He was stung by a jellyfish. That is, I think it was a jellyfish. I was sitting by the poolside with my parents and younger brother - during those teenage years when I didn't swim at all and was too shy to put on a swimsuit - and he walked towards us from the beach where he had been swimming.
I remember there was a kind of grimace on his face and the only sounds he made were those sounds that one makes when they're quietly trying to deal with pain. I described them as "hissing" sounds in my diary but I doubt if that's what they really were. He had his hand over his chest and someone must have mentioned "jellyfish" which was why, to this day, I remember it as the jellyfish incident.
He was my second oldest brother, only older by a mere two years. And yet he always seemed so much older, mature, one who seemed born to take charge. He was very independent from a young age but I questioned his maturity in later years. He had his own growing-up to do and it was sometimes hard to stand on the sidelines and watch, unable to help someone who obviously wanted to do things his own way, no matter what. Strong-headed. Bull-headed. He had a very stubborn streak that definitely ran in the family.
The recent tragedy in South Asia brought him to mind as I found out that he wasn't at the usual family Christmas dinner with my mother and brothers. No one really knew where he was. He had left the country with his wife to enjoy themselves ... where? Ordinarily, we wouldn't have worried. But because of the tsunami which had hit that region, I started to worry, and wondered why he hadn't called our mother to say that he was all right. And when I dwelled on it, I realised that I was getting upset over not knowing.
I thought about my brother. And, in a flash, the jellyfish incident came to the forefront and I could picture that young, mature-looking, teenager walking up to us from the beach, walking on the sands of the beach resort that the tsunami might have hit. It was a popular destination for the family during our school holidays. My brother was obviously in pain, with his hand over his chest. We could even see how red it was and that it was spreading.
When I called my mother the next day to find out his whereabouts, she told me that she had spoken to him the night before. He had just arrived home from a holiday spot in a neighbouring country that was closer to home and was nowhere near the danger. Their original plan was to visit one of the places hardest hit by the tsumani but they changed their minds as they had visited the place some months before and opted instead for a different holiday destination.
There were others who were not so lucky for they were right in the middle of it. And thousands more who will forever remain nameless and unknown to the rest of us.
Before the sun sets on my life, I would hope that I had lived a life that was worth something, that had meaning and fulfillment. I realise tragedies take place almost everyday, some of it not receiving the press coverage that others do.
A kind of fear gripped me after watching the news about the tsunami. It was similar to the fear I had after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. That night, I went to bed, feeling very unsettled, wondering if New York City would still be there the next morning when I woke up. I actually wondered if there would be an eerie silence over the radio instead of the usual music that served as the alarm clock. It didn't seem like I was being melodramatic at the time. The tragedy was still very fresh and the danger was very real even though I was nowhere near New York City. For the first time in a very long time, I realised that anything could happen.
The tsunami that hit those coastal regions was a different kind of tragedy but it hit closer to home for me. Loved ones who were by your side, taken away in an instant. Just like that. I wanted to watch the news for updates and yet, it upset me even more. But I still kept watching, knowing I was now only an onlooker. There were stories of those who survived and those who didn't. Families, friends, loved ones.
So it was natural that I thought of a loved one, someone whose location was unknown to the rest of the family. I wonder why that image of him, as a teenager in his swimming trunks, came to mind. Something to do with the beach, perhaps, or the ocean. Or the way he tried to quietly bear the pain brought on by the sting of the jellyfish, not saying much.
I shouldn't be writing anything right now. It just doesn't seem the proper thing to do. But I needed to write about it, to help release a bit of the anxiety, perhaps, after having agonised a little over the whereabouts of my brother and his wife. More than anything, I think I needed to write about my brother.
He was the one that I shared with about our father when I was in my early twenties. I was staying with him and his first wife and one night, I felt that it was time to tell him, knowing that he, too, looked up to our father. He was the one, at age nineteen, who drove me to the hospital, bringing with me a change of clothes for our mother who had gone there in her nightdress. It wasn't necessary for her to stay over at the hospital with our father so she came home with us. He was the one - when we were either in our late teens or early twenties, I forget which, unfortunately - who playfully flicked the back of my hair and called me "little sister" after I had asked him something - I forget what it was about - and I think I was on my way upstairs. And he was the one who was out on the porch tinkering with his motorcycle one night and I went outside after an unpleasant incident with my father, feeling safe in the company of my brother and wondering even then if I should tell him about our father. But I didn't. Does he remember these incidents? Not all of them, I'm sure, but I do.
Something tells me to hold on to what I've got. And never forget.