Every time I imagine telling the story I start with you. It’s as obvious a place to start as it isn’t. You came into my life almost 30 years after it happened and only stayed a little while. I don’t remember your acquisition, the duration of your time in my home, nor your departure. Your physical attributes were and are irrelevant. You held no significant or symbolic meaning for me. Your purpose in my life was utilitarian.
If the full gravity of this one interaction with you—the one that I think of as the prologue to my story—had occurred to me as it was happening, you might have met the fate of so many of the other objects in my life; destroyed, flung across the room, pounded against the wall leaving only pieces of you on the floor and another patched hole in the drywall. But it would take a couple of years for my brain to make the connection between that day so long ago, your brief role in my story, and my break— down? through? Either word fits
This is how it begins every time I replay it in my head; the flashing red light, the beep. Then, “Hello Eric, This is your brother, Max. Call me back as soon as you get this. And you’d better be sitting down.”
You couldn’t have known how awkward that would have sounded, especially to anyone who didn’t know Max. You couldn’t have read between the lines but even if so, you couldn’t have intervened. You couldn’t have edited his words to be less stilted, less dramatic or less revealing to me. You couldn’t have known this was a message I had long been expecting. The only question in my mind was not what, but who.
You couldn’t have known that anyone else might have assumed it was about Doug. You couldn’t have deduced that with all his years of accidents, arrests and hospitalizations, he was the most likely to have added another episode to our family’s litany of dramas. More than that, you couldn’t have known, by intuition, by subconscious inference, by a gut that you lack, that it wasn’t Doug but Frankie—the brother with whom I shared a secret—who had killed himself. You couldn’t have known any of it. You were just a machine. You did what you were created to do. You did it well.