Letter to...

My Immortal Brother

It matters that you were good, that you were here, that you were kind, for 26 years

I'd like to give you a call and say, "Did we really go through all that? Was it a nightmare or was it real?" But I can't, because 30 years ago today, you took your own life.

I want to tell you that I'd like to be your friend, now that I'm way past my 20s and I'm not such an almighty snob any more. I don't need people to be just like me any more, I don't drink like a fish anymore. No longer am I above observing holidays, birthdays, weddings, deaths. I've spent decades building up the self-worth we had beaten out of us.

I'm so tired of having to choose between lying and telling the truth when someone asks if I have siblings. I hate saying I'm an only child, and I hate saying you're dead.

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I really think it's this option, this gaping maw of an option we all have as sentient beings, of choosing whether to keep breathing or to stop. So we teeter, Mark, but we don't fall. That's the trick, see? You need to fool yourself—we all do it. Here's how it works: You buy your favorite food, go to a double feature, call a friend, fly to Bermuda, bend your mind for something that will show you some light, just keep doing one last thing before the last, biggest intractable thing.

But, you did it, and now I know no matter how sad I get, that option is gone for me. It would be too redundant. Your pain was deeper than I thought you capable of feeling. We all underestimated you. Sharper and deeper still your agony must have been since you were always "fine," whereas I was all trauma, all out there with my woes.

You are immortal. You float in my mind forever at age 26, where I, here among mortals, age relentlessly. How could I ever be older than you, Mark? And yet I am, and maybe always was. (I think I see you sometimes—isn't that your profile at the far end of the restaurant, raising a fat glass of red wine to your lips? Last week, I swore I saw you in your long black coat as you strode down the sidewalk, turning the corner at the end of the street, out of sight even as I ran to catch up.)

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I was always the tough one, the funny one. You were my first straight man. You loved me beyond reason, more than I deserved. You were the first one who thought I was a riot, the first one I took for granted.

Today, to torture myself, I looked at photographs of you. I could only find baby pictures, I'm not sure why. You were cherubic, a Gerber baby. At age five you protected me from Santa Claus as I sat in his lap, insisting he better bring me everything I wanted. Even at four I was protesting, trying to be the boss or get a laugh.

It matters that you were good, that you were here, that you were kind, for 26 years.

Your death is like something hovering in my peripheral vision. Recently, I dreamed that I carried your coffin to the middle of Harvard Square and lowered it from a strap straining across my back and shoulders, into a hole there. Your coffin hit the bottom of the grave with such force, the earth sank a foot. I stood there, trying to catch my breath, using all my strength not to fall in.

Tags: family