You’re turning 30 in less than a month. You’re thinking about getting a tattoo, the one you have always wanted for a while. You had asked a friend to design one for you. You told her that it was the last memory you have of being with your brother before he died. That last time you saw him alive was when he picked you up from the childcare center where you lived during your teen years.
It was after sunset when he arrived on his blue motorcycle to take you out for a ride. You can’t recall the brand name, but you remember it was blue and your sister was sitting behind him. You climbed on the motorcycle and sat in the middle between your brother and your sister. Together, he drove you and your sister through the village where you all grew up and then all the way downtown. You remember crossing a bridge, sitting in the middle holding onto your brother while your sister sat behind you. Maybe she had wrapped her arms around your waist to protect you from falling or maybe she had held onto the seat’s frame. You can’t remember it clearly but you remember you were holding onto your brother so tightly while enjoying the evening breeze. That was it. That was the last time you saw him alive, touched him, felt his warmth, and spent time with him. Then you never saw him again, not until that night.
That night you were fast asleep. You never had your own bedroom even when you were living at the childcare center. You shared a room with another 15 year-old girl, your age. You woke up abruptly in the middle of the night. Someone’s hand was shaking your arm calling your name to wake you up, commanding you must go home. Confused, scared, panicked, you thought someone had broken into the center to hurt you. You were half asleep, half awake. It was a man’s voice urging you to wake up, to go home with him. Then, you finally woke up. You opened your eyes, the light in the room was turned on. It was too bright but you saw his face. He was your brother’s friend. You recognized him; you could see his face now. You didn’t have time to ask. You followed him. He held your hand leading the way across the hall and then downstairs where the teacher who was assigned to look after you was standing, nodding her head to approve your leaving with this man, your brother’s friend.
You followed his lead to his motorcycle. You climbed on it, sitting behind him. You didn’t hold onto him like you did with your brother. You held onto the seat’s frame to balance yourself. He drove you from the center to your home. It was less than a 10 minutes drive but felt so far away. On the way, you tried to ask what was happening. He said, “it’s about your brother, he has died.” He has died. You heard the phrase clearly; your brother was dead but you were not sure how to take it. Why did he die? How did he die? When did he die? You didn’t cry. You wanted to, you should have cried but you couldn’t.
You got to the block where you grew up. You got to your home. You saw lights on, you heard people talking, sobbing, crying. The neighbors were right there at your home. You walked into the house, saw your sister and Mom. They were crying. You saw a casket and a picture of your brother framed by a flower ring in front of it, three incense sticks planted in a bowl of rice were burning away. It was a funeral service, your brother’s funeral. You ran into your Mom’s arms. You hugged her. She was crying very hard. You didn’t cry. You should have cried but you couldn’t. In your head, you were confused, too busy trying to make sense of what was happening. You were 15, you were at your brother’s funeral but how could it be a funeral when the casket was empty?
People began to talk about what had happened to your brother. He got into an accident, a tragedy, they said. You were told that your brother was very drunk while driving that blue motorcycle alone, very late at night. He hit a parked truck on the side road and died at the scene, they said. None of your family members knew about it for days. The police had found his body, left him at the temple where your father had been cremated 5 years before. But none of your family knew about the accident. You were told that your Mom and sister tried to find him after he didn’t show up the following day. You were told that he had left home on the evening of the accident after an argument with your Mom. You were told that the police couldn’t find your home or your family. Your brother’s body was rotting and no one came to claim him. So the police buried him in the cemetery near the temple in an empty spot. You were told that your brother was lucky to get that spot right after the family of an infamous burglar who had 11 fingers decided to reclaim his body for cremation. That was when you understood why the casket was empty. You had never before heard of a funeral without the dead body, much less attended one. Now you had attended one for the first time, for your brother’s funeral.
You hadn’t believed your brother was dead because you didn’t see his body. The next morning, your sister showed you photos taken from the accident scene. There were three pictures, your brother’s legs were broken, his jaw was broken, his face was swollen and there was blood on his shirt, his pants, all over his body. He was lying next to the blue motorcycle you last rode with him that last time you saw him alive. The motorcycle looked almost unrecognizable. You could barely recognize your brother from the photos but you knew it was him. He didn’t look like he was suffering. It seemed like he was asleep except he was sleeping in a pool of blood.
For years, you didn’t know how to deal with your brother’s death. You fantasized he was still alive and that one day, you’d run into him in a busy, crowded city (maybe in China?) where you would hug him and ask him why he pretended to be dead. Only then, he would explain to you about all that had happened. You couldn’t remember when you stopped fantasizing about him being alive. You didn’t remember when you accepted his death. You keep on living and doing your thing. You moved forward with your life. You have accomplished things, you have made mistakes, you continued to live and carried on with his memory.
You’re turning 30 in less than a month and you are planning to get a tattoo. You choose to remember the happy memories you spent time with your brother when he was alive, riding on his blue motorcycle. You think you have learned to deal with it but in reality, you are still learning while also confronting the fact that your mother is approaching death with each passing day. You might not be with her when she takes her last breath and worse than in your brother’s case, you might not make it to her funeral.
As you’re turning 30 in less than a month, you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, you’re confronting another loss of a loved one and you’re learning to deal with it, every day.