I had been looking for my brother Wes ever since he died. I looked through his clothes, comic books, drawings and home movies. I spent a lot of time at his grave. I felt memories of him but not his presence. I wondered if it was a lack of faith on my part. I believe the world is a strange, wonderful and mysterious place but I tend to fall on the side of skepticism when dealing with the unknown. The whole “heaven is a land of clouds, harps, your missing loved ones in their prime all you can eat lobster tails,” always struck me as something great for easing a child’s fear of death but not for rational adults. All of that, however is idle talk until you lose someone so close to you so unexpectedly, it changes everything.
I was preparing to fly to San Diego with my brother Tommy and drive back to Cape Cod with our good friend Vince (who had recently gotten out of the Marines) and Wes was on my mind more than usual. I was thinking that maybe I would find him somewhere in the three thousand miles we would be traveling.
San Diego was beautiful. I imagined him riding his longboard on the boardwalk with his wild blonde mane dancing in the salty air, but he wasn’t there. The first day of driving we made it to the Grand Canyon and although I was overcome by the pure beauty and magnitude of it, he was nowhere to be found. The Native American culture and healing stones of New Mexico reminded me of Wes, but he wasn’t there either.
The next day we drove across North Texas and the plains of Oklahoma, he definitely wasn’t hanging around there. In Nashville, I thought about how he would’ve loved the Country music culture and the southern hospitality. I saw every band on Broadway but he wasn’t dancing anywhere.
By the time we made it to New York City, I was thinking more about all the responsibilities waiting for me back at home than trying to spot Wes.
We stayed with Vince’s mom in the Lower East Side and decided to go for a walk to Chinatown that morning. Our group included Tommy, Vince, his mom Catherine, brother Ian, family friend Nora and myself. After a lunch of delicious, strange, and steaming Dim sum, we began to wander along Canal St. moving with the difficulty of a large group that can’t decide where they are going or why.
At a certain point there was a consensus that everyone wanted ice cream. We walked to a shop Ian had recommended. I opted out as I had been watching my weight and figured with the fast food and Tennessee BBQ I had ingested over the past few days I could stand to skip an ice cream cone.
“I’m good. I will wait out here,” I told Tommy.
While waiting, I moseyed over to a trinket shop. I suddenly had a strange feeling. There was music coming out of small tinny speakers. The melodramatic piano melody reminded me of something I would’ve heard coming from one of Wes’s Final Fantasy PlayStation games. I looked up and saw these little Super Mario Bros. stuffed animals swaying in the breeze. It was lightly raining. I felt weird mix of sadness and relief washing over me. I began crying. I thought, maybe, I should walk away and get a hold of myself, but it felt important to experience what was happening.
I felt Wes’s essence. It wasn’t that I could see or hear him but it felt like he was rubbing my back and saying, “It’s okay, Bro. You’re sad but it’s okay.”
I pulled my Ray-Bans over my eyes to hide my tears and just stood there taking it in. Then it was gone. I still felt a strange current in the air but Wes had left Canal St.
Tommy came out with a cone and I said something like, “Got some ice cream there?”
After that, we went to the 9/11 Memorial, and although it was beautiful and haunting, my capacity for deepness was pretty much tapped out.
I still don’t really believe in ghosts, angels, or heaven and hell. I don’t have the assurance that someday I will spend eternity with my little brother but I did spend a moment with him on Canal St. and for now that will have to be enough.