My brother’s name was Scott: Taco Bueno, Part 2

My brother’s name was Scott: Taco Bueno, Part 2

To speak a thing brings it to life, but I felt bereft for all the years it had never been spoken. When I traveled to visit my George in Texas the following Easter, I called home from a phone booth at the corner store. As I talked to my mom, she told me my brother was sick and in the hospital. When I hung up, I turned to George and told him what she had said. It was the late ‘80s, and we were deep inside the AIDS epidemic, forever frozen in time, and I knew my brother had it.

When I came home, the whole family drove to Nashville to see him. We piled into his room and stood around his bed as we talked. I remember feeling furious this disease had been what it took to talk about what no one wanted to talk about. I reached out and took his hand, and though he could barely speak, he garbled several words together as I tried to understand what he was saying. He looked at me and tried to say it again and again. When it dawned on me what he was saying, a rush of tears came to my eyes because he never lost his sarcasm, not ever.

He’d said, “Taco bueno.”

My now husband is from Mexico, and it is never easy gaining acceptance in small town Ohio. Here was my brother deathly ill, forcefully holding my hands telling me “taco bueno.” He knew a thing or two about acceptance and was telling me George was a “good taco.” I talked to him on the phone that summer before I left for Mexico, on our way to shuffle paperwork around so we could marry, in the vast bureaucracy of a million dusty government offices. I’ll never forget what he told me then. He said, “Don’t let them tell you that he’s not right for you. Listen to yourself. You won’t go wrong.”

And I held those words close to my heart, clutched as a fine diamond.

I was sitting on the orange plaid couch in our living room, staring out the window and pondering the new adventure that was upon me as I held that phone to my ear. He was the only one that had told me to follow my heart. Aside from him, there were warnings, admonitions and fearful glances as I stubbornly embarked on a journey that has now netted us a marriage of nearly 31 years.

Taco bueno.

I had been gone for six months, living in Mexico, when there was a knock at the door. A cousin was there, who sometimes received mail for the family as they didn’t have a box at the post office. He was holding a Fedex package that was addressed to me. I took it and ripped it open, reading the contents inside, and fell back on the bed as the tears came hot and hard. My brother was dead, had died three days ago, and the funeral was in the morning.

The last thing he had told me in that phone call back in the summer was this, “On your way home from Mexico, I want you and George to stop here in Nashville and have supper with us. I’ll make you a good roast.”

I picture that roast sometimes. It always makes me cry.

I walked outside into the chill night air and contemplated the sky. The stars were vast and highly visible at the altitude outside Mexico City. And just as the tears slid down my face again, I felt something brush my back, like a hand, and linger for a moment. I turned around and there was no one there, nothing but the still, velvety black of the evening. And then I smiled and knew my brother had given me a gift, a small consolation, for my sorrow.

My brother’s name was Scott Allen Sundheimer. He died of AIDS in 1990 when he was 36 years old. My moments with him were short, abrupt and full of sarcastic life. I found out I was pregnant several short weeks after he died and felt the circle of life more intensely than I ever had. And I vowed to never be silent about things that made me, us, uncomfortable, to hold them silent in a rigid space between my ribs. Words withheld cause a thing to die in the dark, and to speak a thing gives it life, and life is meant to be lived.

On March 3 my brother would have celebrated 67 years of age. We miss you.

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