I rolled over and turned on the light 10 minutes after I had turned it off. My left eye was swollen and oozing and felt like a grain of sand was lodged in its corner. I grabbed the book off the bedside table and left my husband sleeping.
I hadn’t read a book like this, gotten into a book like this, in a long time. It wanted me to finish it and I had nothing else to do. Sleep wasn’t coming. No one needed me, except this book. I hunched over it at the kitchen table, reading to the end and midnight. I still didn’t want to go to sleep.
Today, I logged onto Facebook and a series of algorithms started popping off, calculating what day it was, what year. They were so proud of their power to show me my memories posted from two years ago! It was a photo of my brother—slimmed down and looking almost like he had as a high school football player—dead since August 2013; I was thanking friends and others for their support in the post.
I imagine that the people/machines at Facebook think memories are a good thing to relive. Personally, I don’t want to take a trip down memory lane right now to revisit my brother’s suicide death. When a friend mentioned what I tough time I was probably having right now (right now being the day we’d left for a family beach vacation and also the anniversary of his death), I was shocked. It hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I’ve been pretty busy lately, nursing a very sick kid for a week, then preparing for a week away, and now being sick myself. It’s been a busy summer; busier than I wanted. Call me selfish or self-absorbed. I don’t mind. The early wet, cool days on the lakes are now hot and humid. Cicadas serenade us, madly rubbing their bodies. It’s the sound track of my childhood summers; it’s the sound track of memories that I’ve been trying to forget.
I don’t care much about marking my brother’s death each year. His death, frankly, is meaningless. It was his life that mattered. The problem is that I don’t know his life. The book I finished that night? I had to get to the end. It was about a woman remembering and reclaiming her memories, and who she was, in order to move forward. For herself. For her children. And she had to do this alone: she had lost the boundaries of her life defined by her mother and father, her lover, her friend. She was alone with herself, defining what that meant. Those people, she realized, were not who she thought they were, and neither was she. I am finally realizing many of the same things, and it’s like scraping your skin off slowly with a butter knife.
I scrounge my memories some nights when I can’t sleep, conjuring images of my brother and I. Maybe they’re memories, or maybe they’re things I’ve been told. They merge in our brains and become one. I’ve been told so many things.
When I finished the book, I cried. My swollen eye was worthless; the kitchen was swimming underwater. I never came up with a memory. I never plucked one out and said, Aha! Yes! This is what it was like. This was him. I sat there, a floor below my sleeping boys, thinking that I was all I had. I was what was left of my brother. My present was the whole: my now, my past and my future. He was here, even if I couldn’t pin a memory on him. He was with me and my children. Present tense.
Maybe this is what religious people feel about angels in Heaven. Or others about good people being reincarnated as higher beings, gods. For me, it’s a simple coping mechanism, because the truth is just too bitter a pill.
After I was cried out, I settled in bed. I felt calmer because he was with me, like all good big brothers are.