Letters to Chris. April 16th. Day 8.

Hey Buddy,

I made it to Jeff City yesterday. It feels so good to be home. Yet it hurts like hell to be home. You’re everywhere. Nikea and I slept in your old room. Used your old bathroom. I’m sitting in your chair at the table right now. Your pictures surround me. I can see exactly where you sat the last time you were home and sent me a pic of Carter playing with his toys. Everywhere I look holds a memory. I ache. I feel numb. I feel empty. I feel lost. I feel hopeless.

I felt semi-normal yesterday. The morning was rough (lets just say airports are the worst place to be when you’re constantly on the verge of tears), but the second I saw my friend Courtney during my brief stop in Kansas City, I felt better. She took me out to lunch. We talked about you and I cried, but then I was able to laugh. And I actually laughed a lot for a few short hours. We ran errands together in Leawood before she dropped me off at Union Station to take the train to Jeff City. It was easy to pretend it was a normal day, that you were still here and I had never moved away. That the last week had just been a terrible dream. I can’t tell you how good it was to feel normal, even though I knew it wouldn’t last. It is so wonderful to be back in Missouri, and at the moment I cannot imagine going back to Denver, away from everyone, to the apartment where I found out you died.

Dad left for Minnesota this morning. He met up with Katrina and together they called Mom, Nikea and me. It was so great to talk to her, and she was so happy to meet Dad. Mom has talked to her several times since Saturday, and I reached out to her last night and we texted back and forth for hours. We adore her, Chris. She loves you so much, and we are so grateful she was there for you. Someone to love you the way you deserved. To make you laugh, even though your heart was broken. To go see movies with you (she told us how you went to see “Logan”) and buy you birthday gifts. To go hiking with you, cook for you, make plans with you. Katrina’s struggling so much. I mean, she didn’t even know what happened to you until Mom called her Sunday afternoon. The cops couldn’t tell her anything. So she waited. And waited. Until the police department told Mom how she had called saying you had sent her that goodbye text while she was driving to you, and how they advised her to not go to your apartment. I hate to know she hurts, but everything I’ve learned proves grief takes residence where love lived. She grieves because she loves you. We grieve because we love you. Love you. Present tense. We loved you before you were born. We loved you all of your life. And we will love you all of ours.

You’re sitting here to my left. Not you. Your ashes. All that is left of my baby brother’s body. I never understood ashes. The desire to have them close was just weird to me. “It’s not them,” I’d say. “We aren’t our bodies.” I just never got the need to keep them. But now I can’t let you out of my sight. I keep hugging the box, squeezing it close to me. I can’t hold you, so it’s all I have. Mom said we should get an artillery box to keep your ashes in. You wouldn’t have wanted an urn, but we think you would like an artillery box. You arrived home before I did. As we talked with Dad and Katrina on speakerphone, I asked if he was picking up your ashes. I know he’s going to your apartment to get your things tomorrow morning, and meet up with your old coworkers in the afternoon, but I wasn’t sure if he was going grab you, as well, or if they were still mailing you since the Funeral Home was not in Alexandria. Mom looked up at me, and told me you were already here. I broke down, Chris. Mom walked over and we held each other while Nikea took the phone into another room as my body racked with sobs. Mom hadn’t told me you are here because she knew it would hurt. She didn’t think I’d want to know, that I wasn’t ready to see it. But I needed to see you, to hold you. It’s odd how comforting I find your ashes. Seeing your name on the box destroys me, along with your drivers license they sent. It makes me nauseous to think of you in this box. You’re not supposed to fit into a little box. You’re taller than me. But I can’t let it go. I can’t stop holding you. Poor Mom. When it was delivered, she had no idea what it was. The name of the cremation place is “Forest Lawn,” so she thought Dad had bought something heavy for the garden. Then she saw “cremains” and for a split second thought they were someone’s pet’s remains delivered to the wrong address. Then it hit her, and she shattered. Dad wasn’t here, so the UPS woman hugged Mom as she sobbed. She just didn’t realize your ashes were going to be here so soon. I don’t obviously know the UPS woman, but I’m so grateful for her, that she was there to hold Mom when Dad couldn’t. But now you’re here, sitting by me again. It’s not your tall, lanky, warm frame that I can wrap my arms around, but it’s all we have. We were going to spread your ashes, but I can’t bear the thought of not having you here. You’re home. I need you to stay home. This is where you belong. With us.

I read through all the texts you sent to Mom. It was hard reading your last one. Surreal. Mom’s response was just as heartbreaking, begging you to call her back, that everything will get better. She promised. I can’t imagine her panic. But by that time you were already gone. I forwarded the pictures you sent her to my phone. One is my wallpaper. It’s a selfie you took with Carter on your couch. You look so happy. You were obviously laughing. It looks like you were wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Breckendrige.” So I texted you last night to ask if you got it from Colorado. I know you’ll never respond. I’m not sure why I did it. I just need to be able to text you. And I kept looking at the couch you were sitting on. It was the couch you took your life on. The couch they found you laying on. Mom said the landlord removed it so Dad wouldn’t have to see it, and that thought ripped my insides into shreds. Why did they need to remove it? I know why, but I can’t live with that thought…the thought of you hurt. After all, it was me that kissed your boo boos when you were a baby. In your other texts, you were cracking jokes. When Mom had asked how Carter was a couple weeks back, you responded, “Oh just peachy. Someone found the Oreos.” Peachy? I had never heard you use that word. It almost made me laugh.

I even went through your Facebook. So, so many people have posted on your wall. Heartache. Disbelief. It makes us so happy to know how loved you were by people we didn’t even know. Did you realize how many people loved you, Chris?? Would it have even mattered? The thing that messes with me the most is your status you posted right before you sent the goodbye text to Mom. A funny observation about Ford’s logo:

April 8 at 6:18pm  “Anybody ever notice that the “f” has an “e”… periodical table of elements “Fe” is iron…. clever ford.. built tough. And yes I’m bored!!!“

What the hell happened in the span of a few minutes? How could you be posting a lighthearted Facebook status one minute, and kill yourself the next? I just can’t understand. I keep staring at that photo you posted with the status. Of your hand, holding the logo. That huge hand of yours. Your long, skinny legs. I don’t fucking get it, Chris. And I know I never will. I will always wonder why. The frustration, the anger, the agony make me need to scream. I sat here and screamed, just because I didn’t know what else to do. Like all suicide survivors do when we are left to pick up the pieces when you leave. You know that’s what we are called, right? Suicide survivors. You’d think that would be the name of someone who attempted suicide and failed. But no. That’s us who you left behind. We are forever a part of that category now. You chose to end your pain, and left us with even worse. A box of ashes. Endless questions and regrets. All of your things we have to go through. The memory of that night. The thoughts of your final moments. Chris, did you even begin to realize how much this would hurt us??

Obviously I lied the other day, when I said I wasn’t angry with you. I didn’t think I was. But I am. You left us. You abandoned me, when I promised I would never abandon you. Your big sister. Who held you when you were a baby. Who changed your diapers, wiped away your tears, held you when you cried. Who always believed in you, rooted for you, protected you when you were too little to care for yourself and tried to protect you when you grew up. You left us all. We understand why. I myself understand the darkness, the fear, the heartache. But I’m still angry. You’re supposed to stay with your sisters. With your Mom and Dad. To love us until the end of our lives. To be at Nikea’s wedding next year. To watch Carter grow up. To share our joy when we have children, to laugh at Dad’s awful jokes, to be here when we cry. To tease Mom when she picks a bad movie for us to watch just because she likes the actors in it. To open Christmas gifts one by one, taking hours. Celebrating birthdays. Visiting me in Colorado like you promised so we could teach you to snowboard. You left us with this huge hole in our hearts that we can’t even begin to heal. Now our lives will forever be divided into “before” and “after.” Who are we going to be after? How will this define us? Will we find a new normal? Will I wake up one day and not feel like I want to die, too? You forced us into this. When you decided you couldn’t live with pain anymore, you didn’t think about the pain you’d give us. And Chris, this pain is too much. I don’t know to survive. But I have to for Mom. And Nikea. And Dad. And Bethany. And Clay. And Katrina. So I don’t have a choice but to keep breathing. We have to stay together so we can help each other pick up the pieces. But did you know that siblings of suicide victims are up to 400 times more likely to commit suicide, as well? Did you know that? Of course Nikea and I won’t do that. But that just shows the intensity of the pain you leave us with.

But somehow I still am breathing. I didn’t think I could get through Saturday night, but I somehow woke up Sunday morning. I didn’t think I could ever look at pictures of you. But now I can, even if it hurts. I didn’t think I could look at your Facebook. But I did. I didn’t think I could see your ashes. But they are tucked here by my side. I didn’t think I could read your obituary. But I did. I didn’t think I would still be breathing a week later, but I still am. It hurts. It hurts. I’m still here. But it hurts. I’ve never had to fight so hard.

But…I see glimpses of you everywhere. That day when you told me to look after Mom. The songs on the radio when Clay randomly switched off NPR (which we literally never do) about holding on when times were tough. Seriously, two songs in a row about holding on. My British Uber drivers…I’ve never had an Uber driver from the UK, and since you’ve passed I’ve had two. You knew how much I love the UK. I think this was your looking out when you knew I didn’t want to be stuck in the car with a stranger.  Talking about my favorite country to these two helped brighten my day for just a few minutes. Some people may think it’s silly that I think that you arranged that. But I don’t care. Then last night, while browsing Reddit, I just randomly decided to look at someone’s post history, and a tattoo saying “You will join me in paradise,” popped up. So I hear you, Little Brother. Thank you, thank you, for all the little signs you give me that you’re okay. More than okay. And that you’re still here with us. I don’t know how to get through. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. But I do know you are with me. And that keeps me breathing.

Love you, Buddy.

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