It was 1982 and I was 12 years old, holding a tattered photograph in front of my mother. I’d found it in a box of old photos in the garage. I’d been working on my Autobiography, an assignment from my 6th Grade teacher that seemed a bit premature.
In the photograph, there is a young boy in flannel pajamas sitting on the back of a frosted blue upholstered couch. He is beaming while holding a board game of The Jungle Book. Next to him sits an adolescent girl, in a blue nightgown fit for a princess with matching lace and satin blue robe. She holds her hands folded on her lap and smiles at the camera with lips pursed and head cocked slightly to the right. Sitting in front of them is a teenaged boy in his green and blue plaid bathrobe. He is barely smiling at the camera and looks as though he was woken up far too early. Next to him is a girl of four or so, bundled up in a puffy, satin pink bathrobe holding another board game. This one is Winnie the Pooh, and she is smiling wildly. Above their heads hangs a string of Christmas cards against a backdrop of bamboo styled wallpaper, with vertical lines seeming to grow out of the couch. The date on the photograph is January 1969. I recognized the first three children as my older brother and sisters, however, I did not know this fourth child, the one holding The Jungle Book game, which is why I was standing in front of my mother with the photograph.
“Who is this boy, Mom?”
“What boy?” she replied. My mother was not looking at me. She was standing at the stove, stirring an enormous pot of spaghetti sauce. It was Wednesday, spaghetti night at my house, and the smell of fried peppers and onions permeated the kitchen. When she finally looked at the picture in my hand, I saw something in her eyes that I had never seen before and it confused me. She immediately turned back to the stove to add the meatballs to the sauce.
“That was Steven. He was your brother. He died.”
She continued to stir and I continued to hold out the photograph, trying to understand what she had just said to me.
“Set the table, dinner is going to be ready soon.”