Ever since I first moved out and went away to school, I’ve gone back to my old hometown for Christmas. I’ve driven through blizzards, worked 20 hour days, done whatever I needed to ensure I could get back, so that my dad wouldn’t wake up alone in his house on Christmas day. Last year, due to his strokes, I was the one waking up alone in his house.

Many years ago, the only coffee shop in dad’s town started opening up on Christmas for a few hours, with some nice people volunteering their time and the cafe donating coffee and cookies for free, all so anyone that didn’t have anywhere to go, would. Dad and I would go every year for a quick coffee after we’d exchanged presents and got the turkey in the oven. Last year I had no idea what to do alone in dad’s house on Christmas morning, so I put his dog in the car and drove down to the cafe, now being one of those people that didn’t have anywhere to go. I set an extra cup out for my dad and called him in the hospital, maintaining our tradition of going out for that coffee. For a moment it felt comforting, but as I hung up the phone I knew I felt lost, with no idea what was coming next, or where to go; so I did what I always do when I need to think – I went for a drive. I grabbed a treat for the dog and jumped into dad’s car. We drove for a bit, I let the dog out for a walk, we drove some more and before I knew it, I was where I guess I subconsciously knew I was going all along – to visit my brother.

That’s him in the picture.

I never had a chance to get to know him. To the best of my knowledge, I never even spoke to him while he was alive, but I ever since I moved away I try and go talk to him at least once every visit back to my old town. I wonder about him a lot – rarely a day goes by without a thought him. I wonder what he’d be like, who he’d have grown up to be. I wonder what I’d be like as an older brother? Would he be creative as well? What type of career would he have now? What sort of cars would he have been into, and would I have ever let him win a race?

I stood there for quite a while last year, coffee in my hand, freezing my behind off while dad’s dog sat comfortably in the warm car, patiently waiting. I knew I’d been through a lot and times were sure as hell really hard, but visiting him always reminds me to be grateful. I’m still here. I have the opportunity and the ability to go through these hard times, and I get to fight to make it better. My brother never got that chance. Whenever life tries to knock me down, I get back up for both him and me.

This year, for the first time ever, I am not spending Christmas in my old home town. It’s been probably the worst year of my life, and I had no desire to wake up alone on Christmas morning in my dad’s house again. By my choice, I’m spending the day alone (with my two cats, who are scarcely letting me out of their sight). I am choosing to take these days back, for myself, for my mental and spiritual health. Yesterday I got in as much of a workout as my ongoing injuries would allow, did some work and indulged some time with my sketchbook. Today I’ve done a bit of work, cranked up super seasonally inappropriate tunes, poured a healthy shot of Jack Daniel’s into my coffee and enjoyed the moment. I stood in my window, raised my glass and gave a Christmas cheer to my little bro. I hope that wherever he is, whatever he’s up to, he’s happy, healthy, and proud of me. I’m working hard so that one day we both will be.