Quick. Tell me a moment that was important to you.
Such moments should be on the tip of your tongue. No matter how long ago they happened, you remember. You remember because of a spark, a tug or because of a dream.
You remember because you laughed so hard you thought your ribs would crack, as your forehead once did when you were barely four and required stitches. Or you remember because of the happiness you felt that swelled gloriously inside you.
I have an imaginary box filled with such moments of my life. And the first one I pull from the box is of me and my older brother.
We are three years apart, he and I, and our birthdays are three days apart, too. His comes first and then mine.
In this moment, we are playing astronaut in our brownstone in Queens, laying on a worn-out loveseat in the basement with our backs where our fannies should be. Our legs hang over the back of the seat, dangling over the precipice into infinity. With an imaginary black sky over us, we see clusters of stars in the specks of the ceiling.
“There’s Orion,” I shout. “I see Andromeda,” he replies.
We keep going and conjuring imagery of outer space. It is an incredible adventure we share. Too wonderful for words and I wish it can always be this way.
There’s a moment where we are running up the street, panting as we race up a hill and he is ahead of me. We fly like the wind, as the Keds’ commercial would say. My white sneakers carry me forward like a gazelle, I imagine. Glancing down, I see a glint of sunlight flicker at me. It is a coin.
“Money,” I yell.
We stop in our tracks. Turning the coin over in his palm, my brother says it’s a quarter.
My eyes widen. A whole quarter!
We then run to the candy store. I get a Hershey’s chocolate almond bar. He gets a Chunky and we still have a nickel leftover. I slip it in my pocket and we devour the candy on the way home.
In another moment, we are playing house with our cousins. I am the big sister and he is the baby. My older cousin is the mom. We turn a card table upside down, hang a blanket over it and crawl inside. This is how we play house. My brother makes for a good baby.
We have many moments of going to the movie theater. We see “Help,” starring the Beatles, but the older girls in the theater scream the entire time, and we barely hear the dialogue or the songs. I come home with a headache.
Another time we walk down Main Street by ourselves to see Jerry Lewis in “The Nutty Professor.” We laugh so hard we fall out of our seats. My sides ached but I love this moment. Jerry Lewis was our favorite comedian then.
So many moments with my brother. They pass, they fall away. They scatter to parts unknown. Many long forgotten. Others stay with me always, like the time he taught me how to ride a bike. Too many moments to count. I cannot share them all.
We are older now and my brother faces the biggest challenge of his life. I am scared. For him and for me. I’m not ready. I want to hold on to him and play astronaut forever. I want to run up the street with him like we once did and lick the last bit of chocolate from the candy wrappers. I want to dream of reaching for the sky and holding the stars in our hands. Two children–two little astronauts with nothing but the universe before us.
But these are different times now. My brother needs to muster his strength and I’m so far away. Those days of wonderment are behind us, anyway.
I look to the night sky and see the Milky Way as we once imagined. Which one of us made up the astronaut game, I wonder? I gather my moments and slip them back in their box. Weathered from the years, I tuck them away in my heart.
I’m not ready, I say again. But who listens to the words of an old woman? I hold onto these moments with all my strength, for they are pieces of me and pieces of my brother. Moments that I don’t want to forget.
Be safe, I say. Be safe.