I was walking the other day in downtown Los Angeles when I saw him – a man in his mid-forties, slight of build, with a square jaw and dark eyes. My heart jumped in my chest, John! I wanted to shout out, but did not. My brother, you see, died back in 1991 and this couldn’t be him. Or could it?
The man disappeared down the stairs to the subway and I followed since that was my destination as well. What if? I found myself asking, what if John didn’t really die and he’s been alive and well all of these years? I knew with one part of my brain that this was crazy. My brother Jim had been there with John when he died of AIDS and he had watched as the dark-suited attendants from the Neptune Society had come in the early evening to carry his body off for cremation. Jim had told us all the details: how ill-fitting the suits were of the two men, who were tall and thin like two Ichabod Cranes; how their faces were deathly pale, as if they themselves were dead and simply picking up one more recruit. But still, I never saw my brother John dead, I never saw his body with its spirit absent. What if….what it there had been some mistake?
I hurried down the staircase to the subway, trying to keep the man in my view. I was relieved to see that he was going on the same train as I was, and I made a point of stepping in the same car so that I could get a better look. He was facing away from me on the train and I noted how similar in build he was to John and also his hair – brown with a bald spot on the top. My throat closed at the possibility that he would turn and there would be my brother – the one whose chuckle I missed so much, whose dark eyes crinkled when he was amused. I knew how irrational these thoughts were and I also knew that this was not my brother, but it was the hope that caught me off guard. The desire to again be in the presence of this loved one who I had not seen in twenty-five years.
The man turned and glanced at me, no doubt feeling my stare boring into the back of his head. He did look remarkably like John – even his nose had a slight crook in it as John’s did from breaking it when he was young. But, of course, he was not my brother. He was a stranger who bore some resemblance to him and shared a similar fashion sense. Still, I smiled at him and he smiled back just as the door opened and he stepped out of the subway car.
I felt a mixture of sadness and happiness. It was a sweet feeling that I still felt such ardent love for my brother. It was also sad that I missed him still.
And the man…who knows? Maybe I reminded him of a sister or a friend he had lost. His smile seemed familiar and knowing.