He died a few months ago. Or was it years? Or yesterday? Death is strange like that. Time bending really. His voice is so clear to me, it's as if we just got off the phone. My younger brother Rodney died quite unexpectedly in his sleep. He was in great shape, but was stressed by work and had high blood pressure that I'm pretty sure he didn't religiously medicate. He was 39.
"Duke," as he crowned himself in high school after a Stevie Wonder song, was the third oldest in our brood of 7, just below me in age. We were the best of friends when he slipped away, but he entered life as my mortal enemy. Mainly because he was the bratty little interloper who sucked all the air from the room with his loud, obnoxious and yes, funny antics.
We fought like brothers.
Then one day with neither fanfare nor come to Jesus talk, and with none of the awkwardness of underlying tensions that often linger in fraternal feuds, we were friends.
As an adult, Rodney could still command a room with ribald tales of conquest. His voice was loud. His laugh, thunderous. But he also had a serious, reflective side that a stranger could easily mistake for introversion.
The power of his seduction was in his personality. And when he finally settled down with the one and got married just months before his unexpected passing, he couldn't have been more content.
In one of our last conversations, he called me, sang parts of a song he was trying to recall, and asked me who sang it. He was putting together a playlist of songs of his youth for his 9 year old stepson. A boy he loved as his own. The tune and artist he was trying to recall was Gilbert and Sullivan's, Alone Again, Naturally. There was something of those sad lyrics that resonated with him, "and when she passed away, he cried and cried all day, alone again, naturally." Maybe it reminded him of our late mother, whose name he had tattooed on his arm.
It's been 10 years now since that awful, unbelievable, gut wrenching, unfair day that I got the call about Rodney.
Oftentimes, I'll smile at a distant memory. And sometimes, the loss hurts as much as it did way back then. A lifetime ago, yesterday.