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Friday, July 2, 2010

18 years

I hated him, except for when I loved him. We fought like cats and dogs. I was fire, and he was ice. I have often heard that hate and love are two sides of the same coin. I would have to agree. My brother, Jon, and I completely defined sibling rivalry as small children.

As time passed, I became less annoying and the relationship transformed into an incredible friendship. Most people search a lifetime for the friendship and the unconditional love and acceptance that I had for 17 years of my life. Today marks the 18th anniversary of the worst day of my life. July 2, 1992. My brother, my best friend, drowned off the coast of Venezuela. I have blogged this horrible, tragic story in the past if you are curious about the details and want to search the archives.

Today, the pain has been raw and riding just below the surface. It's a funny thing about old grief. Sometimes you forget it, and sometimes it just reaches up and slams right into you. Many years the anniversary passes with just a twinge of pain, but this year it's been tough. I guess I'm at a season in life where time is passing quickly, and I deeply miss my brother. I regret that he is not available to answer the phone when I need advice with my teenage kids, or to sit in the other end of my boat on fishing trips to keep me company or to encourage me to reach for the stars.

Tonight, rather than wallow in grief, I want to turn the tide. I want to celebrate an amazing man. A man that completely changed my life. A man that gave me the courage to become the woman that I am. Tonight I want to relive the good times. This may get long. Please don't feel obligated to read the entire piece. This is for my healing. For my pain.

One of my favorite games when we were little was a cheap way to entertain a lot of rambunctious kids. We would all line up on opposite sides of the basement with a stack of paper wads created from old newspapers and magazines. We chunked the paper wads at each other, scrambling to the middle to grab another stack. The winner was the first team to collect all the paper wads. I don't remember exactly how this was a competitive game. I just remember laughing and giggling and running and laughing some more. Tackling my brothers, and running for my life.

As a teen, Jon enjoyed playing ping pong. My oldest brother, Jeff, was already away at college, leaving Jon without a playing partner. He must have been desperate. I was too little to reach around, up, and over the table. He sat up a chair at the end of the table, had me hold my paddle real still, and then he tried to bounce the ball off my paddle. Gradually it progressed to me gently hitting the ball back, and eventually I grew enough to reach around the table and play him hard. Those late nights of sweaty ping pong, running into the table, laughing and yelling....those were great nights. I lost more often than I won, but the times that I won, I celebrated big! The same story exists around chess. Lacking a partner, he taught his 8 year old sister to play - and win.

As a preteen, I struggled. All preteen girls go through a period of awkwardness, but mine was worse than usual. I still don't know exactly why, but during this rough time in my adolescence, when I doubted my value to my very core, Jon made an extra effort to include me in stuff with his friends. What group of teen boys wants a little sister tagging along, right? But the boys were great sports - whether he dragged me along on a bowling trip, hunting expedition, or fishing trip.

Fishing was one of the best things we all did. Jon, sometimes a friend or two, dad, and me - Jeff too when he was home from school. It ranged from fishing in our small boat in nearby lakes and ponds to the best - creek fishing. I loved those days - waking up by 4:00 so that we could drive up into the hills to find the best water. We would walk upstream, fishing as we went, then at midday, go back down the stream. The guys were hardcore fishermen, but I meandered along through the cool water, looking at the world around me, learning to appreciate the beauty of leaves falling, the intricacies of spider webs, and the amazing blue sky reflecting in the water. I fished enough that I was a part of the adventure, but not so much that I had to haul a lot of fish on my belt.

Jon was a physicist. That sure came in handy for me doing science fair projects. Some years I never even understood exactly what we were building, but it was fun. One year, I recreated an old liquid battery used in the early telegraph days. That year I spent lots of nights in "the dungeon", Jon's lab he used in the physics department at the college he was attending. As I was running the tests on the experiment, there were hours of lag time waiting on the results. We sat for many nights that year, cross legged on the lab table, discussing all the great quandaries of life - like his theories on global warming, the girl he was falling in love with, problems with his friends, our parents' disintegrating marriage, my boyfriend issues, and where we wanted to go in life.

Memories are flooding back tonight...him calling up just to see if I wanted to ride with him to Wal-mart, renting a movie and hanging out on the couch, calling to check to make sure I had a ride to piano or painting lessons, or the two of us sitting on the piano bench, just to sing together. After his marriage, he included me in family dinners, let me babysit their beautiful baby girl, and made me feel that his family was my family. The last time I saw him was at an early fourth of July celebration right before he left for Venezuela. I told him about the new guy I was dating, and set up a date for the two of them to meet when he got back into town. But unfortunately, Shawn never met my brother.

There are way too many amazing moments to exhaustively cover them here, tonight. Bottom line: I loved being wanted and included. I will miss him until the end of time, but I am grateful beyond measure that God allowed me to have such an incredible and amazing relationship. A fabulous best friend, even if it was only for 17 years of my life. Those 17 years had a large part in creating the woman that I've become.

R.I.P. Jon

Thanks for everything.


ncwdust said...


I loved reading these things about Jon. I still miss him as well. He made a huge impression on many of us.


LaRissa said...

Thanks. I miss him every day that I breathe. I think it makes it harder for me to find another best friend (besides Shawn). He just instinctively knew that I wanted to hang out - even if it was just a trip to Wal-mart. And he was great at hearing me, even when I had stupid ideas. I never felt judged and never had to play games. That's a hard relationship to replace.