More than anything, the news of David Bowie’s passing fills me with tinges of sadness for my baby brother who didn’t get to experience our parents the way I did. Before the drugs, before the dischord, before the weight of their impending adulthood manifested itself, there were weekend mornings spent on the road to anywhere, cruising around for the sake of exploring, and getting out of our concrete tower prison. There were picnics on the side of country roads with stolen strawberries and ears of corns, and all those times my Ma lost us in the woods in a neverending search for Baby’s Breath. And always Stevie Nicks, Queen, Bowie or Dylan playing in the background as the soundtrack.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand what those songs meant then, it only mattered that as soon as Ma pushed the Space Oddity tape into the car’s radio, I got to spend time with the two people who, despite their (already) explosive fights, stopped long enough to get along and take me on adventures so I would want to make something of myself and explore the world they wanted me to experience but couldn’t afford to show me.
By the time my brother was born, my parents had grown bitter and full of contempt for their lives, each other, and the future. My Ma turned on herself, my Pa turned to heroin. Tom was their surprise baby, their new start, and for a while, the spontaneous travel resumed. And again, it was that Space Oddity tape that signaled an adventure ahead. It was always Space Oddity first, if you knew how to do it right.
But my parents were too tired, too broke, too out of it to keep it going, and back to the drudgery they went.
My brother has asked me a few times what it was like growing up with them, what it was like knowing my Pa was strung out for most of it, or fearing a beating for staying in the bath a minute too long. So instead I avoid the subject and tell him of getting lost in the woods and finding slugs that were so big, they looked like disembodied tongues.
For all intents and purposes, he grew up here, in the States, with my parents still working shitty jobs, but sober and somewhat content. His soundtrack was that of my teenage angst, not that of our parents’ explosive love for life. I’ve envied him for a long time, but just like the day I was run over by a pallet lifter: it made me who I am today, for better or worse, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world.