Candles are lit and dinner is ready: grilled eggplant and lemon, rice pilaf, and sautéed zucchini. Dave has set Pandora to the 70’s channel and The Band is singing “The Weight.” It is such a Stevie song, one I’ve heard him sing countless times, with Red and Phil at Trinity; with Dave in our basement; and with his sons, Christopher and Trevor, at Old Post Tavern and FTC. Although I’ve been fine all day, I'm weepy and snuffling into a tissue when Dave joins me at the table.
That’s how it’s been since Steve passed. To our amazement, we’re mostly okay, and then something will strike a chord, triggering a prickle in my nose and a flow of tears. Mostly, I don’t think our hearts are letting us feel fully what we’ve lost. For, from the time Steve was diagnosed with prostate cancer 15 years ago, I’ve worried who will Dave be without his brother?
In the early years of our marriage, Dave would sometimes retreat, face closed, his response to my inquiries always an unsatisfying, “I’m fine.” Casey has recently defined that as “Feelings Inside, Not Expressed,” and when I was younger, it made me crazy trying to figure out what was wrong. Once, I called Steve and asked, “Can you come play guitars with your brother, or take him out or something? I don’t know what’s up with him.”
“Is he pouting?” Steve said. “He always has.”
Wait. What? Dave has been declared a saint by many, and this was an insight I seized on with relief.
“Don’t worry about it,” Steve said. “Just the way he gets sometimes.”
It wasn’t my fault! Such a burden lifted! I still wanted Steve to divert him, but I felt better. So there’s that too: what will I do without Steve?
As required of older brothers, when the boys were children, Steve tormented Dave, staking him out in the backyard, the unwilling cowboy captive to Steve’s victorious Indian. Unmoved by Dave’s wails of “Maaaaaa!” Steve would sit on his chest and say in a voice annoyingly calm, “Why are you crying? All you have to do is eat a spoonful of peanut butter, and I’ll let you go.”
Needless to say, Dave hated peanut butter.
But Steve was also his best friend and protector. “Do you have any idea how many fights I got into because of you?” he once said. Dave spoke with a stutter from the time he was four, a target for the mean kids who pounced on anyone with a frailty; Steve was three years older, and bound to defend him. As much as Steve-n’-Deb became one word, from the time Dave was born, so was Steve-n’-Dave.
When Steve and Deb started dating in their teens, they welcomed Dave as the third in their trio. Dave chuckles in recalling a beach picnic with the three of them and Steve Larrabee. “Deb had to go to the bathroom, so we built a sand toilet for her. ‘Don’t look!’ she said. So, nearby, we drew the outline of a door with a huge keyhole in the sand, and we boys stood, eyes peering down, hooting as if we were watching. Silly stuff.”
“I followed Steve everywhere,” Dave has said as we cuddle together with our memories, stories, and tears. “To the same high school, on dates with Deb, to Trinity, and to Eagle Hill.”
What will Dave do without his brother?
When first I met Steve, it was a wintry night in 1972. My roommates and I had borrowed trays from the Trinity cafeteria to use as sleds, and headed to a snowy slope on campus where a group had already gathered. Back then, Steve’s nickname was Sly, and with his confident air, piratical look, long hair, mustache, and high cheekbones, he was cool enough to carry it. As a recent graduate from 12 years of girls’ schools, I was giddy with my newfound freedom and easy proximity to boys, and euphoric that a fun, flirty senior like Sly would be nice to me.
In the spring, he asked if I wanted to go with him to watch his little brother play baseball. I jumped at the plan, and when I met Dave after the game, I discovered he was quite nice too, nice enough to marry as it turned out. Soon after Steve died, Deb told me, “You were his hand-picked sister.”
Around Fairfield, Steve and Deb were fixtures, renowned for their welcoming warmth, genuine interest in others, athletic prowess, and participation in community events. Both turned heads, Deb with her flowing blond hair, Steve with his mane of white, so recognizable as they zipped around town in the red Miata. And prized though it was, when our son Tucker graduated from high school having never driven a standard shift car, Steve tossed him the keys to the Miata and said, “Hey, congratulations! Let’s go for a spin!”
Since his diagnosis in 2005, there have been years of worry, treatments tried, tests taken, results awaited with agonizing fear, all trials bravely hidden by Steve and Deb. In truth, none of us know how long we have, but it’s a fact we happily suppress. We didn’t have that luxury with Steve, and because we knew time was limited, we created opportunities, and nothing was taken for granted.
We had years of work together at Eagle Hill-Southport, reunions on Block Island, travel, drinks, dinners and guitars at Old Post Tavern. Steve gained a cherished daughter in Trevor’s wife, Lisa, and more recently, we’ve had grandchildren to share: the blessing and balance for worry. All along, Steve and Deb were stoic in facing together the indignities and hardship of the disease while maintaining those sunny public faces. What courage and energy that must have taken.
It was Christmas, 2015, when my daughter Casey and her fiancé PJ asked Steve to perform their wedding ceremony. Oh the hugs, laughter, and happy tears… but Deb had just told Dave and me that a recent scan had revealed the spread of Steve’s cancer to his bones. I worried: should I tell Casey to have a Plan B? I said nothing, hoping my brother-in-law - athletic, competitive, handsome Steve –would beat the odds and pull it off.
In September of 2016, Steve and I stood arm-in-arm on the steps at the Inn at Longshore, waiting to be introduced as the mother-of-the-bride and wedding officiant. I gestured to all the beloved faces smiling in our direction and whispered to Steve, “None of this would be happening if it weren’t for us.”
He looked at me, puzzled, and I said, “If we hadn’t met on the hill, traying at Trinity!” We hugged each other tight and walked down the stairs.
My mother always said her one regret was not giving me a big brother, but the Universe had other plans, and gave me Steve.