Artwork by Dale Bridges
"Ghosts aren't real," you said sitting heavy across the dark room, lip curled and side-eyed. I recognized you as my brother, but we had never met; not ghost, not flesh. My mouth filled with laughter. I squealed, "But you're dead since 1998! And this is how we meet!? Tiny bright stars swirled out from my mouth, merged with strips of moonlight pushed through small windows, shatter! Soft, gray dust fell onto the bed, wooden chest, dresser, chair buried in clothes, your tall shoulders. You leaned in as if the windows had not just exploded into cosmic earth, and spoke again, "and tell Mom hell isn't real, either." Your lip curled further into a thin white line, parting the night, "and tell her water comes from outer space."
From what I understand, Mom didn't want to let you go, but that's how things went back then in the early '70s when you were 19 and in the Marine Corps and unmarried and trying to live the type of life people holding Bibles said was right. So many wars on bodies. There was also the truth. A tall, handsome man had left her belly full and the rest of her empty. Their song was "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack. That's all I know, and that his hair was black. You were the baby my mother named John, a baby who became a mourning even before the November day you were born.
You were not a talking, laughing, or crying voice in my ear, or a fist in my arm, or a room or candy shared. You were not my buddy on a walk to the corner store. You were not my sister, nor my other brothers. You were a quiet, still idea, a heart we welded to our hearts. Every night we prayed together, "God Bless our other brother John who lives far, far away." We talked about what you might look like, what you might act like, and what you might think of us.
Even when one of our homes became unstable, when we were hanging with dealers and delinquents in Dad's basement, when we had to think about other things, we never forgot you John, and it had never crossed our minds you would die. No. No. You were out there waiting for the right moment to come into our lives. You were going to tell us you understood why our mother birthed your little body and held you while she prayed for you to grow really, really big before she gave you to a good couple in Texas. You were going to tell us you understood why you were far, far away from the Midwest. Mom's brothers were really big, but not over six-feet-six-inches like our other brother, you.
Mom found out about your size in a note she received from the adoption agency in 1995; it also said your first name was Scott and you played the guitar and wrote a lot. She read it quietly in front of us, in our third single-mom house. When she was finished, she looked up with tears in her eyes and exclaimed, "I prayed he would grow really big so he could protect himself always—I knew God was listening!" We then started calling you John Scott.
Soon after that, the adoption agency closed and there was no way to contact you. In 2015, Mom decided to search. She'd finally meet her other son; we'd finally meet our other brother. When she found your last name, your sister and I combed through pictures of men online. We tried to guess which one was you by your age, eyes, nose, and cheekbones. We tried to decipher which Scott was as tall as a tree. Then Mom found your address near Houston. She sent you a letter. She received a letter back. I don't know what she felt when she held the envelope in her hand, when she opened the paper inside to a distant, imagined world. Or when she read the hand-written words that were not yours, but those of your other mother. But I know she was as sad as she'd always been as she spoke to me on the phone through choking tears: "He died in 1998... he was only 24... a blood clot... a tragedy."
"He was my first born. John means God's gracious gift. He was a gift sent down from heaven to bring light and love and a special melody to all of us. Even now, from heaven's gates, he knows us. He loves us. He understands. I will see you again." Though I do not know God, her words have stayed in my body.
After this, my sister found records, located the cemetery, and some of your friends, too. They opened us to who you were, shared stories, photos, and recordings of your songs. I finally understood the feeling I had carried since I first prayed your name into the night. John Scott, you were born a lament. You were grieved before you even came into the world, and for so long after you left. John Scott, an undying idea of a brother far away, a rhythm through my blood, but so far away.
November is a complicated mourning breathed into a white-walled room, and into a mother forever. The unknown, her sorrow. You sought lonely planets from a forbidden field at forbidden hours. You thought spaceships had landed there. You held the universe in your blood and giant bones. You created music that extended beyond your own hurting body. You stirred yourself, as you stirred your friends to marry you cosmically forever. Your heart so big, it filled the mouth of a wide, starry city. It eventually choked on its throbbing. John Scott, you saw beyond the sky, above the water. You let it show you how to live and how to die. You wrote us answers and asked us questions that remain in songs and records. You sang to us, "Get your head above the water. I wonder why it is you came." You made it so that somehow, I love you.