When my big brother got sick with the same disease that got our mom, I remember driving to work reciting my mantra between sips of coffee: You are superwoman.
It was a year ago that I strapped the baby into his carseat and drove down to DC for my brother’s last major surgery, literally a week before the pandemic put the kibosh on all such things: road trips, “elective” surgeries, eating spilled blueberries off the hospital floor when no one was looking. It was a dark time, but my spidey sense told me it was going to turn out okay.
See, I’d had this vivid snippet of a dream: my brother running out of the ocean, knees high-stepping, blue eyes flashing, sparkling water splashing, holding his nephew, now a toddler, on arms raised high above his head.
A brutal year it was, but lo and behold, we’re there. Peter is not only whole and cancer-free, but probably in the best shape since his days playing college basketball. He’s doing amazing, running two hours a day, prioritizing his health in a radical way that, it dawns on me, we all should be. Baby Dion is now that glorious toddler with an unruly mop of hair from my dream. Now we all just need to get ourselves together and to a body of water and you can call me Nostradamus.
In a way, the experience of nearly losing my brother bitch-slapped me out of grieving for my mom, like: You’re going to mope about that, here’s a glimpse of what can really go down. The thought of muddling through this life without my mom or my big brother, well, the less said about that the better.
My brother’s back. I got my brother back, the guy who’s been a superhero in my eyes since he strutted his stuff in a red cape and undies over his pants, and only occasionally beat the crap out of me. My kids have their Uncle Peaches, my newly minted sister-in-law has her husband.
A picture from their wedding day sits on my desk, a sun-dappled fall afternoon a year-and-a-half and a lifetime ago, when no one knew whether or not Peter would be okay. I had the honor of officiating, and let me tell you, if there was a dry eye when we got to the whole “sickness and health” part, it wasn’t mine.
My gaze often falls across that picture, and sometimes – especially when I’m past deadline – I sit and wonder at it. All those people all together, first of all! Those faces I love, plastered with grins as they swivel to watch my daughters meander oh-so-hesitantly down the aisle in matching dresses, scattering flower petals, pushing back the urge to bolt one brave little step at a time. That day we were reminded left, right and center, of what always has been true: that love is the only sure thing.
It’s not just that the photographer was good; the diaphanous sheen she captured was really almost tangible that day. It felt like moving in a dream you didn’t want to end – never mind the silver heels biting into my feet. Once that glass had been stomped and we’d all shouted “mazel tov,” we would have to come down off this high and face what came next.
Fast forward through the strangest year in living memory, and here we are. Though there are tests and more tests on the horizon, it looks like we’ve made it to solid ground. Time to take stock: all present, accounted for, doing well – and my, how we’ve changed. Not just the kids, who have shot up four inches apiece since that fall day, but at some point in all the hullabaloo, I guess I went and grew up, too.
I realized it the other morning, driving to work, when something about the quality of the light through the windshield, my thermos in the cup holder, hit me with déjà vu. My old mantra came back to me, and I almost snarfed my coffee. Superwoman? For real? That was how I got myself fired up, not in my invincible twenties but just one year ago?
I guess I had to be. Had to pretend to be strong enough to perform superhuman feats of strength! Or at least, to shuttle back and forth to DC and be there for my brother, whose stoicism did not change the fact that he was going through hell without his mom.
He did it, my big brother, he did it all – chemo, radiation, surgery one, surgery two – and now he’s finding his way back to a new picture of what full strength can look like. Goddamn, we did it.
I no longer have a mantra. Maybe I’m between mantras, who knows. Or maybe I don’t need one anymore. I have my brother back – and really, the superhero get-up has always been his look.