Approaching 40: Bohemian Rhapsody

In August of 1977, my younger brother, Gregory, was born. I was five and my little brother, Doug, was 3. Gregory was born prematurely and he died 11 days later. I remember visiting him at the hospital. He was an an incubator and we could don special gear and touch him. He was very tiny. I remember being at the hospital on the day he died. I was in a waiting room and there was a dry-erase whiteboard–the first one I ever recall seeing–that I played with. After a while, my grandpa came in and picked me up and sat me in the windowsill and told me that Gregory had died. I was 5. I didn’t know what to feel, but I knew that people cried at times like this, so I started to cry.

There was a funeral that I have only the vaguest memories of. But for some reason, whenever I hear Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” I am always reminded of the road off which lies the cemetery where Gregory is buried.

I have the odd ability to remember the lyrics to a song after hearing them once. I’ve had this ability more or less as long as I can remember. Sometimes, I misinterpret what I am hearing and my lyrics, especially when I was younger, are not quite right. I don’t think I ever thought much about the lyrics to songs when I was very young, but the lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody” always stuck with me, especially the line that goes, “Mama just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger, now he’s dead…” It was an eerie line and the song always disturbed me, until I found a new appreciation for it when the Wayne’s World movie came out.

Some years later, probably in 1981 or 1982, I remember getting home from school in Warwick, Rhode Island (we were latchkey kids) and sitting down in the kitchen before anyone else got home. I sat on the floor and I just started crying. I mean bawling. I’d been thinking about Gregory and at nine or ten years old, I had a much better understanding of what it all meant than I did at five. I must have cried for fifteen minute, there in the kitchen before I pulled myself together and moved on with my day.

Sometimes I think I should think about him more than I do, but it was so long ago and my memories of the time are sketchy at best. I think I got everything out of my system that day in my kitchen. Now that I am approaching 40, I wonder, on occasion, what it would be like if Gregory had lived. He’d be 35 himself, incredible as it seems. He could very easily have a family and children of his own. What would he do for work? Where would he be living? What would his favorite baseball team be? My brother Doug and I took a road trip to Cooperstown several years back and had a blast. What would it have been like if it was all three of us?

I suppose Gregory lives on in his own way in our memory and to some extent in my fiction, where he has made numerous anonymous appearances. Like the song says, we are all caught in a landslide; there is no escape from reality.

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