Today was the kind of cool and rainy Missouri day I’ve been missing so much in Colorado. It’s always so damn sunny and dry there. I put on one of your grey sweatshirts, made some tea and walked barefoot around Mom’s garden. It’s just so peaceful out there. I thought about how much time we spent playing in the yard as children, how we used to shoot baskets at the Harlows’ and sit for hours in the culdesac. It’s so quiet now. All the kids have moved out, so the only sounds were the pitter patter of the rain. I sat by Mom’s pond, seeking shelter from the wet under a dogwood tree. At least I think it’s dogwood. I tried to just concentrate on the goldfish swimming around or on the pond’s pump as it churned water. But I couldn’t turn my mind off. So instead I envisioned the conversation you and I would be having if you were sitting next to me. What advice you’d give me to get through the next 60 years without you. I had so many questions I kept asking you. For each question I would imagine the answer you’d give. “How could you leave me when I promised to never ever abandon you?” I didn’t leave you. I’m right here. I left my pain. “Didn’t you love us?” Of course I did. I still do. I love you more than anything. This had nothing to do with you. “Is there anything you want me to know?” I’m happy. “Did you have any happiness here?” I did. But I couldn’t be happy the way I needed to be. I was tired of fighting to be happy. “Aren’t you sad you are no longer here with us?” No, because I am still here. I haven’t left. I’ll never leave you. I’m sad I hurt you. “Did you think about me during your final moments?” Of course I did. “Why didn’t you call or text me?” Because I didn’t want to know what you would say. It would be too much. “What am I supposed to do now?” Live.
I’m not sure how long I sat there, staring down into my tea having this conversation. But it helped. And then I imagined walking into our house in Linn, when you, Bethany and I were little. And grabbing you and hugging you, kissing your chubby baby cheeks. And telling little Jenn that life was going to be complicated, but everything would be okay. I sat out there for at least forty minutes before I started to get too chilled. But it was exactly what I needed. Mom’s garden is an oasis, and reminds me of an English garden, like the ones we saw in Devonshire. I think this is going to be a daily ritual. I went through more of your things. I actually found a shirt that smells like you. You are so going to judge me, but it smells of your sweat. And while that’s probably so weird, it is so comforting. I found something that doesn’t smell like Febreze. I also located the Breckenridge sweatshirt that you wore in the pic you sent to Mom that I texted you about even though I knew you’d never respond. It’s so neat I’m finding all these shirts in easily accessible places-most of your clothes are still packed away so it’s a pretty cool consequence (or not) that all the shirts I was wanting to find aren’t packed away. I also found a bunch of old pics of your father. Old black and whites from the 50’s when he was serving in the Korean War. Really neat pictures. Then more recent ones when he was the fire chief. I know you were always so proud of your dad, and never really made peace with his passing. Now you’re reunited and it must feel so wonderful. Last night was probably the worst I’ve had since coming home. Ever since we’ve gotten your things, I’ve been terrified I’d find some remnant of your decision. As I was picking through a box of papers I came across what I believe to be your phone charger. Chris, it was covered in blood. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared at it and started to hyperventilate. My baby brother’s blood. Then my mind started racing…were you charging your phone that night or did the charger just happen to be by the couch? If you were charging your phone, was it out of habit or did you actually plan on using it the next day? If that’s the case then it must have been an impulsive decision to take your life. The police said there were several guns on your living room floor, so were you cleaning them and then just said, “Fuck it?” I just kept staring at it. Then I walked into the bathroom and cleaned it off because I didn’t want Mom to see it. Did you realize, Chris, that you were going to force your sister to clean up your blood? Would you have even cared at that point? I’m sorry I yelled at you when I was cleaning it. I was so fucking angry. I felt so betrayed. How could you have forced me into this position? Though, in an odd way, I felt like I was taking care of you. Cleaning up after you, like I had when we were little. It does’t make any sense. But if someone had to clean up your blood, I wanted it to be me. Yet it makes me afraid of what else we will find. I don’t know if I can handle that again. No sister should have to wipe up her brother’s blood. Tonight, we cooked burgers (I had a steak-jealous?) and we shared stories. Mom talked about how your car died one night during high school after you snuck out of the house, forcing you to call Dad to come to the rescue (just so you know, they actually found your predicament quite hilarious). Then Nikea talked about how you and Bethany would try to out-eat each other at the dinner table. You literally competed for food. God forbid one of you get one more slice of pizza than the other. Dad reminisced how you always loved building things. You’d always have all these scraps of wood, and you’d build crude forts and God knows what else. Remember how Nikea got you all that scrap wood from Scruggs lumber for Christmas? I was so jealous that I didn’t think of it first. I shared how we wrestled in the kitchen. I used to be able to hold you down and tickle you, and one evening in the kitchen I made a comment how I could still kick your ass. You were like, “Oh yeah? You wanna go??” Then it was on. You kicked my ass. But for some reason I love that memory. You were laughing so hard. You just thought it was so funny that your 5ft4 sister was trying to take you down. I also remembered the last night we all stayed together at home for Christmas. You, Clay and I slept in the living room. We had all our dogs here, and Oliver kept hopping off your mattress every 20 minutes to pace. We were so annoyed. Then, for whatever reason Mom got up around 430, after we finally got the dogs to calm down, and decided all puppies needed to go outside and potty. Clay still talks about that. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven Mom. One thing I’ve noticed though is that I’m having such a hard time thinking of memories from the last few years. I know it’s probably grief, but it’s almost like I have short term memory loss. And you KNOW that’s not like me. I remember the most insignificant details of things we would do together. I’m hoping it’s just temporary.
Do you know what’s neat? I got to thank the USPS woman that held Mom when she received your ashes. She dropped off another package while I was unloading the dishwasher (your favorite chore), and by the time Mom told me it was her I had to literally dash out of the house barefoot to catch her. I’m sure she was so confused when I ran in front of her truck and asked her to roll down her window. I grabbed her hand and thanked her for being there for Mom. She began to cry, and told me she was so happy she could help, and that she prays for our family daily. Then she said (and I need to tell Mom this) that our mother had raised amazing children and she was so lucky to have us. Normally, I would have responded with “Hell yeah she did,” or a devious “Hmmm how do you know? bwahaha) but I’ve lost most of my humor for the time being. We’ve just been blessed with so many incredible helping hands the last two weeks (two weeks…I can’t believe you’ve been gone for two weeks. It feels like the world should have stopped turning, the sun should have stopped rising. I should stop breathing. How can this world continue to exist without you?). Mr. and Mrs. Harlow came over tonight (I could probably call them by their first names now but it’s just too weird after 20 years of Mr. and Mrs). Your passing hit them hard…I mean they knew you as a little boy with big glasses. Mary enveloped us in a huge hug, huge tears in her eyes. Did you know she lost her brother years ago in a car accident? She knows the pain of losing a sibling. We stood around and chatted for a while, laughing over your childhood silliness.They had brought a plate of fresh brownies, a card and a beautiful remembrance stone for Mom’s garden. It was so good to see them. It has been years-since the Halloween reunion a few years back. 2015, I believe. I’m sure everyone thinks about what they would do in this position. One girlfriend said she tried to envision what she would do if her brother had killed himself, and she just couldn’t. And our parents’ friends…I’m sure they look at Mom and Dad and realize their worst nightmares. No one wants a loved one to pass. But when that loved one is responsible for their own passing, it just makes it so much harder to not only process, but to know what to say. What do you say to someone whose son or brother took his own life? Honestly, I don’t think there really is anything they can say. But Chris, I really appreciate how much people have tried. I know you’re grateful we have so many people out there to hold us up.
But can I tell you one of my fears? That months will pass, but I still will be hurting. Your death is not something I’m going to ever make peace with. How could I?? And I’ll be grieving still and I worry people will think I need to just get over it. Or will get tired of me talking about you. Because I’m going to need to bring you up in random conversations. I don’t want to just leave you in the past. I want you with me, here. Today. Tomorrow. And every day for the rest of my time here on earth. My beautiful baby brother, who will always be 25. As I age, I will try to envision what you’d look like as an older man, with wrinkles and graying hair. You would be so handsome. There’s this quote that I love, that goes “Do not regret growing older, a privilege denied to so many.” While I can’t imagine growing older without you aging with me, I will try to not obsess over wrinkles and graying hair. To be honest, I’m not grateful for life right now. I know I scared Clay last night, because I kept texting how exhausted I am and how I want to be with you. I would never hurt myself, but sometimes I find the thought of seeing you again comforting. I just miss you so damn much. And tonight I just kept envisioning you walking through the front door. I thought maybe if I concentrated hard enough, I could make it happen. I thought about it just being a normal night, you coming to hang out while we cooked dinner. Then I thought about how we would react now, if we saw you walk through the door. You’d be so confused because you lost your phone, so would have no idea why we were sobbing and hugging you. I’d give anything, ANYTHING for that to happen. A leg? Fine! Arm? Take it!! But it was just some big mistake. That wasn’t you. It was a mix up. Those ashes aren’t yours. You’ve just been out on a fishing trip and decided to come home to visit. We hold you close and hug you and hug you and kiss you and you’re super freaked out and a little annoyed. Then Dad and Nikea wake up and we are all hugging you and crying. Id give anything.
I guess now I’m in the bargaining phase of grief…What a horrible phase. Pleading doesn’t do any good. No amount of prayer will bring you back. And I’m not sure if imagining all that helps or just makes it worse. I think it’s worse. Because I know it will never happen. So maybe I can imagine when we are reunited in Heaven 60 years in the future. I walk through the front door and you’re sitting there with Tim, Toby and Buzz, waiting for me.
Love you, Buddy.