our mother named you after a lighthouse keeper from a book she read once and i always wondered when she told me that if she thought you would be her salvation because it certainly seemed that way with how she spent those hours secluded in her room talking to you on the phone while i grew up and angry with the world.
when i was six you made me a tugboat with a heavy chain on it and painted it the brightest, ugliest neon yellow because it was the only waterproof paint we had around the house which didn’t particularly matter because i was in love with it like i was sort of in love with you and i took it everywhere with me – even into the kiddy pool and the bath until the paint chipped and faded and the chain grew rusty and i grew up and found other things to play with that weren’t quite so broken.
when i was eight they put me into the hospital and cut half of my side open – a scar so long the doctor told me to tell people i’d been in a knife fight and laughed when i tried to kick him during a reflex test but i digress – and took out bits and pieces of me and shut the whole thing up again so that later i lay there in a hospital room for exactly one week with a shamrock on the windowsill and a foil balloon and a drawing of a lighthouse that you had made for me posted on the wall and i looked at it every day and imagined the waves crashing against the shore and never once realized that you were the lighthouse and were watching over me through it.
when i was sixteen i went mad. there isn’t much to say about that, but one day you called me and you promised to save me if i could manage to keep myself together enough to attend school or at least hold down a job and all i could think of as i lay there in the dark and listened to the incessant whirring of the cicadas was “are there lighthouses in connecticut?”
when i was eighteen the last words we shared were stubborn and angry after you shouted at me in front of our mother and put me to shame for my behavior and all i could do was think as you drove me home to my friend’s house in your black pickup truck through the cold december night – think how you didn’t understand and you never would because you had left me a lighthouse drawing on a hospital wall when i was eight and joined the navy and never came back to me again and now we barely knew each other and you couldn’t understand what meant to be abandoned to him when she had barely enough energy to keep herself together with bread on the table.
you drove off that night and we didn’t speak for five months because i was too stubborn to pick up the phone and call you first to say sorry, sorry for real and then getting ready for work one day a voicemail with our mother’s voice told me that you had died.
when i was eighteen we buried you in the southern sun under hard red soil in a casket covered by an american flag after strangers in formal uniforms carried you in and saluted and left again and our mother was left holding the flag like a baby in her arms – that triangle seemed so small and now it sits in a glass box with a portrait of you above it. a flag for a child seems like a poor exchange but that’s not something i thought about then because i didn’t think of anything at the time and i continued to not think for a full year and then i went mad again but that is a different story for another time because this is a story about lighthouses.
at no particular age or time your tombstone was put into place and of course there was a lighthouse on it and now it stands watch over that patch of dirt where you existed for a day in a closed box with no light to shine your way and i think about your belief in god and existence and wonder if when you lost control of your motorcycle on that ramp if a light shone down from some heavenly rampart and an angel told you “not that way, there are rocks” and showed you how to sail home safely. not that i believe in that sort of hokey but you did and that’s what was important.
when i was twenty-six i climbed two-hundred steps to the top of a lighthouse and stood on the walk and stared at the waves and looked for you in the clouds but you weren’t anywhere to be seen.
i turned twenty-eight day after last and ten years ago you died and ten years ago you were ten years older than i was then and now i am as old as you were then and it doesn’t hurt quite as much you know? but now i find myself wondering what sort of conversations we could have had and how many nieces and nephews i could have laid claim to after you married that girl you were just waiting to ask —
and really all i wanted to say was that i never got to say it before but i’m sorry and i miss you, can you call me back as soon as possible?