When I was 7 or 8, my brother, 19 years my elder, moved back into our house after he separated with his wife, and we shared the narrow attic bedroom space. That must have been weird for him, as he had spent his entire childhood up there with our other two brothers, who were much closer in age with him.
There we were, oldest and youngest, first and last, alpha and omega. We were the bookends of our parents’ efforts in building a big family.
Every morning, about 30 minutes or so before I would need to get up for school, Warren’s radio clock alarm would go off. He had it set to WLPL, 92.3 FM, a station I had come to love for the next decade for its cutting-edge rock that we now listen to on classic rock stations like 100.7 The Bay. My days and nights were filled with Zeppelin, Hendrix, Eagles, Elton John, Heart, and Fleetwood Mac, to name just a few.
But on those mornings when his rock-and-roll clock would tick-tock click to that moment when we would both be awakened, Aerosmith played, “Dream On.”
Every. Single. Morning.
Warren would stir, grumble a bit to himself, then roll out of bed and trudge downstairs to our one and only bathroom. A few minutes later, I would hear the front door open and close, his motorcycle come to life, and then the roar that followed, then faded, as he headed off to wherever big brothers work when they have just separated from their wives.
In my head, among the grumbles and the roars of everything that made my big brother larger than life, I continued to hum the Aerosmith tune as I lay in bed, Dreaming On to a time when I would get big. And grumble. And roar.
Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way
Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay
So here we are: four decades later. As I write on, “Dream On” plays over and over through my earbuds, into my head, along my veins, and within my heart and brain, a reverberation of love and nostalgia that seem to cancel out each other.
My brother is now dead. He no longer grumbles, roars, or dreams on. I am left with a residual, fading echo of a man I yearned to be.
And I would think that I would be desperate to hold on to each note of this song, each lub-dub-dub of his cycle, each synchronous wink-and-smile that he would give me, you, a stranger to let you know: “I hear you. You aren’t alone. It’s going to be okay.”
Yes. I would think just that. But it isn’t happening.
Half my life
Is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you
So instead I try to name that narrow space that exists between love and nostalgia; I try to box it into a nice little corner where I can name it. Identify it. Label it and reduce its hold over me so I can move on and dream on (and dream on and dream on) so that my dreams might come true.
All I can find, though, is something I barely recognize as an emotion caught in the ugly balance between depression and acceptance. The clouds are heavy, you see, but I just can’t tell if they are filled with the humid rains or the sun-drenched rays.
Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away
Here’s what I do know tonight. My brother’s synchronous wink-and-smile is getting me through. It reminds me that I am not alone, that so many of us are struggling with this new and uncomfortable feeling of loss, and that we’re going to be okay.
Throw that all together, and maybe that’s why the rains aren’t falling, but the sun’s rays aren’t getting through the clouds either. It’s this gray existence of understanding, of perspective, even of peace in knowing that, maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will indeed take us away.
But for now, we are here. And with this dream that carries on, we persevere, we find the strength between winks and smiles, and we carry each other as best we can.
We carry each other through the laughter, through the tears, through the early-morning songs that play on and on in our later years.
Yeah. Through the grumbles of thunder and the roars of silent rains and rays, I hear you. We’re not alone. And we’re going to be okay.
In fact, I think we already are.