There is something about anniversaries that seems to automatically set us up for disappointment, regardless of why the day is significant. The year marker of a lovely experience like a wedding, or a benign thing like a birthday, or an accomplishment like quitting smoking are wrought with expectation and memory:
What if he doesn’t remember?
Will I get the present I want? If not, I’ll have to fake being excited.
I quit the day my friend had her mastectomy. She died anyway, after all that.
Anniversaries that are/should be celebratory often still bring up doubts and questions, stress or judgment:
I don’t know why we’re still together.
I can’t believe I’m already 60 – one year closer to retirement/more wrinkles/less mobility/death.
What’s the point of eating healthy and exercising? There’s no guarantee that any of it will matter.
The anniversary of a death is, by definition, sad in most cases. But it also holds expectations, questions and hard reflections.
Yes! I am going to do a memorial hike!
What will I feel? Will it be appropriate? I will have to hold it together even though I’m falling apart inside.
What if I don’t think about him every minute of the day? Does that mean I’m over it or I have a hardened heart?
How can it be that he’s been gone for seven whole years? Life doesn’t make sense.
Thursday came and went without much fanfare, much to my disappointment. I felt I had to go to work (new job) and the weather was awful (90 degrees and 98% humidity killed my motivation), so the hike was postponed/cancelled. All I managed to do was send a brief email to my mom and a text to my brother, and pull an old photo off of Snapfish and post it to Facebook. It was a sweet picture of David and me growing up, but all my post did was make my friends sad for me and inform the acquaintances that didn’t know I’d lost a brother, so they were shocked and sad for me. Spreading misery – not what I wanted.
The story behind the picture might have been better:
In it I’m perched on a brand new bike, cherry red with the training wheels still on, my hands grasping the arched handlebars in a determined way, like I have places to go. I’m pretty sure I had just received it as a Christmas present, as there is still one of those fuzzy 70s ribbons tied onto it. I’m pretty sure I’m still all dressed up for Christmas given that I’m wearing a red and green dress plus patent leather t-straps (with socks!) and I was generally forced into dresses for special occasions against my will when I was growing up. (The fact that it’s a sundress doesn’t mean it wasn’t Christmas since I grew up in Houston and we were often in t-shirts in December.) I’m pretty sure I’m five in the photo.
That means David, standing behind me, barefoot, but wearing khakis and an Izod, would have been 17. We’re in the driveway at the house on Acacia and he’s ready to do something if I start to fall – I can tell by how he’s focused on me, not the camera. I can tell because of his active hands. I know because he was my big brother and would have been worried about me.
I remember him spending a lot of time with me in that driveway, helping me learn to steer and balance and pedal and finally move into the street. He helped me get the training wheels off – literally and figuratively. I owe him a lot. I owed him a better anniversary.