I’m a hypochondriac. Not tragically so, but I am. I am currently dying of eye cancer — or I have a little bump in my eyelid. One or the other.
My older brother was a hypochondriac as well. We were a lot alike. We were the kids of engineers. Our dad is autistic. Very high-functioning, but definitely autistic. Our mom is neurotypical, but the sort of extremely low-bullshit person who is happily married to an autistic partner.
Two affectionate, hyper-verbal, eminently silly people raised by intellectual, logical and not especially demonstrative engineers. Our relationship was defined by a sense of being on a team, and our mission was to break our parents. Not horribly — we just wanted them to drink a couple beers, laugh, and be as silly as we were. Nothing was more fun than succeeding in our efforts.
More than 20 years ago — February 1996 — he was convinced he had hemochromatosis. We were supposed to hang out the weekend after Valentine’s day; he was going to meet my newborn son. We were on the phone arranging this visit when he noted that he had a good tan for winter, and darker skin was a symptom of a disease in which a person has far too much iron in the blood. He was going to a doctor to get checked. But in the meantime, he wanted me to know that he was definitely going to die.
You’re not going to die, dummy.
Yes I am, he said.
Well, you aren’t going to die before the weekend.
You never know! He said.
I said, well, all right. Try not to die, but just in case, I love you.
I love you, too, he said.
And those were the last words we said to each other. He did in fact die before the weekend, of an overdose. It’s not remotely funny that my brother died, but the man himself would find this irony hilarious. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, too, because when people spout the cliche of saying we should always tell the people we love that we love them, I get to either burst into utterly inappropriate laughter, or really, really bring the mood down with this anecdote.
After that, I became much more of an I-love-you sayer. I turned my cuddly love monster dial up to eleven. I tell people I love them all the time.
I tell my mom I love her, and she says I love you, too. But when I tell my dad I love him, he says, ooohhh ho ho, thank you. On a good day, that’s the exchange. The opposite of Han Solo cool. I love you. Haha, thank you.
For 21 years.
Last summer, my parents, who live back East, came out to visit. Mom has had a stroke and cancer and a few other health problems. She’s in the spend-the-savings-on-fun part of her life, so they took the train across the country. I got a lot of gorgeous pictures in my email, and then an all-too-short visit. When they got here, they told me the trip had been grueling for Mom and they weren’t coming back to the West Coast again. Ever. The morning they left, I loaded them into a Lyft to the airport. I hugged Mom and told her I love her, and gave her a blanket for the plane because she always gets cold on the plane. Then I hugged my dad and told him to take care of Mom, and I said, I love you, Dad.
I love you, too, he said.