The Brother We Share
When my brother died, he left me a manuscript half-written. I think of the age old question of half empty versus half full, and I go over these words like I'm meeting him for the first time. Poring over old apartment searching for clues. Clues to why, clues to how. There's not enough light: Vitamin D deficiency. Empty fridge: Depressive episode brought on by malnutrition. There are all of the things that could've caused this, fingerprints to be dusted and logged, unspoken testimony to be interpreted and catalogued. He is gone.
One of the first things they tell you is it's not your fault. There's nothing you could've said or done differently. Predeterminism in repeated sound bites. The thing you want to hear but don't at the same time. The unrelenting sameness of reaction to suicide. You can go to the support groups, address listed on blue paper pamphlet, and you can sit in their unstacked/restacked plastic chairs, sit in a circle and listen to a person who means well but isn't saying anything you can use. You can sip coffee out of molded polystyrene and think of all the people, places, and things that your brother was molded by. All that he molded in his time. You can feel the lump of loss in your throat and try to force it down with scalding coffee, go into the bathroom and dump it all down the sink, remember to breathe, wet paper towels to remove coffee bean residue, clean it all till the porcelain is better than when you came in. You can wait, and cry between toilet flushes, and carry the weight of him somewhere between heart and spine, shoulders and stomach.
And there are the pictures untaken, the stories untold, the memories and POV dislodged from neuronal connection. You think of "severed." Of how easy a word it is. Of third party controllers back in PS2 days, and frayed wires somehow still sending input commands back and forth. Of multiplayer with your brother, who is now dead, who, you're seeing it now, really seeing it--will always be dead. It's scouring every picture-taking device you have, dumping SD cards onto your computer, looking for that picture you missed, the one that'll bring a part of him back. For me, it was bringing that flash drive home, with its half-completed manuscript, no notes, just that, just what he'd been working on before he went away. There was going over every line, looking for signs and clues, warnings and giveaways. There was shutting that part of my brain off and reading it over again. Reading it till his character's voice could become my own. There was taking out the flash drive and putting my laptop screen through a counter corner. There was breaking the screen off its hinge and throwing it to the other side of my apartment. There was still keeping the flash drive.
I reached out to his friends at some point. His friends he called his brothers, which always made me feel a little weird, until it happened, and they came over to the apartment, helped me clean it out, blasted some goofy '90s music to make me laugh when I got overwhelmed, had to sit down, had to get air. It was them getting enough pizza and wings for me to not have to buy food for the next few days. We sat down that night and played Smash Bros. on a busted-up old N64, and my brother's friend--or brother--Marcos had to bring an extra controller over because Nick's old one was to be permanently retired. If he couldn't use it, no one could. And the way we picked out a Plexiglas box on Amazon together, meant for something autographed, and the closest we'd get would be the "N" of "Nintendo" on the top of the controller that Nick had sharpied in to display ownership at a long-ago sleepover.
What do you do with an entire human life? Do you play the same stage over and over with similar results each time? Do you eat an entire pizza and turn on every electronic in your house and drink coffee till your heart hurts in a different way? Do you collect it in boxes that will ship to different places, different people, different states? Do you go to these suggested meetings and come out more depressed than when you went in? Do you stay in the car and hyperventilate till no one in the outside world can see you? What do you do?
Here's what I do. I finish playing N64 with his brothers who are now my brothers. When they know I'll be okay for the night, they get ready to go, slip in the next time they'll be coming over. They're gracious enough to not call it a check-up. Just that I deserve a rematch after my trouncing in Smash Bros. I accept.
I take the flash drive and plug it into my computer. Let myself think that I am him and this is my flash drive, my story, my words. I know that it's not, but Nick always talked about the importance of commitment to the work. That he wasn't sure if a "method writer" was a thing, but if it was, he was it. I open up his story that is now my story and I read over these words. I close my eyes and I breathe and I open back up again. I start writing.
Nick Olson is a writer and editor from Chicagoland now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP, and other fine places. When he’s not writing his own work, he’s sharing the wonderful work of others over at (mac)ro(mic). His debut novel, Here’s Waldo, is forthcoming from Atmosphere Press. Find him online at nickolsonbooks.com or on Twitter @nickolsonbooks.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.