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Christmas 1972: Wayne, me and Matthew

My brother would have been 45 today

My mother was driving to a doctor’s appointment. Up front — in a car seat now outlawed because of its safety record — sat my younger brother, Matthew. I was in the back seat. It was gray outside.

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We were in a late 60's Volvo wagon like this one.

I don’t remember the sound of the crash, but I remember being thrown forward and down, onto the floor of the car. (Was I even wearing a seatbelt?) I remember getting up and peering over the front seat: my mother’s head was lolling and there was blood coming from her mouth. I wondered why she seemed to be asleep. I could hear my brother wailing but I couldn’t see his face. My neck was sore.

I saw a man running toward our car. He had long sandy blond hair, a beard, and he was dressed all in light blue, like a mechanic’s uniform. Although I’m not religious, in later years I came to picture him as a Jesus figure.

He pulled me and Matthew from the car and carried us both in his arms to a grassy area near the sidewalk. My brother was now screaming, his entire face a frighteningly blotched purple. The man laid us down next to each other, and returned to the car. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance arrived.

That was the last time I saw Matthew. His liver had been crushed and there was nothing that could be done to save him.

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Me and Matthew

By all accounts, Matthew was a sweet boy, gregarious and precocious. Although I was two years older, I thought of him as the leader. He seemed fearless and spirited.

August 14, 2015

You’d think with time it would get easier, but it doesn’t. Each year on his birthday I reflect on how much he lost out on, the experiences he’ll never have, and how many years I’ve not had him in my life.

And then come the questions.

I wonder who he would have become. What would his life have been like? Would we still be close?

If he hadn’t been killed, would our family still have fallen apart? Or fallen apart as fast as it did?

Had he survived the crash, would Wayne, one of my older brothers, still take his own life so many years later?

What about the woman who ran the red light: is she still alive? Although apparently remorseless at the time — “It was just an accident.” — did she ever think about my brother? Did she feel any guilt at all?

Maybe I shouldn’t ask these answerless questions. Or maybe the fact that they have no answers is why I should. I don’t know. What I really want is to see my brother again.

Sometimes I have dreams where he appears to me, not as a child, but as an adult. I’m grateful for those dreams.

My brother would have been 45 today.

Happy Birthday, Matthew. I still miss you.

Written by

Director, Product Design at HBO Max, formerly TED. Writer everywhere. Autism dad always. Better after a nap.

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