Every year on August 13 I say goodbye to my brother again. He was killed on this day in 2004 a little after midnight as he rode his Harley on the SoCal freeways. He was on his first vacation following his wife’s death from cancer two years previously. He was coming home from visiting a friend, rode up an incline and around a dark curve right into the back of an abandoned SUV.

It probably took him a few minutes to die. I imagine him lying in the gravel on the side of the road thinking about his daughter, or, maybe not. I imagine him in great pain, but maybe not. The point is that imagining his last moments is all I have left of him – it was suddenly, all I had left of him.

My life is filled with abrupt goodbyes. The call from the county coroner after my mother was murdered; the call from my cousin when my uncle Bob, my father’s identical twin, was killed after driving onto the railroad tracks and the call from my stepmother that my father was in a coma from which he would never wake up.

But the call from my eighteen year old niece on August 13, 2004 at 2AM after she arrived home from her first job at a pizza parlor to find the coroner on her porch was the worst call of them all.

And I expected it. You cannot live a life like mine filled with so many dramatic exits without waiting for the next one.

My brother visited my ex-husband and me at our South Lake Tahoe cabin that year – a little over a month before he died. He was late because he was enjoying the ride on his Harley. When he arrived I yelled at him for being late and worrying me and he replied that I needed to be prepared because he would probably die on a bike. The next day he asked me to make sure my niece was okay if something happened to him. He made me promise.

The week he died he dropped in from Southern California – he’d started out that day on a ride and just kept going all the way to the Bay Area. I yelled at him for not calling first – hey, that’s what sisters do. Then I hugged him and told him that he had to be careful because if he died I would be all alone. He reminded me that I had Sam, his daughter. Then he left.

My brother was my person, my touchstone, half my memory and the only one who shared with me the wasteland of our often violent and disruptive upbringing. Our father beat our mother almost every day and my brother protected her as soon as he could toddle. Our mother was schizophrenic and often off of her meds. The point is, we had each other and only each other and we were connected beyond our DNA. After we grew up there were long periods when we did not speak or were separated by miles and even outlook. These separations did not matter. He was my brother, my other half, my memory, my connection to a childhood that we survived together and that no one else knew the truth of – and I was his.

Every August 13 I remember that his first word was my name – and we were not even living in the same house at the time, our mother was on one of her enforced absences, by which I mean she was committed.

I remember seeing him walking across the parking lot from the hospital window as our father lay in a coma and thinking that now, no matter what, I would be okay.

I remember holding his hand as our father slipped away and he stayed strong as I broke down. I know now that our father’s death and the death of his wife were the two times my niece saw him cry.

My brother joined the Marines when he was eighteen.  I was married at the time to my ex-husband and living in San Jose while he was stationed in Southern California. When he had leave he would bring his friends from boot camp to my house to visit.

I remember waking up and going out to get the newspaper in the morning, in my bathrobe with no makeup and my hair a mess, to find 20 Marines sleeping in our front yard having arrived after midnight and my brother deciding that he didn’t want to wake me up.

I remember my brother calling after his daughter was born – he’d picked out her name years before her birth, because he always wanted to be the father of a daughter.

I remember the last time my niece, my brother and I were together. It was after the 4th of July the year he died. They came to visit and we spent a day driving through the Santa Cruz Mountains, going to the beach, visiting spots from our childhood. My niece and I teased my brother mercilessly and he wore the smile I still see in my dreams, just a soft upturning of one corner of his mouth. It could be a smirk, it could be humor, it could be anything – that smile was always on his face.

And then I got a call.

The last time I heard my brother’s voice was when I canceled his T-Mobile cell phone plan. The T-Mobile employee was kind enough to let me listen to the message again, and again, and again – taking up too much time I am certain – until finally I officially cancelled my brother’s account and lost his voice forever.

Every August 13 I remember and I say goodbye again, and again, and again.

Goodbye Tommy, again.