Thursday, September 23, 2010

letters from the county jail

I got a letter from my brother a few days ago. He wished me a happy birthday, said he hadn't forgotten. I'd written him about a week before that, telling him all the things you say in letters, that are better articulated on paper, and then I folded him an origami dinosaur. When I do things with my hands, anything using fine motor skills, I become completely absorbed in it, very focused. It's a trait I share with Josh. When he was little he had to go to an occupational therapist because he was developmentally delayed in regard to his fine motor skills. When he wrote--and still today--it required every bit of concentration, and somewhere along the way I began to imitate it, picked up the habit.

It's been cooling down some here--not much, but enough to make the mornings and evenings suggestive of a coming Fall. And I've been walking everywhere. To campus, to work, all across town. After I got his letter from the mailbox, I read it at a picnic table and then I walked. For the last week my brother has been associated with long, late afternoon, end of summer light, the sort of light that hangs in the air.

The thing about all this movement is it's freeing me up to think about one thing without all the distractions. If my hands and arms are completely engaged by the task of cutting perfectly straight lines or untangling beads, my mind is left to move however and wherever, but more intentionally. My brother is the opposite: by concentrating on the physical task at hand, he can quiet his mind in ways I've never been able to.

And so all this walking, all this movement, keeps my mind on a boy who, right now, I know in letters. His handwriting, wobbly like he hasn't got much control of it, is the same as it always was, only smaller. Funny the inverse: he's the same as he always was, only bigger. And I feel like I can only know him through the screen of paper, like when we were kids, only the screen then was made of something our mom left behind.

I'm thinking of an essay by Tim O'Brien. I can't remember what it's called, but he's talking about a little girl he loved when he was a little boy, a girl who had (I think) a tumor. And when he writes about her, or about himself, writing out memories he'd imagined those years ago, he says he realizes it is as Tim, writing to save Timmy's life with a story. And the origami, like paper cranes, a thousand paper dinosaurs. My brother wants me to write him a story about when we were kids, about all the things he remembers. And I feel like Tim O'Brien, writing to save his life, writing hoping that when I put the pen down and look up I'll see the big Josh with all the things I hoped he might have, all the hope in the world embodied in what he could have been, what he could still be. There are so many things I can't do for him, things he must do. But I can write. To him, for him, movement that doesn't stop.

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