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Music and Memories

  • There are some songs that bring me to tears, not from the content, but from the memories they are linked with. 'Angie' by The Rolling Stones, for example. When I hear it, I am suddenly a 13-14 year old, sitting on the lower steps in the entry of my parents' house, with my ear up against the wall to the room on the other side, listening to my brother Jim singing it from his room. Jim was five years older than me, and always my favorite brother. I was the fourth child of five, and the only girl. Paul, the oldest, was seven years older than me, Bill was four years older, and Freddy was seven years younger than I was. When I look back at old family photos, I always smile to see how often Jim and I were there, right by each other. When I was five and neighborhood boys were teasing me and making me cry, Jim was the one who went to see them and 'convinced' them to leave me alone. They never bothered me after that. 

    Jim was the brother who always knew what to say when I was scared or sad. He'd let me use his drawing table, art supplies, and play his albums in his room when he wasn't home. He joined the Army so he would be able to go to art school when he got out. He seemed to know what he wanted out of life. The last time I saw him, he came home and we celebrated his birthday several days early. Jim would be 20 years old on February 18, 1976. He was so excited that I had gotten a part in the high school production of The Wizard of Oz, and hoped he would be able to come home to see it.

    A month later, on a Monday, my mom and I came home from a grocery trip. My aunt's car was in the driveway. My dad met Mom at the door and asked me to bring the groceries in and put them away. When my parents came out of their room, I realized I had never seen my mom cry before. While she and I were out, someone from the Army came and informed my dad that Jim was found that morning in his room. He had hung himself, by their estimates, Friday night. Coincidentally, Friday night, Mom and I were sitting in the living room, which was near the top of the entryway steps, when a sudden flash of light streaked up the stairs, blew out the entryway light, and ricocheted down the hall. Dad tried replacing the lightbulb over the weekend, but it wouldn't work. Monday evening, the light worked again. 

    My brother left no note. We had no answers, especially when, among his things was a journal, in which he wrote that someday when he died, he would try to come back to see us. He also said that he would give his life for God, but would never take his own life. It's been nearly 43 years, and we still never found an answer. His death left a scar on our family. Paul was haunted that Jim didn't tell him he was suicidal. Paul had moved from our home in Maine to near where Jim was in New Jersey so they could hang out more. My mom blamed my dad that Jim's death was a toll for some past sin. I felt abandoned by someone that I could tell everything to. I lost my protector. Bill was devastated, and in many ways, stopped growing after that. And Freddy, well, he was seven years old, and didn't really comprehend the whole thing. He only knew he could bring me to instant tears by whispering to me, "Jim is dead". 

    Jim still comes to me in dreams, and he still looks 20, and he has come to me when I have been particularly troubled. Sometimes I wonder if the guiding voice I've heard has been his. My own guardian angel. 

    Today, on what would have been Jim's 63rd birthday, I am listening to The Rolling Stones. And when 'Angie' comes on, I won't hear it in Mick Jagger's voice.

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