We survived another day without you. I’m sitting in bed in your old bedroom. Nikea is sleeping to my left. I’m so glad she’s home. We used to share our beds all the time when we were little-Mom and Dad would hear us giggling and always send the steal-away back to her own room. But now it’s out of necessity. You know we have another extra bed in Nikea’s old room. But sleeping next to each other is so comforting. Nikea has to go back to work Thursday so is leaving tomorrow. I’m dreading sleeping alone.
Your ashes are sitting on the dresser. You were with us in the living room yesterday, but as I left for bed, the thought of you sitting alone was too much. I broke down sobbing, picked up your box and brought you into the bedroom. So here you are. It’s so weird. It destroys me to see your ashes. We had to take the lid off to put your ID inside to keep it safe, just in case we need it for something. Knowing your ashes are in there and actually seeing them are two different things. Seeing them, knowing they are the body of my beautiful baby brother…I can’t put into words what it does to me. It makes me want to die. But I can’t leave them in a room alone at night. It’s not you. You aren’t in that box. You’re free. But still. I cling to it because it’s all I have.
Nikea and I went to Sedalia to visit Grandma and Grandpa today. The house was so quiet-as you know we are normally there as an entire family. Which means the grandchildren running amok. Sue’s laughter. David telling hilarious stories. Dad outside smoking cigars. You wresting with Austen or Grayson. And of course, Nikea and me complaining of stomach aches from eating too much hole-in-the-bread and Mississippi mud (omg I would eat an entire hole-in-the-bread and Mississippi mud right now). It was so quiet. We went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant down the street, where we asked Grandpa and Grandma to tell us the story of how they met (at a bar when they were 17. And yes, it was pretty much love at first sight). Of course, they are trying to make sense of what happened. We all are. Their heart breaks for you. For Mom and Dad. For us.
I hurt so much for Mom. She broke down in the laundry room yesterday. It took Nikea and me a second to realize what was happening, then we rushed to her and held her as she sobbed. I’ve seen Mom cry a few times, but obviously never like this. None of us have ever cried like we have been the last 10 days. But it breaks my heart all over to see Mom. Tonight was worse. We thought it would be a good idea to put on a comedy, and decided on “Whiskey Foxtrot Tango,” with Tina Fey. About 20 minutes in, while Tina was doing her first interview with the soldiers, we thought Mom was laughing but quickly realized she was sobbing. As with all of us, it just comes on so fast and without warning. She has so much guilt, Chris. She feels she was too hard on you, too much tough love, and kept saying she wish she had known how desperate you were. She said she wished she’d told you how she and Dad were going to pay your taxes, how she would have done so many things different had she only known. She wishes you had joined the military full time rather than just the Reserve, since the structure would have been good for you. She kept saying how she tried so hard, and now it is too late. Too late to do anything with the knowledge we have now. Too late to save you. Too late. I told her it wasn’t the finances. It wasn’t the divorce. It wasn’t any one thing. You were just sad. It was your brain chemistry. As I’ve said a million times, I know what it was because I’ve dealt with it, too. And I’ve always hated it until now, because now I can explain to Mom what you lived with. You kept telling me you were so tired of your stress, of your depression. So many things were going so well for you. This kind of depression doesn’t care how well things are going. It doesn’t care that you have a beautiful son, a well-paying job you love, family and friends that love you, a beautiful girl who adores you, or the Reserves which you loved. It just doesn’t matter. In a way she knows that. She’s a psychologist. But she can’t see it. Not with her son. It’s too personal.
Earlier today I had yelled at her. She was talking about things you struggled with, and I snapped, crying out that you had so many good qualities and you weren’t just your struggles. Mom had to walk away, and when she calmed down she explained that because of her guilt, she’s trying to make herself realize there was nothing she could have done. When she talks about how she and Dad tried to talk to you about things, to offer help and you “just didn’t get it,” she’s not trying to put you down. She’s trying to remind herself she had no power over you. No amount of begging could have forced your hand. You were fine, you said. But once I understood that, my heart shattered for her. As a sister, I have so much guilt. Why didn’t I reach out more? Why didn’t I tell you every day that I loved you more than life itself, that I needed you here on Earth with us, that I couldn’t imagine my life without you or your voice or ill-timed jokes? That I felt so connected to you since we both shared the same heartache? That I felt like a parent as well as a sibling since I helped care for you as a baby? Why didn’t I just request off work when you came home for your birthday even though I had to take a day off for Clay’s surgery the following week? I should have just requested off. Oh my God, why didn’t I request off? You were here. Laying in this exact bed. And I didn’t come home. I could have hugged you one last time. Eaten dinner at the table as a family one last time. Told you I loved you one last time. And I fucked that up. I have so many regrets, Chris, as a sister. So I can’t even begin to imagine what our parents feel. Maybe this is why Dad needed to go up to Minnesota to take care of all your things alone. (By the way, he gets back tomorrow. And I’m dreading going through your things. I don’t want to face the emotions that will come up. Well, not come up. They are already here. Just get worse. It’s like I have a huge, gaping and bloody wound that keeps getting hacked at. I want to bury myself in all your things, but sorting them will make it so real. Because there’s no other reason we would go through your belongings unless you were gone. I just know I’m not going to want to throw anything out. Not even trash. Because it was something you held. I’m dreading it. I don’t know if I’m strong enough).
Chris, I told you I had the same struggles as you. I told you Clay and I were having the worst year of our lives since his business went under, how we were moving into our friend’s basement because despite having a CFA and MBA it was almost impossible to get a job in Denver. I told you. Why didn’t you tell me how dark it was for you? I know you knew you could talk to me. Every text from you the last six months was about your depression. Couldn’t you have told me you were contemplating suicide? Should I have equated depression to wanting to die?? You told me you felt better when you hurt yourself after you punched a wall. I told you that was fucking dumb and to stop. You knew I had gone through the same thing. Maybe I should have seen this as a bigger warning side. But I don’t know what else I could have done. I told you I loved you and that you were strong and I knew you could overcome anything. I asked you to go see someone. Anyone. A therapist. AA. Any kind of support group. I begged you to take care of yourself, to focus on yourself and work on getting healthy like I did. I asked you to try switching up your meds since yours weren’t helping. You said no. Didn’t you want to get better? Did you think you didn’t deserve to feel better? I just can’t fucking understand. I went through all the same stuff, and I got better. Why didn’t you want to get better??
There is some laughter, though. We’ve always been a family that laughs all the time. But lately it’s obviously been few and far between. It’s so weird how you go from sobbing to laughing to sobbing to laughing. After Mom calmed down in the laundry room, I pulled out your sixth grade art project that has a place of pride in your old room. It’s a self portrait, but mostly resembles an old man. Nikea and I used to laugh over it years ago. I’m so glad Mom had pulled it out to show you when you came home last month. Then Nikea and I were laughing at Ginger today-she thought Nikea’s leg freckles were food and kept trying to lick them off. It feels so good when we can laugh. Not good, but better. It’s not crying.
I should go to sleep. I’ve been falling asleep at 4:00 ,5:00 in the morning. I need to try to make it by 2:00 tonight. Love you. Miss you. So much.