This is a tough day for me. It's an extremely bittersweet one at any rate. You see, I wasn't always an only child.
The first half of my life, I had a pseudo-sibling. A brother from another mother, if you will. We weren't really siblings at all, but we always thought of one another that way. He was an only child (well, until he was 11). I was an only child. And we were born almost four months to the day apart. Our family jokingly referred to us as the twins. We lived down the street from one another for a good chunk of my life and we were inseparable.
His mother and my mother were first cousins. I would go places with him and his parents and people always assumed we were brother and sister. It was wonderful for me because I felt like a "real" family as I never had siblings and usually didn't have a father present.
His name was Steven and he was my first friend. He was the brother I didn't get from my parents. We were friends, quite literally, from Day One. Today is his birthday. And, he and I last spoke on this day in 1987.
It was a brief conversation. It was mostly chit-chat. I just wanted to make sure I called to say "happy birthday." It was particularly important because he was in the hospital and I thought it might cheer him up. What I didn't know at the time was that he was dying.
His responses to me were very slow, very unlike him. He finally said, "I'm kind of tired." I apologized and told him to go rest. Those were the last words from him I ever heard.
He slipped into a coma that night. He died a week later. He was 22.
As sad as that is, the happy part is that he lived 15 years longer than he was expected to. He suffered from chronic nephritis, an illness that had ravaged his kidneys after a strep infection had initially gone untreated.
He got sick not long after this photo was taken. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of pictures of the two of us together. This has always been my favorite.
He started dialysis in his teens and had a kidney transplant at age 21. It rejected less than a year later, leading to his death.
What's always been inconsolably sad to me is that if it were now, he'd likely be alive. Kidney transplants are as common as stitches. Anti-rejection medications have a great deal of success. They didn't then.
But the saddest part of all is that he was such a great person. He was funny and warm. (His impressions of cartoon character Droopy and of the Muppets' Swedish Chef were side-splitting.) He was smart, and kind, and supportive. He was everything I could ever have wanted in a brother and then some. And, sick as he was, he never complained.
Next week, it will be 22 years since he died and that wound is nearly as fresh today as it was then. I have this theory: There are certain things you never really get over. You just learn how to deal with them -- or else you go crazy. For me, Steven's death is one of a handful of life experiences that fall into that category.
I learned how to deal. I just never learned how to fill that void. I don't think I ever will.