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Twenty two years, give or take. That is the last time I had seen my brother. He moved out west when I was 10 or so and although my parents said they talked to him once in a while, I didn't believe them. There were no phone calls, no letters and then, as I got older I stopped asking about him altogether.

He quit high school at 17, then got ticked off a few years later after he lost his job as a mechanic. He said he knew someone who knew someone in Montana and he was "going there to find some work and get some fresh air."

He would still be there, undisturbed by his family, I suppose, except for the funeral and my odd sense of duty. When our Dad died I took it upon myself to go and find him.

I put together a rough map based on Google and the last phone number my mother had (she finally admitted it had been more than ten years). I flew into Bozeman and headed south, in the general direction of the small town where he might be.

My first three stops around town took me to a gas station, a diner and fish-tackle store. No one recognized the photo (scanned year book picture, as if that would really be help, but they always do this on Cop Shows, so what the hell).

There was a small bar next to the hotel and I was drinking a beer there when I met a local deputy. He was drinking Jack and Coke and I when I glanced his way, he said he was off duty. He was a big guy, with hands the size of a baseball glove, so I wasn't going to argue the point.

He knew I wasn't from town so we talked for a while about my search. He agreed to help me and asked me to come by the police station the next day to see if he had found anything. Three free drinks probably didn't hurt the process.

In the morning I talked to the deputy, got an address and a firm handshake. I'm pretty sure he cracked every knuckle, and enjoyed doing so.

By noon I was headed west of a town on a one lane road, that became gravel, then drifted into just dirt. At the end of all that was a pole barn, half a dozen cars in disrepair, and a trailer.

"You got his cheekbones," That's what she said when she cracked open the screendoor. The middle aged woman who appeared was thin, tall with a collection of tattoos to rival a pro wrestler. Not beautiful, but not bad to look at either.

She invited me in, and told me she was expecting me, small town news spreading fast, the way it does.
"He's out on business, but should be back soon."
I nodded, then laughed, noticing the poster on the wall- a '74 Dodge Challenger. Navy blue. Mike's first car,
circa 1975.

I have seen Mary's death certificate many times, my older sister who lived and died, all in two days. She was not talked about when I was younger, but I remember a white wicker bassinet in the corner of my parents' bedroom, in Levittown, Long Island. Empty except for a small mattress covered with a pale yellow sheet, a baby blanket folded into a perfect square, a fluffy toy lamb with a key for the music box inside that played, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".

To this day, my mother blames herself for vacuuming and tripping on the electrical cord, falling a few days before going to the hospital. I've told her countless times the official cause of death, "lacerations of the fontanel", would have occurred at or during birth.

There were other times the bassinet stayed empty. Once my older brother and I found a dresser drawer in my parents' bedroom full of newborn baby clothes, mostly white, a few hand embroidered bibs, blue crocheted booties and a sweater to match. I could tell my grandmother had made them. He and I were probably looking for Christmas presents or the nickels and pennies my father seemed to lose in odd places.

By then, both of us could read, or so we thought; together we learned from hidden pieces of paper about Mary, about Phillip, about Thomas. But this short story is about Mary, not the doctor who probably delivered her, then signed the birth and death certificates, long dead himself. What I know now is my mother never saw her or held her. My father's father paid for a small white coffin and Mary was buried next to his wife, who had died at 40 of pneumonia. A cemetery somewhere in Long Island.

My own father never spoke of Mary until he was dying. Alone with me, one night in the hospital, he said he couldn't wait to see her, to hold her, tiny and perfect, in his cancer-thin arms. All those years, she had never said bad words, never lied, might have been good at his beloved mathematics or chess, never ran away, never rebelled. She never looked into his angry blue eyes and said, "I love you, Dad," hearing nothing in return. I was born less than a year later, in the early fifties when women were routinely anesthetized for childbirth. My mother didn't wake for three days, was afraid to ask if I had lived. My birth photo is in black and white; I look jaundiced and Japanese. That photo was found in my grandfather's wallet when he died ten years later.

I cannot help but wonder how different my life might have been if I'd had an older sister, instead of being one. It was always as if everything I did was held to an impossibly high standard of perfection, unknowingly competing with a baby whose short life gave my parents such heartache, there was little room in their hearts for me for a very long time. All the mistakes and unintentional worry I caused, just being a kid climbing trees or riding a bike, a somewhat typical teenager, an adventurous young adult, and their first daughter who lived.

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