My brother died on Monday.
That is to say, he did not die on Monday. He died, but not on Monday. Maybe on Friday or Saturday. Possibly even Sunday. Not on Monday.
But he was found on Monday.
His death certificate will say he died on Monday. His obituary says he died on Monday. The coroner says he died on Monday. But he did not die on Monday.
It figures, he would find a way to scam a day or two or three extra out of life.
He was found on Monday because people were concerned, in bold type, because it was not like him not to speak to people for three days.
(By that same rationale, it could be decades before someone finds me.)
Pulling up to the drive-thru speaker, I waffle for a moment between the three chicken-finger plate or the five chicken-finger plate. I’m not hungry enough for five, but the five chicken-finger plate comes with a large drink. The three chicken-finger plate only comes with a medium. I am really thirsty. But I settle for three and ask to upgrade to a large drink.
I’m decisive like that, and more than willing to demand what I really want.
“I’m sorry, but we are temporarily closed due to the power outage,” a woman says through the speaker.
She says this through a speaker powered by electricity, mind you. She says this from a building that is blazing white-hot light from many more bulbs than absolutely necessary, directly into my eyeballs.
“Thank you,” I say and drive away.
My brother died in his bed. It was a bed of needles and powder and pills and shit.
The needles and powder and pills are there because that’s what killed him. They are appropriate because that is how he lived.
The shit is there because he shit himself when he died. That is appropriate because he shit everything else while he lived.
He was 42.
He was 42, and I am 49, and my parents are 70 and 77. He “was” because he no longer is, in the most basic sense of being. I “am” and my parents “are,” because we still are, in the most basic sense of being.
His “was” and my parents’ “are” are the reason I am so angry at him. My own “am” is only an afterthought.
I find another chicken-finger place. They have the option for four chicken fingers. I feel like the Hand of Providence has guided me to this place at this moment.
I order my four chicken fingers. And a large drink. I feel accomplished.
“Will that be all?” another voice says through electricity and speaker.
“Yes,” I reply.
“OK, what else do you want?” the voice comes back.
With confusion, I say, “Nothing. That is all.”
The Hand of Providence has a sense of humor.
I was there when my brother was found.
That is to say, I was not there precisely when he was found, but a few minutes later. Maybe 30 minutes. I could have been there maybe five minutes earlier, but I took a wrong turn going there, then compounded it with another wrong turn.
It’s not like I missed anything by getting there five minutes later. He was still dead when I got there.
I knew he was dead, before I knew he was dead. I guess you would say I feared he was dead, before I knew he was dead. But I knew it.
Another relative found him. He had been asked to check on him. He banged on the door and got no answer. Finally, he used a spare key, went inside, and found him. Dead.
When I got there, he met me in the driveway, the rims of his eyes swollen and red. I asked him what was going on.
I absorbed the news. I accepted it. Then I second-guessed it.
“Gone” could mean other things. He could have left. He could be extremely intoxicated. Those are two other meanings of “gone.” I am sure there are more. I needed confirmation.
“So … He’s dead?” I asked.
With the least amount of confirmation possible, he nodded his head. It was a staccato nod, with short, fast, jerky movements up and down. This guy …
Still, I figured it was the most I would get. I re-absorbed. I re-accepted. I did no more guessing.
And I felt numb. I wanted to feel sadness and pain, but I was numb. I began asking myself what I was supposed to do during a “time like this.” I began to feel very inadequate and ill-prepared for the “time like this.”
So, I did things, and maybe none of them were right. I went inside. I went outside. I stood. I sat. I paced. I talked to police. I talked to the coroner.
I answered a lot of questions. Yes, my brother has (had) a drug problem. No, I hadn’t spoken to him lately. Yes, he tried to get clean. No, he wasn’t very good at it. Yes, he lived here alone. No, he didn’t have a wife/girlfriend/son/daughter. This is (was) his phone number. This is my phone number. This is my parents’ phone number. Here is my address, their address.
One thing I did not do is go upstairs, to my brother’s bedroom, where my brother was. I did not want my final image of him to be exactly how he really was. I prefer my final images served with a side of naiveté.
At some point, I remembered I needed to tell my parents. They were the ones who wanted someone to check on him, after all.
I called. My dad answered. “It’s not good,” I told him. “He’s gone,” I told him. I waited for tears or screams or anger or questions.
“Oh, shit,” was all that came.
But that “oh, shit” contained more tears and screams and anger and questions than you would reasonably think possible in two one-syllable words.
At some point, a friend from work, my closest friend from work, came to be with me during the “time like this,” because I was now a person people needed to be with, for some reason. In the days to come, I would discover more people who needed to be with me, and I felt like it was all very unnecessary, until they were gone.
We stood outside and waited. I kept my back turned to the door, so as not to see something accidentally.
My dear friend stood with me, one hand tucked under my left arm, the other constantly rubbing my left shoulder. “You’re going to be OK,” she told me. “I’m going to stay here with you during this,” she said. It felt odd to me, and I didn’t feel like I really needed someone to be with me, to comfort me.
But I welcomed it, all the same. Fell face-first into it and allowed it to envelop me.
I pulled up to the window. My large drink came out. My debit card went in. My bag of chicken fingers came out. The clerk did whatever she typically does to cards.
Handing my card back out the window, she asked, “Do you want your receipt?”
I looked up at her, our eyes locking. I could feel the questions in my eyes, searching for something, before resigning myself to not finding it here.
With a long, lingering “no,” I took my card and drove away, defeated.