Last year at this time I posted one of my favorite pieces, A Good Story, about my brother’s hilarious encounter in the local lumber store. Shortly after his death, our family friend Carol told me that as long as we keep sharing stories, Troy is still with us. For years, I carried around a little photo album filled with sunrise and sunset photos, tangible evidence of his story.
It seems there should be some rules in the universe about when loved ones leave this planet – not on holidays, nor in close proximity to loved one’s birthdays. Since the universe is not on board with most of my rules, Troy’s death day arrives only three days after my birthday (every year).
After someone dies they transmogrify from infinitely complex, creative, and dynamic to finite, static, and finished potential. Or so I believed. At some point after his funeral, Kendra and I began the cleanout process: his clothes and belongings from the trailer he shared with his fiancee, his tools and vehicles, and even his pick-up’s glove box. I do not remember whether it was our sister or his fiancee, but someone found several undeveloped rolls of 35mm film.
For my young readers, 35mm film is an ancient technology whereby you put an unexposed roll into a camera (not a phone), take pictures, take the exposed roll out and drop it off at a photo processing store.
Then you waited. You waited to see if any pictures came out and no, you did not take 57 shots of the same scene. You only took one or two and hoped fervently that the camera was in focus, your hair looked good and you were not standing in a position which made you look like a short-armed, turgid-bellied walrus.
What was on this film? Troy commuted every day from Bozeman to Big Sky for work. On weekends he unloaded trucks at K-mart. What could he possibly find picture worthy for so many rolls of film? Maybe we should just dispose of the film…. But curiosity prevailed as is its wont. We took the film to Walmart and within 24 hours had our answer: sunrises and sunsets in, along, and over the Montana mountains.
Now you must understand, dear reader, nothing could have shocked me more. My brother, although younger, exceeded me in height and strength by the time I was 5 and he was 3. Troy was a man’s man. He worked construction, played college football for a year at USD, made sure my Bronco was up to specs for my college road trips, and unstuck vehicles he (and others) stuck in mud and snow. Nothing hinted to me that he was moved by sunrises and sunsets.
But there it was: deep oranges, purples, pinks, yellows, and blues. Stacks of photos attesting to our geography’s color-saturated beauty. My grief, emotionally stultifying, continues to receive comfort from Troy’s unexpected habit.
Later, long after his funeral, I recalled the brilliant sunset overhead as my family and I drove from Great Falls to Bozeman the night he died. I will say, Montana gave him a helluva send off with that prolonged, deeply colored evening sky.
Monday I celebrated my birthday. Today is Troy’s death day. Sunrise. Sunset.