It’s no secret that I miss my brother-in-law, Donnie. I’ve blogged about it, talked about it, written about it, and I’ve got a memorial tattoo on my arm. A Harley symbol with three sets of initials, celebrating the special connection between myself, Chuck, and him, completed with Avenged Sevenfold wings. It’s painful to look at, but it helps. After all, he was involved in 90% of what we did, from working on trucks and riding motorcycles, to 4th of July fireworks and throwing hay bales all summer long, not to mention those quiet summer nights standing in the doorway of the garage, beer in hand. Winter was a time for ice hockey, snowboarding, and drinking whiskey by the woodstove. (Well, I drank the whiskey, the boys drank beer.) The point is, he was always there.
Afterward, I couldn’t even look at his chair by the stove. The thought of it remaining empty for the rest of time brought a crushing weight down on my chest, and made it hard to breathe. The garage was a nightmare for me, and the sight of a motorcycle could never fail to bring on the tears. It’s gotten easier, but it never goes completely away. We’ve been moving on, doing our thing, but in the back of my mind, I know that we are minus a member of our three-man crew.
Last week, when I hauled Chuck’s truck to the pulls, I turned to him with a sad smile. “You know what’s running through my mind right now?” I asked.
“That day you hauled the baler home,” he said, the pain evident in his voice that broke a little, just a little.
“Yeah,” I said, “He woulda really enjoyed this.”
The pain is always there, although sometimes it’s recessed in the corners of my mind, waiting like a snake to strike out at me when I least expect it. We started haying last night, and as I jumped on the tractor, sitting on the fender while my five-year-old drove us down to the field, I was drawn back to a day when Donnie stood on the fender, teaching me to shift the gears. As I stood on the wagon, ready to stack the bales thrown to me, I was taken back to a day where I was going down to the field with him. He was holding a beer as he drove the Ford tractor down the road. When we got into the field, he handed me the beer, told me to finish it. Afterwards, he taught me to stack a hay wagon. He’s always there.
The other day, my five-year-old, Lucas, handed me a rock he had written on. “It’s Donnie’s name,” he told me. “I remember him.” What an amazing thing to hear from my son. I remember him too. I remember the way he touched my life, and apparently, my two boys’ lives. I remember every little thing from the last eleven years. I’m glad that my boys remember him, and I’m sad that CC won’t.
Sometimes I think the pain will fade, little by little. It hasn’t even been a year. Other times, I know better; I know there will always be a piece of us missing.