In my mind he is still the dark haired confident dimple faced baby cousin toddler I fell in love with in 1976.
The last time I sat and talked to him, I think, was back in December, the week that Abuela jumped into the sky.
He was there, I am sure he was, in our circle of unmatching chairs under the big coconut tree in Abuela's backyard.
He was there, one of us, sipping wine, watching planes go by, telling meandering family stories. It is still odd and weird to me that he is bigger than I am, but I have forgiven him for that.
Three weeks ago, after sitting under the coconut tree in Abuela's yard on a warm late summer Saturday night, he was in a terrible burning accident on I-95.
Several surgeries later, he is still in the burn unit.
I can't be there, which doesn't mean I don't think about him every day. In a pause between grading and cleaning and all the little unmemorable things that fill my days, I tape three poster boards together write a happy greetings to him across them in my finest Melissa-calligraphy.
I notice a silence in the room, and feel my children standing next to me.
"Wow, Mom." Zack barely whispers, overcome with awe.
Zoe nods in agreement. "Mom, I can't believe you can write such beautiful words."
I smile, then remind her, in my best artist accent, "Zoe, your Mommy is an artist. You have seen her beautiful paintings ....yesssss?"
She shakes her head, "Who told you they were beautiful??"
I look up from my poster, shocked and almost hurt.
She is laughing.
Now that she has my attention, she reaches for a pen, "Can I add some color to this?"
I say yes, and step back, grab my pen and -- after weeks of self-imposed exile in the desert of silence, punctuated by only the tiniest clouds of laughter-- start writing again.