• Maria Sestito

The keeper of memories

There was nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to see. I thought about traveling to Florida to be there when my dad picked up my brother’s ashes or flying to New Jersey to help comfort my mom. I thought about delaying my move date, my new job. I thought about having a ceremony here in California with balloons or sky lanterns. I thought about the sea lions who might choke on the withered latex and the dry brush that might catch fire when my paper lanterns land. 

I could do none of these things. I could write an obituary – something better than the ones I wrote at my first newspaper job. Maybe something poetic. My mom suggested I wait. She wants to have a memorial service in a church. She wants me to mention the time and place in the obituary. But there is no time, no place – not yet. 

It could be six months or longer until we have a funeral for my brother. Fucking pandemic. 

I never realized how much a memorial could help, marking the occasion and allowing us to mourn the person who died. Memorials give us permission to move on just a little – just enough to feel OK going on with our lives, returning to work, celebrating birthdays and graduations, laughing without feeling guilty. Without this moment with family, what do we do? How do we acknowledge our loss? How do we acknowledge this precious life? How long are we allowed to stay home ignoring emails, watching TV, forgetting to sleep and crying whenever we feel like it?

With no answer to these questions and no real solution, I started scanning photos. There were 156 that either had Anthony in them or reminded me of him. There were more online; these were the ones that never lived digitally – the ones printed at drugstores from disposable cameras. The originals. The ones with coffee stains, certain faces burned or cut out, colored on with Crayola crayons.

My favorite photos are from life before I was born. My mom is young, only 19 and 20, with soft and clear skin, bright eyes and plump cheeks. She looked so happy as a new mom. And Anthony, my brother, he is the cutest. Shaggy brown hair, blue eyes, dimples, a gap between his two front teeth. In this life, he snuggles on my mom’s stomach while she naps on the couch and rides her shoulders underneath autumn leaves. 

Soon my brother Eddie will show up and pretend not to smile; then me, always wanting to be in the middle and smiling so widely that my cheeks hurt. We’d be digging a hole at the beach, playing on the boardwalk or running through the card maze at Storybook Land. 

I don’t remember most of the moments in these photos, but I am the keeper of them. Through all my family’s chaos and moves, I’ve kept the photos safe. I hold onto the happy times, I hold onto the hope. Now I’ll hold onto my brother’s memory, too, and make sure his son’s questions are answered. He is six. He is the cutest. Blue eyes, dimples, a gap between his two front teeth. 

This was written May 29, 2020, but published Aug. 10, 2020.

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