mourning ian and missed college tours
I am living this autumn in a hollow timeline of things that should be happening, watching tour guides huddled beside Soldier’s Arch peer excitedly at the SciLi and Ruth Simmons Quad and thinking that I should be there with them. Ian should be there with them.
It is still warm despite the shift in seasons. I sit on the bench outside of MacMillan, checking exam dates for my fall semester classes and writing them into my planner. I flip the pages to November, my finger tracing the numbered boxes. Early Decision deadlines for most university applications are in less than a month. The final test dates for ACTs and SATs must be just before that. Regular decision deadlines are a month later, if I can remember correctly.
This fall, Ian would have been applying for colleges. The summer before I came to Brown, I’d given him all the college pamphlets and ACT test prep I’d collected during my own application process. He was just a sophomore then, but he would be reading them now. He’d probably have his own overwhelming pile of promotional materials and practice tests. He and my mother would have planned a college road trip through the East Coast and the Midwest like I did, would have visited me along the way.
In my head, we would meet up under Faunce and all go on a tour of Brown together. I would whisper additions to the tour guide’s information along the way, and my mother would take photos of us beside the Marcus Aurelius statue. Afterwards, we would have dinner at Den Den and talk about what colleges were his favorite so far and what he was thinking of studying. I wonder if he would have wanted to continue playing golf, tennis, soccer, or basketball. I wonder what he would have written his college essay on. I wonder what he’d be thinking about.
During my freshman year, the excited faces and palpable hope of prospective students had brightened my day as I passed them between classes. While I studied on the red couches of Faunce on Saturday mornings, I’d usually chat with families while they waited for their tour guides. I would recall my own tour, how I walked up College Hill, exhilarated with possibilities and picturing where I could fit into the university. I was so eager to share that experience with my little brother.
Ian passed away from sudden cardiac arrest, likely due to heart arrhythmia, less than two months before the beginning of my sophomore year, and two weeks before his seventeenth birthday. He was a healthy, athletic, and funny individual, whose worst health issue had been a broken arm from trying to jump three monkey bars on a triple dare. His death was surreal. I spent the rest of the summer learning to be without him, wondering what my future was without him. When I returned to Brown in the fall, the tours became one of the hardest parts of campus. I would watch them pass, herds of families and high-schoolers, and I would see Ian in them: someone wore his favorite Nike sneakers, someone shared his messy black hair, someone laughed the way he used to. I saw siblings bickering the way we used to, and parents asking pointed questions to the guides the way mine had. I saw the precipice of a future of college adventures Ian would never have. The tours became an incessant reminder of what would never happen.
Now a year later, at the beginning of my junior year, the tours are the dull ache of a wound that does not really heal. Mourning has become a continuous imagination in parallel with reality, Ian’s life progressing beside mine as a persistent string of “what-ifs.” What if we had known about the arrhythmia? What if he had survived? I imagine that instead of missing classes for cardiologist appointments, attempting to find out if I have an arrhythmia, I miss classes to accompany Ian on tours of Johnson & Wales, Boston University, and Yale. Instead of scheduling EKGs and procainamide tests during lectures, I look over his college essay for little grammatical errors and help him build his resume. In the evening, we talk over the phone about our parents and the TV shows we’re watching and what we should do when I come home for winter break. I get to hear how he’s growing up. I know his voice. I take it all for granted. I ask him to hand the phone to Mom.
“Here we have the Sciences Library, or the Sci-Li,” I overhear a tour guide announce, barreling into the story of Brown’s massive game of Tetris with the library windows. A tour group has moved in front of the MacMillan steps and now murmurs and stares at the building in awe. They hold little hand-outs in their hands and use them as fans in the heat. My parents still receive those little posters and brochures addressed to a person that’s no longer here in the mail. One of the students checks his phone and looks around, meeting my eyes. I manage a weak smile.
Ian would be eighteen now. All his friends are applying to colleges, deciding yearbook quotes, going to their last high school dances. He is a memory, a voice in my head, the wish that things were different. I close my planner, with its ghost deadlines and all the days that will come to pass without him. I walk back to my apartment alone.