The things that remind me of Shane always seem to surprise me. Yes, I think about him almost every minute of the day in one way or another. There are photographs of him all over where I live and I can't speak to either of my parents without thinking of him. Almost all music reminds me of him in one way or another. None of these things ever creep up on me; they're expected and so I deal with the emotions that they bring accordingly.
It's the unexpected things that manage to take my breath away and choke me up. Today, I drove down Woodward Ave., passing the Detroit Artists Market. I drive past DAM at least a couple times a week. But today was the first day that there was snow on the ground. So it wasn't until today that I remembered that Shane and I had done Christmas shopping there for our parents last year. Shane and I visited the Market on a day much like today. Slush in the streets, a gray sky, biting cold air. I remember that I conscientiously didn't put enough money in the meter and left a ticket to chance. We spent about an hour in the Market, walking around, looking at all the art, most of which we couldn't afford. We purchased a handblown glass vase for our mother. We verbalized to one another that it was perfect for her because it was in shades of blue and reminded us of the water. And for our father, we got a painting of a lone wolf with its back to the viewer, staring off into the distance. Shane made a joke about a wolf pack and The Hangover, but from the amount of time that he spent looking at the painting, I know that there was a lot more going on behind his selection.
After picking out gifts for our parents, I took our selections to the desk and realized that Shane wasn't with me. I went back onto the main floor of the Market, finding Shane staring, contemplating, at a photograph. It's entitled "Extraordinary Light" and was taken in Michigan Central Station. The photographer printed the photo on metallic paper, so it has an aged, almost magical quality to it. It's a beautiful photograph that I will not attempt to further describe with words because there are simply things that do not translate between mediums. I didn't say anything to Shane at first, instead watching him stare at the photograph. At the time in December 2009, Shane rarely did things like this. He didn't take quiet moments for himself to reflect, and I knew that I was lucky to be getting to see him like this. That was probably one of the last times I saw him like that -- contemplative, thoughtful, lost in his head. When I look back on it now, I feel like I stole a little piece of him that day. He didn't know how long I was standing behind him. Maybe a few minutes passed, but it felt like much longer. I asked him if he was ready to go and he said yes.
I returned the next day and purchased "Extraordinary Light" for him. That was my last Christmas present to my brother, and I just now realized that. I'm looking at the photograph right now. It resides on top of a chest of drawers in my bedroom, across from my bed. It's one of the first things I see when I wake up in the morning and one of the last I see when I go to sleep at night. Shane was supposed to take it with him to Fort Campbell, but he left it at home, claiming that it would only get damaged with moving around. And he was probably right. So I ended up keeping his last Christmas present for safekeeping, until he would return from his deployment.
And I suppose that I will continue to hold on to it for safekeeping. That's one of the only pieces of comfort I take from Shane being killed in action. For me, I think he will always be deployed. He will never age and we will never grow apart. We just won't have spoken for awhile because, in my mind, I can allow him to just be out on a mission, unable to write or call. Maybe that's all the afterlife is, just not speaking to the ones we love for an extended period of time. Maybe they're always there, always right around a corner, just out of earshot. Maybe they're in our dreams, residing in that thin veil between reality and the unknown. I suppose that, for right now, while the rest of us are still living, they can live where ever we imagine them. Every time I look at photographs from Afghanistan, I imagine that Shane has somehow evaded the camera. That he is right outside of the frame, with his brothers, in his uniform, slightly slouched, making a half smile or grimacing his eyebrows, depending upon his mood. That's where Shane lives for me.