The lack of notes.
It’s always, “Hey kiddo, how’s the brother,” as if my life revolves around his comatose. They never ask how I am, and I suspect it’s because they don’t care, but it’d be nice if, once or twice, they were considerate enough to pretend.
In school, when you’re five and sitting in the story circle, your teacher asks you what super power you’d want to have if you could pick one. And as a little kid the world is still fresh and fantastical, and you think about flying, seeing everything and going everywhere, though you have no clue what’s out there. Some kids would say super strength, some invisibility, and some wouldn’t know what to say. I had been one of the naive kids who chose flying. I had wanted to soar.
Now the only power I want is to take my brother’s life away so I can regain mine. It hadn’t been enough he was already older and had done everything first, and got all the new clothes and toys while I was pampered with hand-me-downs. It wasn’t enough he was smarter, better-looking, the guy that had de-virginized the girl in my history class I had had a crush on. No, he also had to crash on his hot-shot motorcycle and fall into a coma, so my parents would completely forget their other son and spend all their time worrying over the one that was nearly dead.
Even with his face all torn up from the accident, he was still better-looking, and he was always smiling, which I think he did to mock me. My friends always asked me how he was doing, and I’d say fine, and then they’d tip-toe around me as if afraid I was an inch away from shooting up the school. Or at the very worst crying, which would be awkward because we all know real men don’t cry.
But I do cry, and I don’t care what that makes me if it makes me anything.
The girl he’d fucked and de-virginized moved away two months ago, three weeks before the accident. I know if she were still here she’d be crying over him, even though he’d treated her like shit in the proverbial morning, and she’d vowed to hate him forever. Girls always say that, but they never mean it. And as for me, the guy who really cared about her and would have treated her right, she’d offer lazy condolences such as: “I’m really sorry about your brother. He was a great guy.”
He was not a great guy. She wasn’t the only girl he broke with his lust. She wasn’t the only girl left jaded. I knew all of their faces, burned into my memory as hotly as the cigarette had burned on the back of my neck where he’d been playing a joke. I don’t think anyone but me knows the true sociopathic nature of my brother.
As I kid I’d seen him step on our dog’s tail and say it was an accident, but he’d licked his lips. When our mom said he was too old for his favorite toy he broke it, unwilling to let me have it for my own. I saw him once with his hand around a girl’s throat as he fucked her. She was definitely on the jaded list. Probably near the top.
He’d scarred us all. He’d tortured us, and he was torturing me now as he lay in his hospital bed, caught between life and death, leaving me to wonder if I really was free of him or if he’d be resurrected like a serial killer in a horror film, chasing after me for the rest of my life.
In church, when I was younger, they’d sometimes speak about Providence, and I never really knew what it meant. I never really knew what any of it meant because I’d get home and watch my brother and know God couldn’t possibly be present. Real, maybe, but definitely not here.
Then my mom called, telling me about the accident. I was at lunch, at school, and I could have vomited up all my food as elation pumped adrenaline through my veins. But I thought, This is it. This is Providence. Sure, my mom had said he was still hanging on, but he wouldn’t pull through. It wouldn’t be divine intervention if he pulled through.
After eight hours of surgery he pulled through. I went home and bashed my face into the wall, then passed out on my bed. I dreamt of a world in which my brother had died, and I could move on with my dreams and aspirations in hand. By chance, in the dream, I’d passed by a mirror and saw the smug face of my brother winking back at me. He’d never leave me alone.
I’m just so close to his life support system. One machine is keeping him alive and I’m just sitting here, listening to the incessant beating, and if I could just pull that cord from the wall socket all the infernal beating would stop. And I’d have peace and quiet. My mom will probably cry hysterically loud when she comes back with her cafeteria lunch, but all the same. Peace. And quiet.
I woke up one morning and I was thirty - it was noon and all the glory of the dawn had faded. The sky was still clear, it had promise, but the glow was gone, the dew-sweetened air evaporated, and the sense of freshness - of this being the beginning - was lost.
I climbed out of bed and saw I was married; we lived on the third floor of an apartment complex in the city, with a car apiece and broken dreams. Well, mine had never been given enough attention to break, so I think neglected fits better. Rusted, starved, emaciated dreams begging for just one drop of water. One. To keep them alive.
So I reached in, tried to find a drop of water to give but it was tied up; all my energy had been spent on other things. There was car insurance, health insurance, rent, utilities, senseless luxuries, bills piled in an unhealthy proportion, and a spouse to keep satisfied. Even though, watching him as he slept, I did not glimpse the smallest spark of satisfaction.
Sleep makes you look like anything other than angelic. As you sleep all your walls are down, your senses turned off, your face takes on its true shape, and you drift endlessly from scene to disjointed scene, and in the waking you feel like everything you’d just dreamt was foreign, alien, odd images and experiences you never knew. Neither dreams nor nightmares, just lifeless events.
At eighteen I think I learned to drive; a few months later I lost my virginity to someone who’s face I don’t recall. At twenty-one I got wasted, and nearly every weekend after that until I finished college at twenty-three in a field I couldn’t care less about. Then along came my lovely husband, who looks miserable as he sleeps, and recently I think there’s been talk of a child. Having a baby.
But I slept until noon - I can’t give birth when I feel so lethargic, when I’ve only just gotten up. Birthing a baby takes energy, and that is certainly something I don’t have. I don’t want a child, anyway. Why bother? He or she might oversleep, too.
It’ll take me another hour to wake up, to get into the right mood, to feel like being productive. It’s not even Saturday; of course it’s Monday and I’m supposed to be busy as hell, but I’m dragging my feet as I put on a pot of coffee.
All this, everything that surrounds me, it’s neither a dream nor a nightmare. I’m not scared, but I’m not enjoying what I see. It’s the alienation creeping upon me, feeling sick under a bright sun in a bright sky; no one understands you. You don’t understand you. You worked so hard for that degree, you used up five good years on devotion to the man you’d marry, and you climbed the ladder of success. Yet everything you thought you wanted could burn tomorrow and you’d hardly blink. You’d have nothing, with no where to go, but how would that be any different?
I’m on my knees - I overslept and let things fall into place with such minimal resistance - and all I want is a second chance. I’ll be awake, next time, I’ll open my eyes. I don’t want to be so lethargic. Save me.
Then: “Morning honey,” graces my ears.
“Morning,” my lips flap lifelessly. Morning. No, that’s long gone.
I’m long gone.
The sheets invite me back in with security, stability, though they lack any source of heat, and my eyes droop, and in an instant: sleep.
As a kid I wasn’t sure why I hid it - I just did. Twenty years later it dawned on me it was because of the shame. There’s always been a stigma on suicide. People lose respect for those who take their own lives no matter how upstanding they’d been in life. And as the child of someone who’d thrown it all away for an early grave, I was someone to be pitied. Or well, I would have been, and it would have destroyed my father.
I remember the day - it had started off so beautifully. I awoke to my mother singing along to an old blues song with Ida Cox. To this day no woman will ever sing as richly as her; to me there will never be room for comparison. I walked down the hallway to the kitchen where she sat solemnly, crooning away, a cigarette burning slowly between her poised fingers, and a glass half-full with a gin tonic - my mother’s favorite drink - sitting on the table covered in perspiration. I would have been content to stand hugging the wall and just listen, quietly, hiding my presence so she could really let out the words. But I sneezed from the smoke. I always sneeze from the smoke.
She turned with a pale, pink smile and gestured with her hand. “Come here,” she said gently. “The sun’s ‘bout to come up.”
I looked out the glass doors to our backyard and saw the sky - orange juice and cotton candy swirl at the bottom, stormy sea grey as your eyes scanned upwards.
I walked into her open arms, and she wrapped them around me, and pressed me to her. My nose tickled from the curling smoke, but I fought against the sneeze.
She started singing again, but it wasn’t the same. It never was. Singing for an audience always made her cut out the emotion - I think she was afraid it was too much for people to handle - but her voice stayed special regardless. I rested my head back against her shoulder and she squeezed me gently, and before I could shake myself awake, I was dreaming.
I wish I could say I was psychic, or had received a divine message from God in my dreams, warning me about what was to happen that night. But I didn’t remember seeing anything as I slept in her arms. I don’t remember anything. When I woke up I was in my bed again, the sun had been up for hours, and I could hear my parents laughing from outside my bedroom. That moment I had shared with her was so brief, so warm, so tender, that looking back it was the metaphor for the relationship we would share.
That night I found her sitting at her vanity, lifeless. The crystal glasses were empty, but I knew what must have been inside them. The plastic bottle, though, I’ll never know. As a kid it’s all about sleeping any time someone is silent and despondent. They must be sleeping, is all your young mind has the capacity to think. Even if you’ve never seen someone sleep with their eyes open.
I didn’t bother calling to her, the sleep looked deep and final to me, even as young as I was. And then I saw the paper, folded and crisp, lying under my mother’s perfectly rouged cheek. After a moment of trying to yank it free, I gave up. My mother’s weight was laying right on it. I lifted her head in both my hands, to try and release the paper, and her body fell back against the chair, head lolling to the left, eyes open and glossy like a brand new lollipop. She sat silently like that, looking into the darkness of the bathroom, as I read the letter.
I didn’t understand it. It had said a lot of things in my mother’s flowery penmanship, but it meant nothing to a child except that it was adult business and beyond comprehension. Only the end of the letter made any sense to me: Good-bye, it said, good-bye and I love you. And it seemed all I’d ever known in my life, up until that moment, was that she was gone.
Perhaps on a deeper level I understood what had happened because shortly after I emptied my plastic, green pencil box, put the letter inside, and closed it forever, and buried it in the backyard next to the site of my dead hamster. And I never spoke of it, not even when my father came home and cried over the still lovely corpse of his wife. He told me it was an accident, an over-dose - he told me he was sorry. It was all right with me; I knew the truth.
I was the only one.
There had been no way for me to know she was going to kill herself, though I feel as though I should have. She was smoking the same brand of cigarettes, using the same bottle of gin, her hair was soft and curly like it always was. Even the beating of her heart had been the same as she held me that morning. Nothing had betrayed her. Perhaps that’s what people call Fate.
I want to remember what she smelled like, but I can’t. The smoothness of her forearms, the tickle of her hair on my cheek, the green of her eyes, those are easy to recall. But her smell - it is blank. If I think of her long enough the emptiness fills up with dirt. Moist, brown dirt in a large, heaping pile.
The box is still there, along with my father. I dug it up to check on it, and it looks fine. Inside, the letter was still remarkably pristine, and the irony of it struck me as cruel. I didn’t read it - I didn’t have to. Though I don’t remember it word for word, I will always know the important part: Good-bye, with its small, smudged “e”, and the way the ink came together to spell out Gloria.
You should understand firstly that I was a drinking man. Consequently, as with all men who are too fond of the bottle, it was my subsequent downfall. Though, perhaps not in the way that you would expect. Permit me to cast truth on the incident that was my death, and say in all honesty, upon my very grave, that I was not mad then, at the time of my passing, or before.
It was sudden. That night, I had attended a theatre that had been catering to the lonely men of the city by showcasing a troupe that was performing burlesque. Inside I had met with a cousin - whom had recently come to America from France - who was looking to show me a good time. In retrospect, my behavior was quite shameful for the last two years of my life, but I continuously blamed it on the passing of my elder brother, Lamont, in the war. His death had taken a heavy toll on my temperament. And it wasn’t until he’d been dead for nearly five months that I realised, truly, he had passed from my world and gone to a higher place. After this morose epiphany, I did what most of the respectable men of the day were doing in response to roughly the same thing: drink. And to quench the pangs of solitude between the legs of a woman.
That was how I’d ended up agreeing to meet my cousin at this theatre even against my better judgments, which had not yet been buried deep enough in the recesses of my mind, and against the wise counsel of my father, who was deeply disturbed by my sudden change of character and binging. My mother, of course, even more so, but I risked both their health and mine and went wherever it meant escape. It’s pathetic, and at this time, in which I have eternity now to contemplate my actions, I feel a fool.
That evening, as my cousin and I (with a few of our acquaintances, as well) had sat down, he’d pulled from the inside pocket of his coat a harmless looking bottle. I’d never seen this drink before; it was clear with a gentle green tinge and swished inside the belly of the bottle quite nicely. He set it down on the table before us and reached for my emptied tumbler.
“Traditionally, the glass is supposed to have a swirl or reservoir, but given the circumstances,” and then he pulled from the same inside coat pocket a metal spoon. It was an odd spoon, though, perforated in an abstract design. It caught my eye instantly - even in the darkness of the theatre it was shining - and when I looked back to my glass it was filled with the odd liquid.
I reached for it, automatically.
“Not yet,” he scolded, hissing through his teeth. The spoon he placed over the glass and, over the spoon, a sugar cube. The very same that goes into a cup of tea in the afternoon at tea time.
“What - ”
He held his hand up to quiet me and slowly melted the sugar using cold water, which he’d ordered earlier from the bar (much to the surprise of myself and the other gentlemen). The sugar melted smoothly through the perforations and into the green liquid, which turned foggy and creamy.
He gave the mixture a stir. “Marcel, here, taste it.”
“But what is it,” I asked as my hand wrapped around the glass.
“Absinthe. It’s a wonderful drink from France. Try it, try it,” he urged with a devious smile.
I had nothing to lose. How could I have lived a life of debauchery and sin up until that point, and then tried to play innocent when scared? I admit, it was a strange mix, and having never drank it before (and coming from my amoral cousin) I was worried about its effects. But I drank it.
“Isn’t it heavenly?”
Heavenly? Alcohol? Liquor? The drink of Satan - heavenly? Wasn’t it blasphemous to talk like that? Anton was right, though, it was heavenly, blissful, it was sweet licorice on my tongue without the slightest burn that you’d get with gin or whiskey. It was smooth like the inner thigh of a woman. Creamy like the melted chocolate on her tongue. Intoxicating as the perfume gently applied to her bosom. That night I sinned more than I’d ever sinned in my life. It was the drink. It washes over your senses, much like all alcohol does, but because it sweeps across you like a feather, rather than a brush, you feel nothing but serenity. Nothing hurts. Everything is lush. The world is, once again, a wonderful place.
Warmed only by the heat they sucked from my skin,
they chaffed my wrists and laughed.
Their teeth, so sharp!, rusted steel on flesh
and it was like grinding a rock against a blade of grass.
Relentless pressure, smashing and aiming to penetrate the surface; dig deep.
The juice, the life, leaks free, or rather spills over the surrounding landscape,
soon to dry and disappear.
Once the liquid is free, the skin is ripped and torn,
bruised and darkened,
left in scattered chunks like bread thrown to doves.
And you think, these things, they alone cannot bind me,
they alone cannot keep me in place.
How they keep you constrained.
It’s an ache - the kind that comes from angst,
from a morbid realisation.
But what it may be is ever-changing, a sticky drop of freedom,
sweet in the corner of your mouth,
that turns bitter when you blink, and there it is!, the creature that ate your freedom.
Will you lick the bitterness away? To swallow it,
accept it, live to fight another day?
But where will the day go if today is yesterday’s tomorrow,
and who can really break the lock without the key,
except for the victim,
oh beaten-down wretch of captivity.
It’s the solution you are waiting for, a bid for time, a silly rat-race -
A game? Is that all this is?
Look alive, chin up, you’re going to the front, and if you return in one piece count yourself lucky.
Few will ever begin to see it, the tight-mouthed metal, let alone break free.
You’ll even impress with some limbs,
and you’ve made it further than you believed you could see.
And I’m scrambling on the sand.
Shifting, falling, grit on broken hands.
If I could just grab it, snatch it back -
As I lose, I see how much it meant.
The good things in life never last because
You let them go.
One minute it angers you,
The next, it’s practically your soul.
So how do I make it stay when it
Can’t sit still?
Capture it, build my own prison on the sand.
It’ll never be stable, and my vision -
Misguided and founded in grief -
Will become ruin, So I, too,
A reluctant glimpse into the divine -
that holy plague of devotion for the sake
of that moist soil: repentance.
I forsake it for life’s color, which bleeds onto my skin
from the sky and soaks me white
- A purity separate, and more clean, than any sort of pious fight.
In the tenacity of my heart, its lustrous ambition,
that core of the sun shines wide,
next to the howl of love’s unforgettable sigh.
Dear Jack, Legato, and Allegro:
I’m so happy to have been given the chance to clip your nails, clean up your litter boxes, and cuddle with you all night long. I love waking up to you three messing around in my room, knocking books off my shelf, pulling each other’s hair out and scattering it across my carpet, and getting my toes bit on if they wiggle out from under my comforter. And though a bit of that was sarcasm, I really do mean it: you guys bring such joy to my life that even if in the moment I’m annoyed and grumpy, I get over it and laugh and enjoy the antics you three all participate in. I could not have asked for three cats who seemed to fit my personality more, each one of you taking on a different side. Jack: my aloofness and ‘I-don’t-care’ kind of attitude. Legato: my spunky, goofy, playful side. And Allegro: my silly, ditzy, and ‘I-want-to-cuddle-now’ side. You’re some of the coolest cats.
And Allegro, I feel really awful about the accident that happened while we were still in Alaska. I tore myself up over it, and sometimes I feel like I’ve robbed you of something. Of happiness, life, joy, being able to play freely and unburdened. And it seems like every time I break down and cry about it you come walking into my room all clumsy with your cute little meow, and you lick my nose and I feel better. Or I wake up like I did today, and you’re all curled up by my side asleep. And if there’s any resentment you feel towards me, please forgive me. I never wanted to hurt you. I plan on spending the rest of your life making it up to you. I love you.
I love all three of you deeply and I never want you to know anything but my love, and my family’s, and happiness when you play with each other. To your good health; may you live all nine of your lives and then some.
I loved the idea of you. A musician for a companion, creative, adventurous, energetic like me; someone to share my art with, and to have that in return. I liked thinking you and I were after the same things in life, the progression, the change, the movement, rebellion, whatever you’d like to call it, I thought it was ours. I thought we had so much in common. And this idea of you, the picture I had painted in my own mind of who you are and what you wanted in life, I fell so madly in love I flew 3,000 miles just to be with you.
And it had all been a foolish mistake. What I had envisioned was truly only a dream. Remember when I’d asked you that? “Is this a dream?” Yes, it was a silly dream about peaches and cream, and I regret opening my heart so much, and looking so foolish, only for you to tell me that you’re not disappointed in yourself at all. Not even in the least bit? After the way things went? Honestly? Because if that’s the truth, if not even the smallest bit of it is a lie, then you really aren’t the person I thought you were. And thank god I left you when I did. How could I have lived in that apartment any longer if deep down this was how you felt? Selfish, self-righteous, oblivious.
Well, it’s over, anyway. It has been for two months, but I really wanted to get this off my chest. From this moment on my problems with you are resolved. I’m not going to forget what happened because it has taught me some valuable lessons that I’d like to hold on to, but I’ll never think of you again. I hope your future brings you more than I could.