Thirty-eight years ago, Michael Todd Kelley was born. He was a sweet kid and a wonderful little brother. Sure, we had our ups and downs. We fought as siblings do. We tattled. We yelled. But we also loved. And laughed. And shared. When our older brother, Derek, was in a tragic accident in 1987, which left him in a coma, our parents needed to be by Derek's side. They held vigil in the ICU, leaving me and my little brother to work through things on our own. We never blamed our parents for their focus and devotion to our older brother. We loved him and worried about him, too. So we turned to each other for support. I remember holding Todd (we often go by our middle names in the South) while he cried over Derek. Todd was only 13. I was 16. Over the next few years, my bond with Todd grew stronger as he began to confront demons. Alcoholism. Drug use. And other issues too personal to share in cyber space. But through it all, I held on tight. He was my little brother and he needed me.
As we grew older, our lives diverged. I went to college, then to law school. I moved to Miami to take my first job as a lawyer, leaving Todd behind in Alabama. I thought he'd be fine. After all, he had incredible charisma and was extremely intelligent. When he was just 12, he was writing programs in binary code on our old Commador 64 dinosaur. He wrote beautiful poems and stories. He was thoughtful, philosophical, and kind. By the age of 29, he was the General Manager of a country club in Montgomery. And good at it.
But on January 3, 2004, the demons that chased my little brother his entire life caught up with him. He was 30. To this day, almost eight years later, just thinking of the way his bright life ended so abruptly brings tears to my eyes.
So I think of him today, on what would've been his 38th birthday. I miss not being able to call him to wish him a Happy Birthday. Or invite him for Christmas. I wonder if he would be married and have children. Nieces and nephews I could dote on the way I love my niece, Rebecca, and nephew, Sam, on my husband's side. I pray that one day I can think of him on his birthday without the cloud of sadness that inevitably arrives on this day. Every year, I wish the pain were gone, but it never is. I miss him. Who he was and who he would've become.
To try to alleviate some of the ache, I write. This is, above all else, why I write. You hear writers, including me, talk about the compulsion of it. The fact that writing is an internal force that can't be contained. But the genesis of that force differs for each writer. For me, many of my words represent tear drops. A physical and psychological release of pain. Just as sadness can overwhelm us, making us unable to contain our sobs, my fingers often move across my keyboard without my conscious involvement. Because I can't force or control my words anymore than I can the emotions flowing down my face with my tears.
Rest in peace, little brother. I love you.