Danny was two years younger than me. I remember his bassinet sitting at the end of our couch, and thinking how small he was. He was so interesting to me as a baby. When he was old enough to walk he followed me everywhere. We used to play “Felix the Cat”. I was Felix and Danny was the bag of tricks. That meant that he had to become whatever I wanted, like a chair or a car or a pet canary. He happily obliged. We shared a room when we were small. Neither one of us wanted to sleep on the top bunk, so we shared the bottom. Sometimes he annoyed the hell out of me, like when he freed the turtle that my dad had rescued out of the middle of the road and kept in a box for me.
When our parents divorced we stuck together like the little Scottie dog magnets that we loved to play with. Mom moved to an apartment, Dad moved to his parent’s house, and Danny and I stayed with some neighbors until the end of the school year. To a seven and five year old it was the end of the world as we knew it. All we could count on was each other. Even after we moved into the apartment with our mom, the feeling of having to look out for him never left me.
Growing up, he and I fought like crazy, but it was Danny and me against the world if someone was picking on either one of us. Walking home from school one cold winter day, some older boys were throwing snowballs at us. I told those boys off and when we got home Danny and I snuggled up on the couch together to get warm again. I told him those boys were assholes.
As teenagers Danny often threatened to tell my mom when I was doing something that I obviously shouldn’t have been doing. He would blackmail me and get me to do all kinds of work for him in return for keeping the information to himself. Sometimes I hated him.
We grew up and I got married and moved to Arizona. After my daughter was born I flew back to Michigan for a month. Danny was as interested in that baby girl as I was in him as an infant. One of my favorite pictures is of her propped up in the corner of my mother’s couch, Danny feeding her cereal out of a little bowl. He came out to visit us at Christmas that year, and I went home again the following summer. I don’t really remember very well what we talked about or what we did. He was busy with his friends and work; I was busy with a toddler.
Danny made the decision to enlist in the Air Force, and took a last trip to Florida to visit our aunt and cousins before going to basic training. While he was in Florida, my husband, two year old daughter and I were preparing to move back to Michigan. For days before the move I had a terrible feeling about the trip. I was so excited to be moving back to my family, but felt a deep dread at the same time. On the morning of January 29th, 1977, we pulled out of our driveway with all of our possessions in tow. We were just a few miles up the road when I said to my husband, “We have to go back to the house.” He thought I was crazy, but I insisted we go back. I told him we left the title to our car and we had to go back and get it. When we pulled back into the driveway, our next door neighbor came running out and said there was a phone call for me, that there had been a death in my family. I ran to the phone, and when I said “hello” I heard my mom’s voice. I said “who, mom, who?”
She said, “Danny.” He drowned while scuba diving with a friend. His friend and nearby fishermen tried to save him, but he was lost to us that winter day. I am fifty-six years old, and the loss of my little brother is still the greatest tragedy of my life.