There are a dozen photographs just like this but they were taken more than fifty years ago. It wasn't until I imported the image into the frame that I saw the curve of his arm and the cup of his hand that has cradled my head exactly like this since the day I was born.
I didn't expect to have this and I'm trying to find its mate or at least one of them, a bookend from the beginning. In my mind I see one specific photograph. He is holding me exactly like this except I am very tiny and he is very young. I can't be more then a week or two old and he is no more than twenty-five and a half. Tall, lanky, slightly bearded in an attempt not to look fifteen, cradling an infant as if he's just lost his entire heart.
When I looked at that particular photograph in an album or copies of it floating loose when I was growing up I thought about a particular story my dad told me. I have never questioned the relevance and I'm not going to start; I think what's pertinent is that I didn't need to. Ever.
I was fairly young the first time my father told me about a very bad dream he had when I was small. Maybe eight or nine months old. Old enough to sit up but not much else. He was standing on a bridge looking down into a river and he saw me sitting at the bottom looking up at him. I was wearing my winter coat and I was just looking and he said, glug, glug, glug. I guess those are the sounds he imagined I'd make if I were drowning but doing it without any thrashing around.
And he couldn't do a damn thing about it.
Later when I was maybe sixteen and my brother was fourteen, or maybe a year earlier, Jack had a tooth removed from the back of his throat. This required general anesthesia which is scary and when they brought him home he took a bath because Jack still loved baths. Jack also loved to lie very still, face down in the water and hold his breath as long as he could. I imagine Jack has bionic lungs or something like that. My father knocked on the door to make sure Jack was alright and of course, Jack didn't answer because his ears were underwater and of course my dad opened the door and saw him floating face down in the water after general anesthesia and his heart stopped and he scooped him, naked and wet out of the water.
Jack was startled. My father has only sobbed like that within my hearing one other time although I'm quite certain there wasn't just one other time.
We grew up, Jack and I, in some terrible circumstances. Not everything was horrible; a good bit of our lives were quite privileged. Everything is subjective. Regardless of where we did or did not go to school, our collective education is better than most within our social demographic strata. We are for the most part ethically minded. We don't always succeed but we try because it matters. We believe it matters. That doesn't spring up out of the earth. We are compassionate, both of us, within the framework that will support compassion (we do our fucking best). Because we believe it matters and we want to be. That shit does NOT spring up out of the earth.
Both of us are damaged. I can't say which of us more so because I can't see into my brother. My own pathos would have me say it has to be me but I can't possibly know that.
I lost my mother. I have no idea how the hell I'm going to cope with her death. I really don't. It isn't going to be pretty. It isn't going to be good. But the fact is, I have lost her and the sooner I find my way back to the memory of love the better off I'm going to be. Right now the best I can do is insist on compassion. Compassion from me, compassion from my children and my brother although I think this really isn't a problem.
We come into the world without blame. No original sin, no sins of the father or the mother, nothing at all. We just are. Before that first breath we are our best possible selves and then we take that first breath and from that moment forward everything is a choice. I know that's a lot to put on a newborn and I'm oversimplifying it but external stimuli is what makes or breaks us because I don't care how good your gene pool is, you can be crushed like a bug in the first thirty seconds of your life or you can be cradled by that man's hands and have a foundation you can't even identify.
A foundation that can get you from here to there, in the dark with third degree burns and the absolute belief that you are in it by yourself, beyond redemption.
Those hands can get you there because they've been there your whole life. Just like that.