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My brother David was born January 20, 1953; yesterday he would have been 60. There should have been a big party, or a tropical trip, or some adventure like parachute jumping. But he passed away in 1987, not in a place known for parties, having been 24 years at Rosewood State Mental Hospital.

All I recall from visits there are dark halls and that institutional smell of disinfectant I was told David’s mental age might have been 2, he could not talk, feed himself. He could not walk without some assistance. He could not teach me how to fish, how to drive, how to catch a baseball, could not tell me what women were about.

I really did not know him. He went to Rosewood when I was born.

I have but these fragments of a life, of a brother who was not.

I have his rocking chair


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and my own fragment of a story.

When we cleaned out Mom’s house, I took a few more fragments, a book given to new parents where they chart the development of their child from birth to near adulthood. It’s been sitting in my David drawer, yesterday was the first time I opened it and flipped through it.

There’s my parents, themselves young parents, 3 years married, Dad maybe 27 at the time, Mom only 24. Kids.


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There’s my grandparents, both grandfathers gone before I was born, a maternal grandmother I can barely remember beyond a thick Lithuanian accent I may not have understood. My fathers mother I liked to teasingly call “Granny”, who adored me, who outlived her husband by more than 50 years, outlived her brothers and sisters, outlived both her children, and her grandson.


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There’s my mother’s handwriting, in very short fragments describing what must have been a horrible nightmare as a new mother.


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According to the log here, David was born January 20, 1953 at 7:02 am at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. Samuel Rubin was the doctor and Dorothy Cunningham was the nurse. His weight was 6 pounds 6 oz. Seems normal.

Here are the fragments Mom wrote on his birth:

“Baby has deep scars at temples from instruments use. Disappeared after a few months. Gained 1 oz in hospital.”

Wow, there is a lot of story missing here,

Mom always said that she thought the use of forceps on David was the reason for his brain damage. Her pediatrician, Dr Goldstein, really never gave her a satisfactory explanation and encouraged her to give up the baby to an institution. She refused (and got another doctor).

There’s David’s first photo, Mom’s hand caressing him.


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There’s David playing with his feet at 7 1/2 months, out on the streets of northwest Baltimore, classic old cars and brick houses in the background.


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There’s a newspaper clipping of distant hope (?) that says “The Public Health Service has told Congress that it has found the ‘first brain vitamin ever produced’ which may help solve mysteries of the brain.” Many many mysteries remain.


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There’s the last fragment written in the book, Nov 20 – Dec 20, 1954, age twenty three months, listed in the section of “record of development from eighteen months to two years””

“Says Da-Da. Picks himself from playing position on his back to sitting. More playful. Not eating eell.”


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I can only begin to imagine why my parents stopped writing in this book, close to his real age of two. I am always carrying the idea that his mental age never exceeded that. The book stopes here. How difficult would it be to continue writing in the books where the child’s development takes off at age 2?

It’s only conjecture I can make because all I have are fragments.

And thus the rest of the book, like his life, is blank.


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The later sections of this book covers the years of 14-16, all things he never got to do like “Trips, Excursions, Honors, Camp Records, Etc.”

Yes, this is very sad for the life not lived, but also it is not really all of the story. There are numerous photos of David smiling, playing, there is old silent 8mm film of him clapping his hands and rocking in the chair. I was not even there for the 10 years my parents raised and loved him at home. There was undoubtable joy in those missing fragments.

How do I know what his life was like? He knew love. How could he not know love?

When you have these memory fragments, and all stories really are fragments of a whole that we can never fully take in, it is easy to think about the missing spaces between the fragments as sad ones, but it’s not always the case.

All of our stories are fragments, and it’s our minds that can fill the in-between, or just keep them present. When those fragments are gone, forgotten we have nothing,

I cherish my fragments. even of a brother I neve knew.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. Alan, wonderfully poignant piece here. Thanks for sharing your fragments.

    I know this wasn’t about school necessarily, but I could envision an experience where kids are given fragments (much like you shared here) and asked to complete the story.

    Just a thought…

  2. I always enjoy these personal stories. You weave the narrative so beautifully. A story out of fragments :-)
    Your post reminds me why I enjoy the study of history. History is essentially a story pieced together with fragments of evidence and a bit of imagination. Some history is closer to the “truth” than other versions but, they are all stories we tell ourselves about the past.

  3. Wonderful. Very Kim Stafford, who encourages writing from fragments in his book The Muses Among Us. He also pieces together his own brother’s suicide in 10 Tricks Every Boy Should Know. Even events we think we know and will remember until we die fragment in the acid winds of time.

  4. I’m so glad that David still lives in your thoughts and stories. I know that Mom would have asked me to print this one out for her to add to her collection.

  5. Alan … a great post on ‘why you blog’ led me to this even greater passionate post on ‘a brother who was not’. Your amazing family story draws in the reader to offer a sympathetic pat on the back and to thank you for sharing this very personal insight. Family is so very important and sharing this loving story resonates with me and I’m sure other readers.

    Thanks for caring & sharing … Brian

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