autobiographical A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip was released in April.
Kevin Brockmeier’s autobiographical A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip was released in April 2014.