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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

Get Here When You Can

There are hills and mountains between us Always something to get over If I had my way, surely you would be closer I need you closer.

I have two brothers. Even though my younger brother is deceased, I still like to make that statement in the present tense. I still have two brothers.

My younger brother was one of the early casualties of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. This was after Magic Johnson’s declaration, but before we really knew the safe ways to interact with an infected person. He was a person who loved life and made “significant contributions” during the time he had with us. My brother was about pushing boundaries and possibilities. He was always fun to be around and you never quite knew what adventure you were on until the end of the ride. My brother lived with his dad for quite a while so it was always a treat when we saw him. As an adult, you were never quite sure where he would pop up. He had a happy go lucky approach to life, didn’t take the stresses of life too seriously which caused him some pain towards the end of his life. He worked as an asbestos remover (which didn’t help the illness). When my brothers weren’t calling me Steve, they would refer to my sister and me as Pudge. My younger brother’s nickname was Butch. These were nicknames just for family.

My brother sought out his African roots and started practicing a West African way of life. This came with a name change and a change in lifestyle. But even with all of that, our love stayed consistent. In New York, you can acquire a permit to have block parties. You block of both ends of the street to traffic, set up tables and play games, enjoy food and your neighbors. This new way of life attracted, let’s just say folks who are not quite accustomed to the American way of life. One gentleman offered my brother 14 goats for me. YIKES. I’m glad it wasn’t a more tempting offer.

The picture with this post is of my brother coming to the hospital when I had my first son. (Check out the jacket. Keep in mind, it was the 80's.)My older brother and his wife were there the night before while I was laboring. It’s good to have people who love you. When my brother knew his time was winding up, he went on a farewell tour, visiting family up and down the east coast. He stayed with me for a few days and we were able to reunite him and his children that lived in Georgia. It had been a while since his son saw him and it was a happy reunion. We had a nice family dinner and I had a copy of the Oleta Adams song “Get Here If You Can.” Of course we were all very emotional after hearing that song…but in a good way. Sometimes people with terminal illnesses have an advantage in that they are more aware of their mortality. All of us have to leave this earth. Some of us are just more connected to our expiration dates.

When we received word that my brother was gone, words can’t quite express our state of mind. His dad had passed away a few years earlier so we were able to focus on our mom. What a traumatic experience it is to lose a child. You just can’t wrap your head around it. He left us with wonderful memories and some really awesome nieces and nephews. They are such fabulous people and professionals in the fields of law, architecture, TV production, education, healthcare and business.

During his farewell tour I asked my brother if he knew how he got the disease. He said he wasn’t sure…and at that point, it wasn’t important. What was important was the love that we shared and I continue to share with his children.

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