Twenty year marks: my life so far remembering Aaron

Aaron embracing art (Spain 1994)

This September 11 marks 20 years of missing my brother, Aaron Jacobs, since he was killed in the World Trade Center. A rising stock trading star, Aaron was still not shy about flapping his arms to cross Fifth Avenue, during the years we lived nearby each other in NYC. As I get closer to living longer without him than the 27 years we had together, I think of the Voyager spacecraft approaching the boundary of the solar system, the planets blips in the rear view mirror. But like ‘ol Voyager, with its Golden Disc scrapbook of Earth, I am etched with the memories of our lives together, from being an eight year old fuddy-duddy too aloof to be with jumpy three-year-old Aaron, to the years in NYC when we ate everything in town (except guinea pigs, to honor our departed pet Fluffy).

1977, Shouse Village, Northern Virginia
Aaron and Fluffy, early 1980s

The physical etching of Aaron’s memory on my body has been an ongoing preoccupation of mine during these twenty years. In the first years of mourning him, I was convinced that everyone saw me like someone crawling out of a car wreck, and wondered at the disconnect between how ground up I felt inside and my normal-seeming pursuit of a career and family life. Aaron himself had a natural talent of not being hobbled, inside or out, by the challenges he faced growing up dealing with ADHD, and seemed to genuinely forget some episodes that I would be likely to gnaw on for years. But I was not so blessed, and in those early years often had the idea of getting some kind of physical mark–a brand? scar? tattoo?–that would announce to the world that I was a mourner and speak of Aaron’s memory as my body moved through the world. This was not a tattoo-positive time, and I knew in my heart this would be more self-punishment than something that would honor Aaron. So I threw myself into the family that Amy and I were creating and hoped our daughters would live in a way that reflected the uncle they never knew.

Doing the work of memory (August 2021)

I also tried to write Aaron back into view, and, as some of you faithful readers may know, I have been releasing memorial stories and poems about Aaron each September 11th for ten years now. Looking back I see myself gesturing in this work towards bringing out Aaron’s physical presence–which in his last years was about 5’11”, 160 lbs, hairline just starting to do our maternal lineage’s disappearing act, fit enough to run the 1998 Boston Marathon in 3:48 or to walk the long blocks of Manhattan. I have been wrestling all this time with how to point towards the gap Aaron’s loss left in my life (and many others’ lives), while recognizing that the good in my life also testifies to his influence on me becoming who I am.

Me with Aaron at Mile 17 of the 1998 Boston Marathon

This year, coming up on the 20th anniversary of both Aaron’s loss and (that August) of Amy’s and my wedding, I started thinking and writing about tattoos again. My oldest daughter helped me reimagine my impulse to mark myself as a way to combine these two anniversaries. I loved the idea of working from a positive place of celebrating my life and family, even as they are inextricably both marked by Aaron’s loss. I started to imagine a family group of me and Amy as a pig and frog—hard to explain, but we have identified ourselves visually that way in cartoon form for a long time—and with our girls as flowers, and Aaron recognized somehow…maybe even as initials on the arm of the Josh-pig figure?

The original inspiration for the pig and frog imagery. I remember when we had this framed in Somerville, in 2002, the person ahead of us was framing a picture of the World Trade Center.

This came together more concretely around our daughter’s college pre-orientation plans last month in North Carolina, when I found a tattoo artist in Asheville whose style seemed like a match for the kind of feeling I wanted to represent. They worked with me over a few weeks on the concept, and made the great suggestion to represent Aaron as a bird. I was able to invite our girls to identify “their flowers.” And so I dropped off our daughter—after seeing the campus for the very first time (thanks COVID!)—drove out to Asheville, and the next day found myself transformed, at least superficially.

Family grouping (August 2021)

There is no end to remembering Aaron, even if the too-public circumstances of his death are moving from headlines to footnotes. But so far this tattoo is helping me feel that my life itself, and the family that Amy and I have created, are sufficient ongoing tributes to Aaron’s memory. Reader, if you’ve come here recalling Aaron or wanting to connect with me or my parents at this time, I am so grateful to you.

6 thoughts on “Twenty year marks: my life so far remembering Aaron

  1. Every year the days leading up to, and then the day itself, leaves me with a heavy heart. This year, with Fred’s passing, the loss of both of them amplifies the sadness.
    Having you, Amy and the girls visit us in August has really raised my spirits. See your tattoo and know the story behind it makes me smile happily.
    As with every 9/11 I am holding you, your mother and father, Amy and the girls in my heart. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. It feels like yesterday.
    I am sending you much love.

  2. Hi Josh, I used to work for a Dutch based broker back in the day. I was dealing with all the US based clients. Cantors US was one of my clients and I used to visit them a couple of times a year and talk on the phone on a daily basis.
    I talked to Aaron, Angel Pabon (Chickie) ant Tommy Shubert.

    I remember Aaron well, we always had good laughs during the dinners and good nights out in NYC. He had a very positive vibe and thats what stuck with me.

    I would have written you earlier if I would have found your blog but here it is….still some distant Dutch man remembering your dear brother.

    Stay strong



  3. Dear Josh and family,
    Thank you for sharing these warm thoughts about you and your relationship with Aaron. I love how you’ve intertwined your life and family with Aaron and your memories of him. By sharing you’ve opened up new ways for me to think about Aaron which is wonderful because I only knew him for that summer before and during your wedding. I appreciate the bird image in the tattoo representing Aaron because I’m sure memories of him fly in and around you all the time.
    Loving you all,

  4. Dear Josh:

    Thank you for expressing the words that give voice to our feelings all these years. You have given our family a gift and a comfort. Always remember how special you are and how very much you are loved and appreciated.


    Aunt Gail

  5. Dear Josh,
    I love your jottings, images and general lovely take on important aspects of life. I often think about Aaron as I so distinctly remember dancing with him at your wedding party. You had a beautiful wedding party that brought your 2 families together so well.

    I had taken our son a month earlier to NYC and we stopped on the West Side Highway to look up in awe at the World Trade Towers together before we had to rush off to some other place. Life is not fair and can be cruel, as nature can be as well. The main take away is that we need to focus on the good that has emanated from the ones that we have lost.and that intrinsic good lives on in our hearts and minds.

    My NYC roommate and Maid on honor at our wedding, Gay Morris, also lost her sister, Wendy, that day. Gay’s husband was across the street watching as the S tower came down. They were to meet for lunch that day. She had come from Chicago for a meeting at Marsh McLennon. She left a loving husband, 3 children and a large beautiful family.

    Much love to you and your family, Lisa

  6. Dear Josh and Family,

    Thank you for writing this blog and sharing your thoughts about dear Aaron. I loved seeing the pictures of him, as a child and young man, so fun and full of personality. With this most tragic of losses, I feel so grateful that you have Amy and the girls to surround you with their love and energy. I loved seeing your new tattoo that brings them all together, a memory that accompanies you wherever you go.

    Sending you and family all our love!


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