Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A eulogy for my brother

His memory is bittersweet. I recall the first time I behold his large forehead and open blue eyes as he looked up into my four-year old face from his perch in my lap by the bedside of my postpartum mother. I remember the days when I would throw a tantrum because I hated school and my little brother was always there to play with me, no matter how awkward I was. I was his sun, his older sister, and he fell into my orbit with his wide grin and habit of throwing peas into old ladies' hair at the local cafeteria.

I loved my brother with all my heart and then some. I missed him dearly when we were separated, me eleven and he seven. I wondered if he missed me, in the city with my mom, while I lived under the thumb of my draconian father and aloof stepmother. The weekends were cacophonous and ironically peaceful. The monotony of my schoolwork was broken only by the weekend interludes of the time with my brother. For two days we were together again, and the pull of our sibling love for the other was palpable in its normalcy. I look back at the times my jealousy overcame my young heart with such nostalgia. My rage for his luck of my mother's leniency, and his yearning for my natural book smarts. We were complements, he and I. I was the approval seeker, disappointed when my brother, who could not read, received more attention than I, She Who Devoured Books. My best friend, my partner in crime. He would pick up sticks in the alley behind my father's house at my dare, and stick them between the slats of our neighbor's fence to tease their anxious dog. When the animal bit and snapped and rattled the fence, we would laugh at our cleverness at overcoming such a foul beast and narrowly escape down the alleyway with our lives intact.

He flourished, one day, my brother. He moved out of my orbit and into his own. The height of the diving board became no match for his will and his drive. The things he would not do without the teasing of his older sister became the things he did to impress someone other than me. Perhaps it was himself he was trying to please. His slowness receded, and my best friend became someone other than my reflection and my twin. He read things I had no wish to. The games I played held no interest for him anymore. The weekends we spent, glued to each other's side, became two days in which we saw each other sporadically in the breaks between our own interests.

And I loved this person, this brother of mine. No longer my shadow, but someone new. I loved him not in the childish way that one loves their arm as a part of themselves, but in the way a sibling loves her younger brother, who succeeded where she failed, failed where she succeeded, and sometimes never attempted either success or failure in those things which she once did. We fought with the viciousness of cats at play, confident that there would be a time, usually the hour after, in which we loved one another again. Our arguments were petty: dishes and garbage cans and hair in the sink. But we loved each other still, and the time we spend apart made the times we compromised together sweeter.

But there came a time when my brother fell ill. His guileless blue eyes turned cold, and his head lolled towards the ground instead of towards the sky. His silly games became taunts, a madness, a game, in which there was no object or reason other than the expression of his agony. He did not care anymore for anything at all. Nothing but that which reflected his illness back at him. There was a fire that burned, not of passion, but of pestilence. And that fire was both literal and figurative.

That day was the day I knew that my brother was dying. He stood on the pavement, a mask over his face, his arm wrapped in gauze, and the firetrucks' flashing red amongst the facades of cookie-cutter suburban adobe. The air stunk of smoke and of water. All I smelled was fear, fear and a crushing agony that never abated. As they shoved his wrists in cuffs and I held my weeping mother close, I persisted in holding on to the false hope that this sickness was not terminal. That there would be a day again where my brother's eyes sparkled with glee and my mother laughed at our antics.

For a time, my delusion held. There were no more cuffs, and no more uniforms knocking at our door. We still fought over trash cans, hair in the sink, and drums during homework. But his jacket was still black, and his time was still spent looking into mirrors that echoed his madness, and the fights were of rabid beasts, not of cats. I ignored these moments that broke my lie. I would curl in on myself even as I held my head high as his words of pestilence and famine and death crashed round my ears. I blamed myself for this illness. I blamed my mother for her surrender, unwillingly given by necessity. I blamed by father for his absence and the passing of this malady.

And then there was the day my brother was dead. The laughing boy I loved like myself was gone. There is no anniversary of his death to mark by time. It was only recently that I realized that the foulness of rot was only gone with his physical absence. How do you morn a love greater than yourself? How do you see that which is dead in the face of a monster? And so I bury my brother today. My partner in crime, my love, and my hope.

This memory of love makes my reality of hate so much more unbearable. The monster that inhabits my home in his place says things that hurt, says things that make my own madness laugh and grin and beat a tempo of futility amongst the demons of reality traipsing through my head. I cannot bear to look upon this monster and see my own illness reflected back at me. This illness of hate and violence and twisted love. But we are one and the same, still, this new monster and I. We both hate that which has no name, she who wears my face and my sex. She that taunts and laughs at me for the things I wish and wish not to be, and he for the things he wishes he had or hates that he wishes or and hates that he does not have.

So I buried my brother. I dug a deep grave beside one I unwillingly dug, teaspoon by teaspoon, a long time ago. Here I buried that which was once was my brother, and will never be again, beside the shed skin of someone who was once me. There are no gravestones to mark this hallowed place; no mausoleum at which to mourn for the possibilities now lost.

My only reminder of this death is the emptiness of the monster's eyes as they gaze deep into the emptiness of mine.

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