Thursday, May 21, 2009

Forty nine is seven squared

My brother John would have turned 49 today. Now that's a number. Four. Tea. Nine. Fifty less one.


You've got your 4, which is 2 squared; and you've got your 9, which is 3 squared. Then you've got 4 + 9, which is 13, and you don't want to mess around with 13. You've got to be careful with 13, but it's right on the ass of 49, like I just showed you.

You're probably not thinking about 5, but it's here. 9 - 4. There's your five. Just glance over your shoulder. Five is quiet, but with the sort of power it's swinging, why should it draw attention to itself? Five knows everything about every other number. Just dig how it's wrapped itself around 49.

(shhh. here's a secret. numbers are really characters in your life. really. I know what I'm talking about. I've seen these guys. careful.)

The stunning thing about that photo is the uncanny resemblance John would have to Dad later in life.

(this post is teetering on the edge of a giant glass.)

When people see that picture, they often think it is Johnny holding a baby. Nope. That's Dad holding Johnny. Dad's about 21 or 22. John is 30 or 31 in the picture at the top of this post. Now say "ricochet." Say it out loud.

You never think you'll be dealing with a word like posthumous until you're dealing with a word like posthumous. When it arrives, you stare at it and blink a few times, then you just sort of swallow it whole because there is no other choice.

(confidential to all you writerly types out there: ain't second person grand?)

I apologize. I'm doing the best I can. But with the giant glass and the 49 and the squares and the second person; with everything ricocheting around, it's not easy. Sort of like being alone in a crowded room or a really bad song lyric that you can't stop singing.


John's last posthumous novel will be published later this year by Akashic Books. Here's a link.

There is more to be said about Better than I can fit into this post or, more accurately, into this day, the space around me or the space inside of me.

Stay tuned.

All the writing will eventually make it to the wall. But it will have to wait until the five stops shouting and the snapshots close back upon themselves.

To that end, I shall leave the conclusion of this post in more competent hands:


deangc said...

I was 8 days old when John was born. I'd like to work that number into the 49 that he would have been, and the 49 that I am now, but it doesn't go.

I will sure enough buy that book when it is out.

Tony said...

Having lost a son at 43, I can share your pain. 4 and 3 was not so lucky, it added up to snake eyes.

Geoff Schutt said...

Beautiful words (and numbers), Erin.

Anonymous said...

I know it's probably inappropriate to say but "last posthumous novel" has an odd quality to it as well. Don't know that it can be reduced to numerals though.
I also keep thinking about that quote "Death ends a life but not a relationship" I think from "Tuesdays with Morrie."


Whitenoise said...

Well, I was -2 49 years ago. Negative, too? No, (is that a double-negative?) I'm positive that I see the talent that is O'BrienX2 and I definitely see the infinite sisterly love... Peace to you, Erin.

Anonymous said...

I am soooo reviewing this one.

Hal said...

I think Io may have told you this, but your brother and my dad shared the same birthday. He would have been 83 today.

Love ya, Erin!

Libby Spencer said...

{{{hugs}}} /lifts glass for John.

Toby said...

What an Awesome Day!!! I love the math. An old joke says a man was playing the lottery and he picked the number 49 And WON! When asked how he picked the number he said 7 x 8. The guy said that makes 42. The winner said, you do the math.

Toby said...

Erin, you are my good Friend!

dogsdontpurr said...

That was so very powerful. Every time I read one of your posts about your brother, I get all weepy. Your love for him was, and still is, so amazingly intense. The way you express all that emotion through your writing is so vivid. These are some of your best posts. (((Big Hugs)))

(S)wine said...

you know, there are many times when i HAVE to be cerebral in my work, or in my interaction with others (colleagues, mostly), or even in some of my writing.

but not to-day. and not here. because this is you, here. and so, may i say Ms. O'Brien:

that was a motherfucking brilliant post! sometimes we barely touch 'em (and it's ok, 'cause they count too), and sometimes we knock 'em out of the goddamn ballpark. this is the latter.


nadina said...


philbilly said...

Pythagorus led a cult that worshipped whole numbers.

Just sayin'.

Noah is sailing in the ark, and things are going well. All the animals are fornicating.

Except the snakes.

Noah asks God,
"whassup wit dat?"

God instructs Noah to use some extra wooden beams he had brought on board to build a stout platform in the ship's hold, and then place the snakes upon it.

He does so, and the snakes go to it like politicians at an economic development seminar in Belize.

Noah asks God,
"whassup wit dat?"

God replies, "Why, any adder can multiply on a log table, Noah."

Zen Wizard said...

The novel sounds pretty good.

Did somebody have to finish it?

Just askin'...

Toby said...

Hi Erin. I saw Bob at Carthage College (a Catholic college) a few years ago and there were no protests. I guess the bible thumpers took that day off.

Earl Tesch said...

Erin, my friend, you're incredible. Suitably busy and definitely personal. I like.

Anavid Readings said...

I love you Erin. Thanks for posting this! "Better" - the title has intriqued me!


Al The Retired Army Guy said...


Posthumous is never good, particularly when it is applied to a family member. I can't imagine how John's death has impacted you and your family.

This being said ...

Posthumous carries a very significant connotation for me.

I had the very difficult task of escorting SPC Arden Bradley Cooper's mother around Fort Hood in 1991 after we came back from the Gulf (Cooper was killed on 20 February, 1991, in Southern Iraq). My task was to take her to the 1st Cavalry Division Museum, and show her around.

I did this as best I could. At the end of the tour, I suggested she visit the gift shop - there are things she might be interested in, you see. She replied "I have all the mementos I need." What a classy lady. Boy, did I feel like a complete idiot.

Her son, SPC Ardon Bradley Cooper was awarded the Silver Star, posthumously the next day. He earned it using his own body to protect another soldier during an artillery attack via the Iraqis. I know he earned it because I saw it happen from a distance of 100 meters. There was nothing I or any of my company could have done to save him - he willingly used his own body to save a friend. And the posthumous award of the Silver Star (our nation's third highest award for gallantry in armed combat) was richly deserved IMHO.

So I think I know what you mean by posthumous. I'm sure John is looking down on you, smiling. If I were him, and knew how well you write, I'd be doing the same thing.


Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks to everyone for the nice comments. Yesterday was a tough day.

As for "Better," it was complete at the time of John's death.

Kiss the babies. And love on each other.