pages 79-81


   Sometimes I ask myself what Alex ever did for me to justify the amount of time and emotional energy being spent on editing this asshole's book. Sure, yeah, I'm doing it because it's the "right" thing to do, but when it comes to siblings, sucking it up and doing the right thing can be harder than it already is the rest of the time. Why is this? Well, I have several theories. One is that we are biologically programed to wish our siblings' demise, like that dickhead baby bald eagle on PBS who beat the shit out of her brother. She made him so afraid in his own home that he became too scared to even ask their mom for pieces of the rabbit carcass and as a result, let his evil older sister slowly starve him to death. Then she ate him, too.
   Another theory is that we see our siblings at their very, very worst, which makes it hard for anyone to do right by anyone. During childhood, who do we bother when we feel like being the most annoying? Our siblings. Who do we take it out on when we've had a bad day? Our siblings. Who do we steal from, rat out, pick on, beat up, knock down, and drive to the brink of insanity? Our siblings. And because of this, we hate them. We love them, but if we had to submit a "to kill" list, their names would be number one with a bullet.
   My last theory is less cut throat, but no less brutal. Growing up is hard. It's really fucking hard, especially if you're under the care of two emotionally stunted adults who spent most of the after school hours screaming at each other in the living room rather than engaging with their troubled teenagers. I don't know about everyone else, but there came a point in my life when I just couldn't care about my brother like I used to. Each life stage- high school, college, post college- came with brand new struggles that were equally difficult and numerous. This is not to say that I've reached some kind of secure, carefree phase of my life. I have not. But shit got real there, for a while, and no one was going to help me but me. What I'm getting at is, I needed to save myself before I could worry about my brother. I had to acknowledge that I was in no place to fix someone else when there were days I had to search the couch for change just to eat, that is, if I weren't so depressed I could actually leave the couch to lift up the cushions. The hardest part of doing the right thing for your siblings is that, at the end of the day, it's not your job to do so. You don't have the tools. Being so close in age and experience means that you can't save each other with money and words of wisdom. Neither of you have any more of those things than the other.
   Sometimes I wonder what the right thing to do would be if Alex were still alive. I couldn't figure it out when he was. All I know is that usually the right thing is the hardest thing. By that logic, it fees like I'm getting close.


pages 77-78


   As of yesterday, I am done with the hardest part of marathon training. Now all I have left to do is taper, which is runner lingo for the dreaded dropping off of weekly mileage until race day. Why is it dreaded? Because runners typically don't want to run less. I have always hated the taper weeks, as unlike the months prior, you aren't achieving any new milestones or accomplishing new goals. It's boring. It's slow. It's necessary. It's awful.
   This year it is especially hard, because all Alex's death has left  me with, other than his book, is numbers. In the past, I'd experience the notorious "runner's high" all the time. During the middle of a long run or toward the end of a speed workout, I'd feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up and the sun would suddenly feel extra good on my skin. My legs would become weightless and for a couple of minutes I'd feel like I could lift a car if need be. It's euphoric and wonderful and makes me feel invincible. But to feel that, you have to let yourself, you know, actually *feel* things, and I just haven't been able to do that this go around. I learned on a run shortly after Alex died that there is only one door on the dam that holds in emotion. I was running faster than normal, it was a tempo workout. If I talked, it would have only been in single words at a time, I was breathing that heavily. Then, like clouds parting, my gait got smoother, my breath became steady, the tiny hairs on the back of my neck were waking up. But instead of feeling invincible, instead of imagining myself sprinting toward the end of a coveted race, or surging past someone I dislike just before the finish line, or winning the Mark Twain award for comedy and giving the "smartest and funniest acceptance speech I've ever heard," as quoted by Steve Martin, I crumbled. The emotional flood gates opened, but the happy stuff was no where to be found. Tears instantly clouded my vision and my breath was caught up in my throat. I felt like I was choking while being punched in the stomach. The embarrassment of crying in public added a layer of anxiety on top of this emotional meltdown. I had to stop. I ran over toward the lake and raised my hands up over my head, giving my lungs more room to take in air. I tried to slow my breathing down, but I couldn't, and I couldn't stop crying. I tried running again, just to get home quicker, but my chest locked up with every step. Red faced, exhausted, ashamed, I walked home the rest of the way, trying not to meet people's eyes.
   That was the last time I let myself feel anything on a run this year. Since then I've been going through the motions, completing my scheduled miles, taking pictures of pretty moments along my various routes and listening to my favorite songs, but my heart hasn't been in it. I haven't been able to risk feeling all the bad things just for a chance to feel the good. I don't want to be like T-1000; constantly falling apart while chasing my goals. So instead, I focus on numbers. The miles, the times, the days. I count and analyze, bargain and organize. I make plans and to-do lists, I check off my runs like they're an errand or a chore. I do this with the hope that one day I won't have to, that one day I'll go for a run because I feel the desire, not just because I'm trying to resume a sense of normalcy. I'm going to finish my training. I'm going to run this race. If my heart isn't in it, I guess I'll just have guts.




pages 74-76


   I've spent my last two weekends attending weddings and parties and honestly, I'm fucking spent. I'm not sure I've ever been more emotionally exhausted, and that includes Alex's memorial service, the last presidential election, and the Thanksgiving my dog spent projectile pooping blood all over the place. The first of the two weddings was my youngest brother's, which was hard for all the obvious reasons. It was our first family event after Alex's death, and his absence was felt heavily. The next was my best friend's wedding, and our mutual friends from all over were there to help them celebrate. While it was great to see my long distance friends again, it's also hard to talk to people I haven't seen since my brother's death. I am not the same friend they had before. Like, yeah, I still tell everyone what to do and eat too fast and dance really hard, but once you've been to the dark side, you don't see things the same way anymore. I used to answer, "How have you been?" with the polite and expected, "Good, thanks! You?" but I can't tell that lie anymore. At the reception, a good friend asked that very question and I told him, "Miserable, but I'm here and managed to put lipstick on." It startled him. I could see it in his face, but I didn't care. I can't care. I spend so much energy trying to be a functional human being that I have had to force myself to let some things go. Putting on a happy face for my friends is one of them. Obsessively cleaning my hardwood floors is another.  I don't want to be off-putting to the people I like and love most. I don't take pleasure in dumping my problems on others, and I don't believe that's what I'm doing. I am, however, starting to believe that I need some help in this.
    Before you send me the names of your therapists, know that I have thought about it and have decided it's not for me. I've been to counseling before, and while this may sound very, um, stupid, for lack of a better word, was taken aback by the amount of talking required. If you know me, you likely know that I like to hang out in small groups wherein I feel comfortable telling self-deprecating and exaggerated stories of my various personal failings. I also like to exclaim things at the television when the Cubs are on. But for every day I see people, I need at least one day off. Talking is hard, guys. It's really, really hard. So hard in fact that after two weddings and one retirement party for my in-laws I spent all yesterday sobbing on my couch, pausing briefly to run 10 miles then watch the Cubs game. I would rather put a stranger's cigarette out in my eye than talk about anything, especially my feelings, for a prolonged period time. It's actual torture. Seriously, if I were a captured spy, I would tell my captors anything they wanted immediately if it meant that they'd stop asking me questions. This would inevitably lead to my execution when given back to my home country, but hey, being dead is better than having to explain yourself in court.
   So what do I need then, if I don't want to talk about my feelings? When I told my friend flat out that I was miserable, he flinched, but he stayed right there next to me. That was enough.


Batman





               When Alex was barely two, he scratched off a lottery ticket my dad bought him, as we loved to scratch away the metallic film with pennies while we waited for Dad to fill up the gas tank. Alex’s ticket was a $500 winner, and with that money my dad bought our family’s camcorder. We were definitely the first family on the block to have one, and while I and the rest of the neighborhood kids were always trying to come up with a new schtick for the camera, Alex only ever had one thing to say when the giant lens focused on him. “BATMAN!” he’d say, in the same sing-songy way the Adam West series theme song went. Sometimes he would preface this declaration with the, “na na na na na na na na” part of the song. Sometimes he would get distracted during the “na na na na na na na na’s” and keep going while pushing a toy car across the living floor, climbing up the tree house, or coloring a stack of computer paper. Focused on the task at hand, “na na na na na na na na-ing,” my dad would wait patiently for him to look up and finally notice he was being filmed. When several minutes would go buy, Alex still singing monosyllables, Dad would give up and call to him. “Alex!” He'd look up and grin. “Say hi, buddy,” Dad would ask. “BATMAN!” Alex would exclaim, before going back to that world inside his head that always seemed very busy and very far away.

His Batman obsession continued into our childhoods, with Batman themed birthday parties, batman pajamas, a massive wooden bed carved into the likeness of the Batmobile by my grandfather and painted shiny black with the signature signal by my mother, Halloween costumes, bed sheets… We even called the nebulizer machine he used to inhale his asthma medication the “Batmask,” so he’d actually sit still and use it. In the beginning, I think he loved Batman for all of his gadgets. Alex loved to build things, so the Bat Cave, full of intricate tools, utility belts, the Batmobile, Batboat, Batcopter, Batcycle, and Batplane, was his idea of heaven. Not to mention all the corresponding toys. I’m sure when we moved out of that house, the new owners found tiny missiles and barbs shot from the Batmobile he got for his third birthday, stuck in the carpet, wedged inside light sockets. When Tim Burton took over the franchise, the villains became Alex’s favorite. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was endlessly fun to impersonate, while Danny DeVito’s Penguin used to keep us up at night. When Alex wouldn’t stop bugging me, I’d threaten to bite his nose off like Penguin did to that image consultant who implied he was ugly.  The fear-factor those movies provided was a far cry from the campy Adam West days, but they also introduced a side to the caped crusader we hadn’t seen before. Batman wasn’t just a nocturnal hero with an endless supply of grappling hooks (I always wondered how he sat down in the Batmobile with those attached to his belt), he was Bruce Wayne; a depressed orphan who sought revenge with a side of adrenaline. He was a lonely, friendless (save for an aging butler), misunderstood, mortal man. Alex particularly loved Christian Bale’s interpretation of Bruce. Instead of the brooding, intellectual business man Michael Keaton portrayed him to be, Bale made him an insufferable brat, a drunk, a spoiled party boy who squandered his father’s money and legacy. He made Bruce despicable, so no one would question if it were he who was out saving the world every night. This is the idea I think Alex related to in the end. That everyone had both a Batman and Bruce Wayne inside of them. Everyone was capable of being the hero and the villain, and the choice of which one to be isn’t a clean one. You have to sacrifice a part of yourself to be one or the other.

When we were very little, he started to call me “Robin,” after Batman’s fellow orphaned sidekick. In fact, I don’t remember him using my real name until he was at least seven or so. I should have been irritated that I got the role of the wimpy sidekick with a horrible costume of garish green underpants, since I was the oldest sibling and therefore had all rights to front seat claims, PG movies, and pretend character assignments, but I never said boo. I guess it just made sense to me that Alex would be the Dark Knight. I mean, I couldn’t go anywhere without my baby blankets (still can’t), while Alex regularly demanded to sleep outside in our treehouse. By himself. All night. Without a flashlight. It took me 30 years to build up the courage to sleep outside at night (camping, some call it), but there are other things some may consider daring that come naturally to me. Drinking beer and gin in the same night, for one, but also getting tattoos. I’ve always admired them on other people, and when I started getting them myself, I began to love the process. I love the very sensation of getting tattooed. It makes me feel peaceful and calm. It’s the closest thing I have ever felt to what I’ve read meditating feels like. When Alex died and I racked my brain of things that would make me feel something other than his loss,  getting tattooed topped the list. I ran the idea by my mother, knowing full well she would think I was kidding and change the subject. Turns out I know nothing, because when I suggested that during her next visit we get matching Batman tattoos for Alex, she said, “Okay, what time?”  

The most recent installment in the Batman movie series, The Dark Night Rises, ends with Batman carrying a lethal reactor away from Gotham with The Bat (another great flying contraption of his) to detonate it over the sea. While he saves the city he loves so much, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to do so. Or so we think. With the presumption of Bruce Wayne’s death, Wayne Manor is turned into an orphanage, Alfred inherits the Wayne fortune, and John Black, a good cop who helped Batman, is given spelunking gear and a set of coordinates, left to him by Bruce. John, whose real name is, you guessed it, Robin, swings through a waterfall and into a massive cave, where a swarm of bats immediately encompass him and a platform rises from the deep, taking him to where it all began. This is the job of the sidekick. When our hero dies, we don’t wallow. We don’t give up. We pick up his emblem and finish what he started.






pages 69-73


   Since the days they were born, I have felt an immense sense of responsibility for my brothers. I assume most oldest siblings do to some extent, as it seems to be something parents indoctrinate the moment the stick turns pink. I think parents do this to make the older child feel included and important when in reality, they're about to be demoted from precious only child to someone else's sibling. "You're the big sister now" is really code for, "You will no longer receive my undivided attention so here's a stupid BIG SISTER t-shirt now please, go play." But no parent expects their oldest child to literally care for their younger brothers and sisters. Sure, hand your dad the box of baby wipes every once in a while in the name of "helping", or fetch the new baby's pacifier when your mom's hands are full and she looks to be on the brink of tears because she has two kids under two and hasn't had a proper night's sleep or a haircut in years. But actual, physical, emotional, necessary-to-life, care? That is better left to adults. But I took everything more seriously than other kids my age. From our choreographed dance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song to marching band to baseball, everything meant everything to me all of the time. It was, and still is, an exhausting way to live. It is also how I approached being an oldest sibling.

   I obviously don't remember Alex being born, as I wasn't even two years old yet, but I do remember the doting that started from a very early age. There is a home video our dad took of us, wherein a two-year old Alex had just stuck his finger into a light socket and my four-year-old self is simultaneously examining his finger while reprimanding him not to do such things. When my youngest brother saw this particular clip, he asked why our dad didn't install those child-safe outlet covers. "It was the 80's," I shrugged. "We hardly wore seatbelts." On Alex's first day of kindergarten, he told his young teacher (who was also experiencing her very first day teaching, it turned out), that he was going to blow up the school, then promptly locked himself in the bathroom. While the teacher called my mother, who responded to her concern for Alex's threat with, "Damn, I told him to leave his dynamite at home," (again, it was the 80's), I was called in from my second grade classroom to talk him down. When I finally coaxed him from the bathroom, his face was red and tear-streaked. Once, when we were in high school, he issued another threat. He had climbed out onto the widow's walk on the roof of our ancient farmhouse, and said he was going to jump. While my parents scrambled after him, pleading and crying and yelling, trying to reach him, trying so hard to reach him, I grabbed eight-year-old Andy, buckled him into my car, and tore down the driveway. I knew that if Alex did jump, he wouldn't want Andy to see it. After several silent minutes in the car, Andy asked where we were going. I didn't know. I told him we were just giving Alex some space, because everybody needs a little space sometimes. How did ice cream sound?
 
   Everything Alex has every done has made me feel guilty, but nothing more so than his death. I know, intellectually, that I did not put those drugs in his hands. I know that one person cannot undo years of that kind of abuse. I know I am not so powerful a force that I could have changed the cycle of incarceration, release, and reoffending he was sucked into. I know that I am just one person, one mediocre, fussy, pessimistic, completely average person, who is much smaller than the entirety of addiction. I know that Alex's death is not my fault. But I feel like it is, which makes all those things I know as worthless as a Beanie Baby collection post 1999 (which sounds like an especially flippant simile, but we worked really, really hard on that collection). Perhaps that's why I started this project in the first place. To have a place to put my guilt. To make up for not being there, for not saving him. I don't know. I just know that nothing anyone has said to assure me has helped. Until, that is, I edited today's pages. In the scene where Alex's character is about to try crystal meth for the first time, his friend asks him if the line of powder he's laid out is enough. “More." the character, "Alan," says. "If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. Full blast for me, please.”

   If he was going to do it, he was going to do it. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten how much stronger his impulse to self-destruct was than my ability to fix things. I could talk him out of a bathroom and put cartooned band aids on fingers, I could defend him from bigger kids and help him bury his dead pet snake, I could watch over him during band practice from my drum major's podium, I could keep what I found in his closet to myself, I could send him letters while he was in prison, I could wire him money when he wasn't. I could lecture and listen, I could make phone calls and arrangements. I could do the tangible things with the resources I had. But I was never going to stop him from going "full blast." I see that now. Like Alex's fresh-faced, well-meaning kindergarten teacher against a Ninja Turtle backpack full of imaginary TNT, I never stood a chance.





pages 66-68



Alex,

I regret calling you "turtle" when the steroid you were on for your asthma made you retain water and look all round and bloated.

I regret making fun of the asthma camp you went to all those summers.

I regret those years when I was bigger than you when I would hold you down during a fight and tell you I was going to bite your nose off like the Penguin in Batman Returns.

I regret acting like a brat on your 8th birthday.

I'm regret telling the neighborhood kids you had worms when you got ringworm.

I regret telling on you.

I regret not telling on you.

I regret not dropping everything to move back to Columbus to make you live with me.

I regret that one time I covered your bed in ketchup.

I regret that you had to fight your school bus bully instead of doing it for you. He was my age, after all.

I regret not getting a better paying job so I could support you.

I regret trying to keep you out of my room when I had friends over.

I regret not teaching you how to properly throw a baseball. Jesus, you were so, so bad. It was embarrassing to watch. Painful, even. I, ugh, I can't think about it now without cringing.

I regret not being more encouraging of the things you did well.

I regret making you feel bad for being allergic to cats and being the reason I couldn't have one.

I regret not pushing Mom and Dad to send you to military school when you begged to go.

I regret rolling my eyes at you in the hall at school when you went through that hair gel phase.

I regret not just giving you the goddamned Chumbuwumba CD.

I regret all those times I just brushed you off as a pain in the ass instead of really talking to you.

I regret that year we didn't talk after our huge Christmas Day fight.

I regret not being a kinder, more sensitive person you may have felt more comfortable confiding in when you first started getting into trouble.

I regret judging instead of listening.

I regret being so hard on you to change.

I regret not being hard enough.

I regret that the last time I saw you, I brought a six pack of beer. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking. I was thinking, wouldn't it be nice to have a beer with my brother, like normal people do? And then you drank four of them so fast, and would have drank a fifth but I pretended to want another so you wouldn't. I'm sorry I was so stupid. I'm sorry I put wanting to be "normal" with you above what was best for you. I'm sorry I gave up trying to fix you. I just didn't want you to be mad at me anymore.

I am sorry that I'm the one editing your book. But so far, I don't regret it.








pages 63-65


   I edited a few pages of Alex's book yesterday, but I couldn't write afterward. It was too hard, reading about his first encounter with the drug that would eventually take his life. Last night I dreamt of him. In the dream, we were driving around in the middle of nowhere, like we used to do, and I started looking through his backpack. In his pack I found a rubber tube, a glass vase, whippets, white powder, and a lighter, just like in his story. I immediately pulled the car over and confronted him, and he got so instantly enraged and defensive. I started throwing the objects into this field, I think we were by the fairgrounds near our old house. It was nighttime, and unlike Alex, I can actually throw, so there would be no way he would find everything. I kept throwing his drugs and various accessories until they were all gone. Furious, he started after me. I jumped back into the car and peeled out, leaving him there, screaming at me. When I looked back in the rear view mirror, he was searching frantically through the dark, combing the tall, damp grass for his high.

   Then I woke up.

   A few years ago, throwing out his drugs at the risk of him lashing out at me is absolutely something I would have done. It's something I have done, in fact, and one of the first things I did after he died. Going through the room he sometimes stayed in at my father's house, I went through all the places I knew he might stash something, gathered the incriminating objects, and got rid of them. At the time I told myself I was doing this for my parents' sake, that I didn't want them to find these things and get upset. But it was also to protect him from himself. Not that that made any sense anymore. He was dead. Still, I felt the need to give him a clean slate. "If you're going to do this, I'm going to make it as hard for you as possible," I thought, as I moved furniture and lifted floor boards, dumped out vases and emptied drawers. I combed his mattress with my hands, feeling for places he may have cut a hole. I went through every trinket box, every shoe, every shelf, every book, every cushion, every bag, every last inch of his room until I was sweaty, covered in dust, and certain I would uncover nothing more. I saved a particular place for last. Years ago, when Alex was just a boy, my grandfather made him a dresser. It has several drawers on the bottom and two square cabinets on the top, perfect for storing binders of basketball cards, plastic fake vomit, pictures of crushes, the important things every boy has. I opened the right door. It was lined in cedar and still smelled good. The inside was empty, but I knew better. In every piece my grandfather made for us, he built in a "secret." A hidden compartment only we knew about, where we would hide our most precious things. I had a set of tiny drawers that came out of a wall in my dollhouse where I stashed my precious two dollar bill Alex was constantly trying to steal. I knocked along the inner walls of the cabinet until one spot sounded more hollow then the rest. I pushed on it, and the side of the cabinet sprung open, revealing a small, spring loaded door with equally small shelves. I got out my flashlight. There was nothing inside but an inscription written in pencil on the wood.

For Alex
a special boy
Grandpa Jon
April 1996


pages 60-62


   At first I thought I was being overly sentimental. This is a real fear I have; showing too much emotion, feeling too much emotion. Maybe it's because every time I expressed a feeling a member of my family would call me, "dramatic." I always thought that was so unfair and so funny, me being the "dramatic" one. I mean, have you read Alex's book? The criticism stuck though, and now every time I feel something I question its legitimacy. But I've been to a half-dozen ball games since my brother died, and I'm starting to notice a trend: I feel uncomfortable everywhere that is not my house with the exception of Wrigley Field.
  I've been trying to go out, to accept invitations and make myself rejoin the world, to give myself a reason to get dressed up and say more than the handful of words I exchange with the clerks at Whole Foods. I go through the motions of getting ready, meeting friends, ordering drinks, blah blah blah, in hopes that it'll eventually feel normal again. It does, sometimes, but more often than not I feel like a fish in a bowl, the glass distorting the view as I look out onto a world that's familiar, but out of reach. I feel disconnected from people, and every time someone asks, "How was your summer?" I retreat back into myself a little more. I don't want to tell acquaintances or someone I just met that my brother died a couple months ago, but as they stand there and tell me some boring story about their work or a recent vacation, I find myself wishing they knew so they'd shut the fuck up about their bitchin' camping trip already.
   That's not fair of me, I know. Other people's lives don't stop just because mine did. It is no one's fault my wires frayed, leaving me unable to plug in to casual conversation with the ease I used to. I just currently have nothing in common with anyone who isn't in this weird grieving limbo, with people who have never lost someone so close to them, who have never experienced outer space-sized sadness, wherein you're floating in never-ending blackness that's not painful, really, but constant, and the silence in this space is deafening.
   I spend most of my time feeling this way, until I enter the ballpark. Then, it's like things snap into focus. What was black and white is now vibrant color. People no longer sound like they're speaking Klingon. Everything makes sense. I know where everything is, I know who these people are, and we all have a common goal. I sit in my favorite seats and put in my earbuds so I can listen to the radio broadcast while I watch the game. I fill out my scorecard the way my grandfather taught me to. I can joke with the people sitting next to me, and ask the lady behind the counter for extra cheese for my nachos. At Wrigley Field, I am a functioning human being again. I don't know why I only feel this way there. Maybe it's because I know everyone is there to watch the Cubs and not ask my how my summer was. Maybe it's because baseball has been a part of my life for so long that it's now more of a security blanket than a hobby. Maybe it's because Alex never really got into baseball the way I did, and it's a place I can be free of his memory for a while. Or maybe it's because Wrigley Field is a place where people know how to wait for the good days to come, a place where people believe that tomorrow could be better, even if tomorrow takes 108 years to get here.
     

pages 58-59


   The woman Alex wrote about in the previous pages- the one with whom he had a tumultuous and destructive relationship- is the woman he brought as his date to my wedding. I got married in August of 2010, when Alex had just started using heavily and had yet to master the art of hiding it. He was a member of my wedding party, a "bridesman." I wanted him to stand up with me, being the person who knew me the best and longest. He showed up right before the ceremony, sweaty, jittery, and especially pale for summer. After our brief vows he vanished again, missing most of the pictures. Later that evening at the reception, his girlfriend, the girl he wrote about, approached me in a panic, saying that Alex had taken her phone and had been gone for hours and could I do something, could I go find him? This sent my father into a rage, both the fact that Alex had left to do what we all knew he was doing but wouldn't say, and that his girlfriend, who my father hated, was making a scene. They started screaming at each other just off the dance floor, complete with insults and hand gestures. Just as I ran over to break them up, Alex came down the stairs where the DJ was set up. "Let's dance, sissy!" He exclaimed, taking my hand just as the obnoxious opening notes of Surfin Bird poured out of the speakers. It was a typical Alex request, a song that's both hilarious and egregious, offensive to the ears but inarguably classic, and I couldn't help but follow him out to the dance floor, where we spun and spazzed and laughed until our stomachs hurt and sweat poured down our faces.
   Our youngest brother, Andy, gets married in less than a month. Alex was really looking forward to the wedding. He spoke a lot of how happy he was for Andy, of what he would wear, of what songs he would insist we spaz out to on the dance floor. Every time he talked about it, though, I worried. I didn't want Andy to have to deal with his disappearing act. I didn't want him to show up high, or use during the reception, or bring someone who would cause a scene. Throughout my life, I have had to consciously cherry pick the moments with Alex I to hang onto. When I think of my wedding, I choose to think about that moment on the dance floor, and not all the other moments that led up to it. I was scared that Andy would have to make that kind of choice, too. He doesn't have to now, and I'm not sure which is worse. That is the never-ending question the family of an addict asks themselves: is it better they go on living and continue to inflict this pain onto themselves and everyone who loves them, or to not live at all? Sometimes I am able to let myself feel glad he isn't suffering anymore, but right now I'd let him ruin all the weddings in the world for one more dance.



pages 54-57


   When people find out about this project, they often say that it must be very hard for me to read and edit his book, to go back in time and relive those hard years through his eyes. Parts of this process are hard, certainly. I hate editing sex scenes that star my brother and [insert name of female headcase here] and I hate editing the parts where he lies (which is often). But I think what makes me the most uncomfortable is when I'm editing a scene wherein he is behaving in a way that is so familiar and true not just to who he was, but to who I am as well.
   Alex and I were just shy of two years apart. We shared not just the same parents, houses, schools, fashion trends, favorite TV shows, and for one tumultuous week, a Chumbawumba CD, but also the way we experienced those things. I didn't notice how similar we acted until Mike started pointing it out when Alex came home from prison the last time. The way we hunched our shoulders, as if apologizing for being tall, our constant need to fill a space with a joke, the way we get lost in a task, be it reading, writing, or organizing our pog collections. When he grew his hair long, we even looked the same from the back. We had the same crazy, wavy hair. But today's pages highlighted a similarity I'm not as fond of. In this scene, he levels his ex girlfriend with a paragraph-long speech that's so mean and hurtful even I felt bad for this woman, and I never even liked her. Sure, what she did to Alex's character was frustrating, but it didn't warrant the venomous verbal lashing he released. This is the other thing we do that's just alike, and it makes me sick to my stomach.
   I'm not certain exactly when or why we gained the ability to string together words so hurtful they could physically change the way a person's face looked, as if  we'd actually punched them. I have an inkling is has something to do with having a father who fights with teenagers like a teenager. As we grew and it became harder and harder for our father to control us, he would lose control over his own emotions and lash out, which perhaps he meant to be intimidating, but really only diminished his role as an authority figure in our eyes. How can you respect an adult who kicks down your bedroom door because he thinks your boyfriend is in bed with you, the very boyfriend who went home four hours earlier? Or who dumps a salad on your head at dinner when you flip a forkful of spaghetti at your sister? You can't. Our dad was like having another sibling, only this brother could take things away and was three times our size. Since you can't hit your father with a vacuum cleaner the same as you would your brother, the easiest way to level him was with words. There is this joke by comedian John Mulaney that explains this well. He says, "...8th graders will make fun of you, but in an accurate way. They will get to the thing that you don't like about you." Alex and I had this "gift," and as lanky dorks with glasses, it was the single weapon we had to protect ourselves. Our fists were bony and breakable, but we were both good with words, and it turned out that right combination of sentences could floor a person as efficiently as one good punch. You could see it drove our father nuts, our ability to outwit and out-insult him. He was a shark, but we were piranhas. He couldn't win, because at the end of the day, no matter what we said, if you're an adult fighting with a teenager, you are the loser. This is a fact we figured out long before he did.
   While being a linguistic gladiator had its benefits in terms of protecting one's privacy, personal space, and autonomy in a house that was determined to rid us of those things, that "skill" has only caused problems for me, and I assume Alex as well, once I left my parent's house. To this day, when someone insults me, I feel a spark ignite in my chest that makes my hair stand on end and my eyelid twitch. It's like the way the air feels just before a tornado touches down; everything is electric. Letters and words and turns of phrase start swirling around in my brain while I analyze my victim. I pick words out of the swirling storm clouds in my mind and organize them by rhythm and sound. To have proper impact, you can't just choose the right words, you have to compose them, you have to make them sound right, so it sticks in the person's brain like a song they can't stop whistling. Sometimes I make the mistake of opening my mouth, of dropping this word tornado right onto someone's house. It is always, always more than the person deserves. I know I'm going overboard when I say the things I say. It's on purpose. I go so far so I can guarantee they can't follow me back. When you drop the atomic word bomb, you destroy everything, which includes your opponent, yes, but also your dignity, your trustworthiness, and any notion you were a stable, good person. You take out the enemy, but you take out yourself, too. It's a suicide mission, only instead of taking your life, it just takes the people that make your life worth living.
   I have, over the years, gotten better at controlling this urge to get people away from me with words. Before, when I was younger, I never saw or cared how they could hurt people. I needed them to help myself, to help myself stand up to bullies. But I don't have regular bullies in my life anymore. I've been so lucky, in my adulthood, to have been given the chance to pick a group of friends and family members I don't need to protect myself from. People I trust and love, people who wouldn't hurt me intentionally, people I would never want to hurt myself. I wish Alex had had the chance to find a circle of friends in which he could feel safe. I wish we had the chance to retire our figurative swords together, to cast them in stone, leaving that terrible burden, the burden of constantly having to protect yourself, for someone else.
 

pages 50-53


   The other day while running, I was listening to a running podcast called Human Race. This particular episode was an old one I hadn't heard before, about elite middle-distance runner Brandon Hudgins and his battle with vasculitis; an incurable disease that inflames and destroys the blood vessels. He went from one of the fastest 1500 meter runners in the country, to barely being able to get out of bed. When he is able to run during a flare up, he is so slow his 70 year old neighbor passes him on the street. Sometimes the disease subsides, and he somehow manages to climb his way back to the top. But after every comeback he seems to have another setback. Every forward step he takes seems to be followed by two steps back. Now, I've heard lots of inspiring stories on this podcast as well as others I listen to. Usually the stories belong to someone with an upbeat demeanor and a seemingly endless positive attitude, so I have a hard time relating to them. I've always rolled my eyes at words and phrases like, "faith," "good vibes," "positive energy," "prayers," and "hope." Ugh. Hope. I hate hope. I've always hated hope. I hated it all those times I hoped to get a puppy and didn't. I hated when I hoped a cute boy would talk to me and was ignored. I hated the movie, Hope Floats starring Sandra Bullock and her terrible southern accent. I hated Obama's HOPE slogan. Hey, Barrack? I love you and all, but can we do better than just "hope?" Like, can we actually do stuff to prevent the angry men with faces like rumpled old gym socks from playing Battleship with [INSERT DICTATOR HERE] instead of just hoping they don't the second you leave? Because expecting and desiring a change in and of itself does not actually make that thing happen, and that is actually the definition of hope. It is an intangible feeling tangled up with tangible expectations. Hope is trying to feel something into existence, and as everyone who as ever lost someone and wished them back knows firsthand, you cannot feel something into existence.
   This is why I liked this Hudgins story so much. During the interview, Hudgins' tattoos came up, and the interviewer focused on one in particular. It's across his chest, in a cursive script between two red roses that reads, "ALL HOPE IS GONE." Most people would find that pretty depressing, especially for a guy with an incurable, debilitating disease, but Hudgins sees it quite the opposite, and I agree. To quote him from his own blog post about this very topic, he says, "I think that hope can be misplaced and often causes people to fall harder when that wish or yearning isn't fulfilled.  It wasn't until I realized that all the hoping and yearning in the world wasn't going to change my outcome, so why not find a more useful place for that energy."
   When I heard him say that on the podcast, I thought of my grandfather and a conversation we had over dinner a couple months before Alex died. The topic of Alex's current state came up, of course, and my grandfather said something along the lines of, "that boy is completely hopeless." I defended my brother like I always did, and insisted that not all hope was lost. But maybe my grandfather was right. And maybe Alex knew it, too. Maybe he was without hope, without expectations for himself, without the ability to even desire a change. By the definition of the word, he was indeed hopeless. But he didn't need hope, anyway. He needed rehabilitation. He needed counseling. He needed medication. He needed a roof over his head. He needed money. He needed a better group of friends, a better family. Ultimately, maybe what he really needed was an escape.

   I hate hope the most for letting me down all those years I hoped my brother would get better, when even he knew better than to hope that for himself.

Fuck hope.
Do shit.

(TM t-shirt coming soon.)
 

pages 47-49


   Sometimes while editing this book, it gets really hard to not totally hate my brother. And I do mean, "hate." I've always felt like siblings can bring out some of our strongest emotions, and Alex made me feel them all like no one else.
   In today's pages he wrote this little moment where, after locking himself out of and then breaking back into his own apartment, he stops and makes himself a drink before walking outside to let the woman he is with back in, even though it's the middle of February and she's freezing. This is exactly the kind of selfish, senseless stuff Alex did all of the time. He'd unplug the computer when I was using it just because he wanted a turn. He once broke my bike because I wouldn't give it to his girlfriend (why would I give my own bike away?). He constantly stole my car and drove out all the gasoline I had just put in, without refilling the tank, of course. He did so many infuriating things, both minor and major, that I used to lay awake at night after our epic fights and imagine all the ways I could kill him.
   Oh, don't give me that. If you've never pictured punching your sibling in the face so hard he flies back 10 feet into the air and cracks the wall behind him with his big, stupid head, or imagined him stranded on a deserted island, surviving on a diet of raw sea cucumbers while you cruise by in a fancy yacht and give him a wave between bites of deep dish pizza, or fantasized about the day the hospital finally realizes the mistake they made all those years ago and delivers your real, wonderful brother, who then beats up the imposter who made your life miserable for all those years, you were either lucky, or an only child (so again, lucky). Most siblings have yelled, "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!" to each other at one point or another (if not several times in a day), and while I think it's mostly chalked up as an angry exaggeration by adults; a childish exclamation over petty slights, thefts, and betrayals, I have to wonder how many siblings actually would kill each other if we lived in a Game of Thrones type of world. I mean, hell, if there were no real laws, no school, and my only job was survival, I'd put up with some snot-nosed brother stealing my share of the food I grew myself for about five minutes before I'd sic my pet wolf on him (in this world I have a pet wolf who obeys all my commands and is my very best and loyal friend).
   Alex wasn't always so goddamn rage inducing, though. That didn't start until we were teenagers. When we were kids, he was annoying, sure, but also really funny, sweet, weird, and nerdy. He used to get just as excited for my birthday as he did for his. He raised tadpoles and let them go in the creek behind our house so they could be free and "meet girl frogs." He'd let our baby brother mess up his entire room and not get mad. He finished every swimming race he ever swam with a smile on his face, even though he always finished dead last. He was a pain in the ass, sure, but he was a pain-in-the-ass I liked having around. When I remember that Alex, that snaggle-toothed dweeb in a Shaq jersey who always had something gross like lice or ringworm, I soften. Even during our tumultuous teen years, I'd see a flash of eight year old Alex in sixteen year old Alex's face, and I'd put down the vacuum cleaner I was about to pummel him with. No matter how much I wanted him to pay for everything he stole from me as a adult, I knew that somewhere deep down was the boy who gave me everything as a kid.

Lice and ringworm included.

pages 40-46


   I am exhausted.

   Physically, mentally, emotionally. I am spent. I am so tired that I didn't know what day it was until I just looked it up. It's Tuesday. A whole new episode of Bachelor in Paradise has aired and I haven't even seen it because I am SO TIRED.
   I do manage to put myself to bed at a decent hour, but only spend the nights tossing and turning, which really pisses off the cat. If she doesn't get eight undisturbed hours of sleep in the crook of my arm every night, she *will* scratch my face (that is a promise she has made good on, not a threat). And while a pissy feline putting her talons into my eyeballs and her butthole right onto that place on my pillow where my mouth goes definitely sucks, the no-sleep thing is worse. Before Alex died, I used to fall asleep within minutes of hitting the sheets. Aside from bowling, which I am strangely kind of good at, it is one of my very few and cherished talents. I could fall asleep during the first sentence of a book I had just cracked open, or if in the car, before we even left our neighborhood (in the passenger's seat DUH I DON'T DRIVE). But not anymore, which means all I have left is bowling. Though if I'm not sleeping, how good at that am I really going to be?  
   This physical symptom of emotional trauma has taken me by surprise. As many of my friends and family members may have noticed, I am not currently spending my days as a sobbing basket case. And that's not because I'm suppressing the urge to cry every five seconds. I just genuinely can't get there emotionally. It's like I had a credit line of feelings, and I've maxed out. I don't feel anything. I'm numb. So numb, in fact, that I can't even feel things when I want to. After going several nights without sleeping, I thought that maybe an emotional release would help, so I went for a fast run while listening to sappy music. This is something I avoided like the plague six weeks ago because it would get me all choked up and blubbery, and crying in public is one of my worst nightmares, second only to the one where Ramona (my dog) gets the ability to talk and the first thing she tells me is that she doesn't like me. But I figured a good cry may actually help me fall asleep, so I waited till dark (so no one would see me if I did dispense tears in a public space) and set out for what I hoped would be one hell of an emo run. After five miles of running as fast as I could while listening to Alex's favorite songs, songs that remind me of him, and other drippy tunes that on any other day could get me crying faster than pictures of puppy mills...nada. Nothing. With one mile left to go, I pulled out the big guns. I haven't been able to listen to this song in months, even before Alex died. It hits so close to home that, like the real home I grew up in, I avoided it at all costs. I scrolled through my playlist, found it, and pressed play.



   Heavy, right? Especially if you love Springsteen like I do. But no. Not even the Boss could conjure up as much a sniffle. I finished mile six and walked upstairs to my apartment, showered while drinking a beer, and turned in for another long, restless night.

   Maybe I feel numb because my body is protecting itself from releasing a floodgate of awful that would make me into the kind of snot-tears mess I am terrified to be. Maybe I can't sleep because the subconscious effort it takes to surround these chewy, bubblegum feelings in layers of hardened behavior until I am the world's largest emotional jawbreaker, is so immense that my brain has to work all night, too.  Or maybe I can't sleep because, like the highway patrolman, my chase is finally over, and I don't know what to do next.









pages 38-39


   It gets hard to not constantly judge my brother for his actions, even after he's gone. One has a right to, to a certain extent. But then it becomes a matter of what you believe. Do you believe addiction is a disease, like cancer and hemophilia and HIV? Or do you believe addiction is a character flaw, a personal failure, and a crime? It cannot be both. We don't lock people up for getting lung cancer, even if they brought it on themselves for smoking two packs a day for decades. We don't assign community service to people who have spent their entire lives eating nothing but packaged food-product junk who then get diabetes. Why isn't it the same for drug addiction? I hate when I hear older people blame younger generations for the "downward spiral" of America, as if millennials invented OxyContin and run the pharm companies who make it cheaper and cheaper and easier to get ahold of. Reagan's "War on Drugs" was a politician's game designed to never be won, but to keep the people they despise clinging to the lowest rung, their hands crushed under stiff leather shoes of the people climbing over them, not wanting to see, not wanting to take responsibility.
   Sometimes when I talk about my brother's addiction, I see the judgement in people's eyes. They pause awkwardly, buying themselves a few more seconds to come up with something that's not too offensive while still assigning blame to the addict, because by placing blame, they think they are separating themselves from the problem. "That would never happen to me." Maybe not. Maybe you just managed to get to a higher rung.

Here is how Alex put it.


pages 36-37


   This morning, after editing and uploading the newest pages of Alex's book to this site and eating my fancy bitch Icelandic yogurt, my little brother called. After we took turns "WTF-ing" at the stupid things various people do and say, then "WTF-ing" at the amazing things various Cubs players do (but not "say" in this case, as most baseball players rarely manage to string together enough words to form a compelling sentence because they are either 1. very young or 2. racist) I asked him how he was doing. These days, "how are you doing?" only means one thing. "Alex died. How sad are you today?" After a short pause he confessed that yes, he was okay, but he didn't really feel good about feeling okay. "I mean, it wasn't unusual for me not to see him for months, even years at a time. I just don't miss him, yet."

   It occurred to me then that maybe I didn't really miss him yet, either. Andy is right. It isn't out of the norm for Alex to disappear for a while, either to prison, or, most recently, on a self-proclaimed hitchhiking adventure out west. After going days without hearing from him about a month before he died, I finally caught him on Facebook Messenger. He told me he was currently in Arkansas and was headed for Big Sur. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now. These are the kinds of lies I was used to hearing, the kinds of lies he wrote about in today's pages. The character "Alan" lies automatically and with ease to his parole officer. The scene felt comforting in a way, or maybe just familiar, as I had heard the very things come out of Alex's mouth that were written right there on the page. Alex lied all the time, and for the most part, he was terrible at it. He constantly did little things to give himself away, almost like he wanted to get caught. It was exhausting, constantly asking questions then being fed a load of garbage to have to sift through.

"This is going to sound terrible," I said to Andy, the phone on speaker, resting against the belly of my dog, Ramona, who was stretched out beside me, "but I think my day-to-day life will be more fucked up when Ramona dies."

"Well yeah," he assured me. "You're with her everyday."

"And she doesn't constantly hit me up for money."

If I had to measure my sadness, I would do so in leagues. My sadness is as deep as the blackest, coldest, sparsest part of the ocean where the weirdest fish live. The fish with no eyes, with glowing tentacles, with long, poisonous spines and transparent, pulsating bodies. That's how deep my sadness is. Transparent fish deep.

But I do not miss him. Not yet.



pages 31-35


   I let this get away from me a bit and I feel pretty bad about it. No more of that. Even if I only write a post to confess that I've been watching Bachelor in Paradise, I'm going to do it. Also, please judge me. Please make me feel like the world's biggest idiot and feminist traitor for watching this garbage. Say something mean enough to get me to stop, or come take away all of my TV watching devices, because I cannot be trusted to strive beyond the comatose-level of brain power it takes to watch a gaggle of beautiful boneheads get wasted, make out, cry, and repeat. I keep telling myself it is okay to do these things because I am grieving, but I'm a little worried it's becoming a habit. Like, when bachelorette Rachel picked that idiot chiropractor over Peter-the-gap-toothed-dream-boat I was legit upset. I spent way more time than I would like to admit stalking her Instagram account, scrolling through the photos of she and Idiot and imagining what punny headlines People Magazine will come up with to announce their relationship's inevitable demise, then bouncing over to Peter's Instagram account and saying to no one but the cats, "She made a big mistake. HUGE."

(Yes, I quote Pretty Woman even when alone.)

Here are other bad things I'm doing in the name of grief:

Eating zero vegetables.

Taking days off I can't afford to take off to hang out on the beach.

Getting really tan.

Bailing on most social events.

Letting the cats eat the expensive yogurt I didn't feel like finishing.

Buying really expensive Icelandic yogurt. Also cured meats, fancy cheeses, and chocolate. Add birth control pills and you have the base of my personal food pyramid.

Skipping the occasional run (ugh, I even hate typing that).

Watching all things Bachelor related.

Not wearing any clothing that has an actual waistband or requires underwear.

Lying to the 7-Eleven clerk to get solar eclipse glasses.
They were out, but the clerk asked if I was Jordan, who she had set aside a pair for. I said I was indeed Jordan, bought them, and enjoyed the hell out of the eclipse. Fuck Jordan. I'm grieving, dammit.

Except, maybe Jordan is grieving, too. Maybe the clerk set aside a pair of eclipse glasses for Jordan (when I was told over the phone they would not be holding glasses for people), because she had a good reason. Maybe her brother just died, and he was really looking forward to the eclipse and she wanted to see it, for him, so could they please hold a single pair of glasses for her, please? That's one of the biggest lessons I've learned in all of this. Is that there are dead brothers everywhere. Dead brothers, dead fathers, dead children, dead dogs, dead friends. I've wondered how many people I've offended by being my typical sarcastic-bordering-on-rude self. I often find myself muttering, "what's your problem?" when a stranger almost hits me with their bike while I'm running, or steps out in front of my car without looking, or cuts in line at the grocery store.

"What's your problem?"

I used to say this without thinking about whether or not they have an actual problem. The first week back home after Alex died, I had a really hard time focusing, especially in public. I couldn't hear the clerks at the grocery store, I dropped things all the time, would forget to look both ways before I crossed the street.

"What's your problem?" someone said to me one day, when I stepped in front of their car while they had a green light. I saw my old self in their angered face, my old self who used to ask people that question, demanding they feel bad for the slight inconvenience they just caused me. I ignored that guy and kept on walking. I know it's not a question I was really supposed to answer, but what if I wanted to? Where would I start?

"What's my problem? My brother died. Also, Rachel picked that idiot over Peter."

pages 29-30


   One of my favorite people to listen to is author, pundit, and advice columnist Dan Savage. Every Tuesday a new episode of his podcast, Savage Love, is released, and I listen to it during my daily run. People often call in asking for advice concerning a parent or grown child's sex life. For example, it could be something like, "Hey Dan. My parents just got divorced and my father told me he'd like to try swinging and asked me how to go out it. What do I tell him? Also, gross!" In situations like these, Dan usually provides the caller with a few different ways they can help their loved one, but then will emphasize that this is not said caller's job to be doing this in the first place. "There are some things you have a right not to know," he says. He credits this line to his mother, who, while was supportive of Dan after he came out, also didn't want every juicy detail of her son's latest conquests. I thought of this while I was editing today's more graphic sex scene, and it made me laugh. As his sister, I do feel like I have a right not to know these things, but as his editor, it is my job to know these things. On the other hand (just pretend I have three hands), I am the oldest, and therefore it is also my job to know everything then use it to lord over the rest of my siblings like the family demigod I am.
   Anyway, today's pages didn't result in much more of the story, but I still liked the way Part 3 ended up. I didn't add anything of my own (I haven't been doing that and do not plan to, by the way), but used what he provided and moved some things around in a way I thought still got his initial point across. The point being, "Alan" got laid. Just in case you missed it.






pages 27-28


   I'm really, really glad I only committed to editing two pages a day, as today it saved me from having to edit a scene that gets pretty graphic. When I turned to page 28 and scanned down to the bottom to find more build up, I sighed with relief. I mean, I know I'll have to do it tomorrow, and that's fine. I'm just glad to have one more night to sleep on something I've been on the fence about.
   A part of me thinks I should keep my edits pretty minimal and present the story as he wrote it, for the most part. Gory details included. I'm not so naive that I think my brother never had sex. I know he did. We talked about it, on occasion. I'm also not such a prude that I want to omit this part of his story just because it's my brother describing a sex act. Sex was clearly important to him (DUH), and I do think it is an especially important aspect of someone's life who had just been denied access to this for nearly four years. I don't think that's a situation anyone would want to be in, having a drought that long, so it's understandable it would be on the forefront of his mind, and therefore, make an appearance in his writing.




   HOWEVER

   I feel that if an artist of any medium is going to delve into the darker, sexier, violent, seedier, more graphic sides of life, than that artist should firstly, execute it very well, and secondly, earn it. Some of my favorite books contain scenes so sordid they haunted my dreams for months, if they didn't keep me from sleep altogether. But the reason those books became my favorite and were not immediately abandoned for a reliably pleasing New Yorker article is because the authors wrote their way to those moments. They set the reader up with pages and pages of deep character development and beautiful prose and clear imagery and nuance, so that when "the" moment happens, be it death, torture, consensual sex, rape, drug use, suicide, birth, surgery, [pick-something-graphic-and-insert-here], the moment feels earned. It makes sense. When we, the readers, arrive there, it feels like this is where we were headed all along, even if we didn't see it coming, because the author built trust with the reader along the way. That, to me, is good writing. This is not to say that Alex was not a good writer. I think he was very good. But I don't think what he has written so far earns him an explicit sex scene as early as page 29. Instead of feeling natural, it comes across as the unnecessary, shock-value material, which only detracts from the rest of what he has written, and that is the very last thing I want. I don't want people to read four paragraphs of him describing the various positions of congress the character is engaging in to take away from the unique point of view he offers otherwise. All guys who want to be writers write about receiving blow jobs at some point in their life. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that Alex is not reinventing the wheel when it comes to writing about that. 

Not that reinventing the sex scene wheel is always a great thing, I suppose.











pages 25-26


   When the news that Heather Heyer was brutally murdered by a neo-Nazi piece of human garbage in the Charlottesville white supremacist dumpster fire, I was horrified, but not surprised. Afterward, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, I read several posts along the lines of, "This is not American," and "This isn't America," etc. *This* is when I became surprised. Self brain-washed bigots murdering people they hate for no logical reason whatsoever is not American? Since when? I thought. I wanted to call Alex not only to ask him to help me come up with new vile terminology for the walking buckets of pig excrement that are white fascists, but also to be like, "Are you seeing the naive as hell posts by millennials? What da faq?"
   When we were in the first and third grades, my father's job took us from Columbus, Indiana (home of Chuck Taylor, some fancy architecture, and the clenched-asshole-for-a-face that is our vice president), to Charlotte, North Carolina. While there are many differences between these two towns and these two states, let me point out the one I noticed first.

Columbus= Five black people? Maybe? Maybe a dozen? I personally knew five, but you get the point. The place is whiter than an L.L. Bean warehouse fire.

Charlotte= Oh, hey black people! Hey a lot of black people. Like, whoa, most of my class is black. There are three times as many black people in my third grade class alone then there were in all of Columbus! Neat!

   While our old friends back in Columbus were trying to figure out which color they'd wear for Color Wars during Field Days, we were navigating a different kind of color war. The race kind. The racist kind. The American kind. For example, upon arriving to our new school, Alex and I had never heard the word, "cracker," used as a derogatory before. I assumed that being called a cracker meant that I went with everything. Jam, deli meat, cheese, peanut butter; all delicious on a cracker. This must mean I am very well liked, right? At the same time I was sorting out snack-related slang, Alex was trying to navigate around another word we had never heard before. The "n" word. Exponentially more horrid than "cracker." He heard it on the playground during recess on our first day, and, if I remember correctly, asked a classmate what it meant. Well, the classmate thought it would be funny to tell him to say it to a black classmate, so Alex did. And Alex paid. He paid in the price of a few flailing, first-grade level punches and an abbreviated lecture on the history of the "n" word and Modern Usage 101 from our new principal. Who was black. Welcome to the world of racism, kid.
   After our (thankfully) brief rocky start, we made friends with all of our classmates; black, white, and the boy who had just moved from Columbia and had accidentally shaved off part of one eyebrow when he was practicing shaving his face (I was in love). But while making these new friends, we started noticing that there were differences between our white classmates and our black classmates that weren't really talked about, but were there. Like, why didn't any of my black friends from class live in my neighborhood? Why didn't the teacher say anything when my black desk mate, a boy we'll call Trevor, refused to open his standardized test, and just filled in all of the letter "C's?" Why did the art teacher insist we not refer to black people as "African Americans" because not all black people come from Africa, but my regular teacher insist we do? Why do I feel weird singing, "If I Had a Hammer" in the school's choir? Why did Keon, who was black, not win class president when he brought everyone in the class a King sized Kit-Kat bar, and Jenna, who was white and brought nothing, did (Seriously, Jenna? Not even the cheap, hard as nails bubblegum? You and your candy-less campaign suck, Jenna.)? Why do things always seem harder for the Keons of the world than they are for the Jennas? I mean, if a goddamned KING SIZED CANDY BAR doesn't get you places, something evil has to be at work, right?
   Grade school is a strange time when it comes to learning the nuances of race. You like everyone who is nice to you, because you're young and blissfully ignorant and hopefully don't know how ugly the world can be yet. But at the same time, there are these silent separations, different expectations, quarrels dressed up in childish "unfairness" that are really just the seeds of misguided ideas from the outside, creeping inward and taking root. No one is born racist, but it grows rapidly if we let it.
   We were only in Charlotte for a few years before my father's job plopped us back into the Midwest, right back to the very town, the very school we had left. After our first day back to school in Indiana, I walked the four blocks home with Alex. We were silent almost the entire way, until he said, "That was kinda weird, wasn't it? Everyone is exactly the same." At first I thought he meant that our old friends hadn't changed much since we left, but then realized he meant what I had been feeling all day. That being in a room, a school, and a town full of people who are just like you doesn't seem like such a good idea. Maybe there were times our Charlotte classrooms were uncomfortable because all of us were learning about our similarities and our differences simultaneously, but as with running, sometimes to get better you just have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And by that point, we were.
   When he started going to prison, Alex frequently wrote and spoke to me of the inequality he witnessed within the prison system. A few months before he died, he sat on a panel at a Black Lives Matter event hosted by the local community college, and openly acknowledged that on the lowly totem pole that is prison, he, being white and mentally able, was certainly nowhere near the bottom. I was really proud of him for going, especially knowing how nervous he was. I called him after it was over to see how it went. He said he didn't talk a whole lot, but that he made sure to point out the fact that a white ex-con was speaking at a Black Lives Matter event when black men are incarcerated five at five times the rate of white men, and shouldn't everyone there be wondering why that was?

"Dude," I said, "that's a damn mic drop."

"I know, right?"

For a minute, I could have sworn he was the tiniest bit proud of himself. I really hope he was.



pages 22-24


   I'm feeling quiet and tired today, despite going to bed at 9:30 on a Friday night (this is 32).
On the days I don't feel like writing, I think I'll share something else Alex wrote instead. I'm also going to be taking Sundays off from this project. Sundays are the days I go to the Church of the Long Run, and the Long Run doctrine emphasizes shutting one's brain off for two to three hours then eating all the barbecue my tired body can handle. I need this day, this oh-so-holy day, for my sanity. Alex cared very little for my sanity, as he proved the time he stole my Chumbawumba CD and played Tubthumping on repeat so many times that I barged into his room, ripped the thing from his stereo, and broke my own CD in half so I didn't have to listen to that goddamn song another minute of my life. But in order to see this project through, I think I'm going to need one day a week where I get to act like prehistoric (wo)man. Run. Eat. Sleep. Watch Game of Thrones. You know, what the cave people did.
   Below are some "life guidelines" he wrote. His friend Ryan read them at his memorial, which was really thoughtful and appropriate and very much needed. I found a copy in his big file folder, so I thought'd share. Have a good weekend, homo sapiens.


pages 20-21


   This is getting hard, you guys. No, not emotionally. That I'm doing pretty okay with. It's getting hard to be inspired by his writing, to edit pages and then think of something semi-interesting to say about it, or a memory that was sparked by it, or anything, really, because it's SO. BORING.
   Oh, don't give me that. Just because he's my brother and just because he died doesn't mean I have to love every single thought he put to paper. I mean, that would be impossible, because so far it feels like he literally put EVERY. SINGLE. THOUGHT. TO. PAPER.

GET ON WITH IT BRO

   At first I wondered if this was just Alex's particular writing style, but then I had flashbacks to writing classes in college and realized that literary masturbation is not just an Alex problem, it's a guy problem. One guy in my class wrote a story that was more than 50 pages long. Another guy wrote a story that contained the actual line, "Don't you fucking die on me now, man!" Not that everything written by my female classmates was excellent (I include myself in this. I was terrible.), but from my experience, women don't write as though everyone is interested in every word they have to say. Probably because we are used to be told (by men) that they aren't. Women get to the point. Our time is precious and limited. We live in the real world where listing the number of bar stools in a bar at the current time compared to the last time you were in said bar years ago DOES NOT MATTER. Ugh. I wish I could have this conversation with Alex, mostly because it would have been a really good debate (he probably would have referenced some books or short stories or poems I had never read and would genuinely enjoy), but I think he'd see where I was coming from. While obsessed with women in the usual way most men are, he was also an ally to feminist causes and would readily admit us the stronger gender. If I could give him a copy of Anne Lamott's, Bird by Bird, I know he would read it.
   I thought of him last night when I was running. Well, I often think of him while I run, but this thought was triggered by a third party. As I was making my way south on a small street in my neighborhood, I came upon a guy my age who was walking toward me. As we approached each other, he said, "You already look good, what are you running for?" and smirked that gross little McNasty smirk face all those assholes make. "A MEDAL," I called back, and kept moving and imagined Alex holding up his hand to high five me for a good burn.
 









pages 17-19


   Oh, goody. Just what every sister loves imagining; her brother going to bars to pick up women. I hope it doesn't get much more detailed than what was described in today's pages, but it probably will. I'll just have to remember not to eat breakfast before editing tomorrow's pages, just in case the outing he describes ends up being "successful" and his character winds up bringing a woman home. Are there waterproof keyboard covers? Because if I have to edit descriptions of "intimate" stuff, I may just throw up on my computer.
   He was always obsessed with women. From such an early age, too. When he was nine years old, he got in trouble for singing out of his bedroom window to the girl who lived across the street. "Girly, girly, out my window," the song went. I don't remember the poor girl's name, but her mother was not pleased, marched over to our house, and demanded my mother make him stop. When it became clear that things were not going to progress any further with the neighbor girl, he moved on to an adorable girl in his class, Alicia. Her name I remember, because he went on his very first date with her and it was all he talked about for weeks. I never met her, but I know she had "beautiful blonde hair and eyes that were kinda green, but sometimes kinda blue." After laying what I'm sure was some pretty charming groundwork (songs, jokes, a paper Valentine with Hersey Kisses taped to it), he asked her out to the movies. While I suggested he take her to see Twister, which I saw several times at the IMAX and was convinced changed my life's path (being a veterinarian was out, tornado chaser was now my destiny), he stayed true to himself and took her to see...




  You'd have to ask my mother how the date went, as she is the one who chaperoned this romantic evening and sat a few rows behind them in the theater. However, I don't remember them going out again. I mean, who could blame her? Kazaam? But that was the thing about Alex. Like him or not, he never hid who he was. If you didn't like embarrassing displays of admiration and professional basketball players turned rapping genies, he'd find somebody who did.









pages 15-16


   I didn't edit much today, just a few paragraphs, as I woke up with both a headache and cramps. It's kind of funny and oddly comforting that to this day, the last person I want to deal with when I'm on my period is my little brother. I mean, being bloated and hangry is bad enough, right?

   Anyway, in today's pages he made a reference to Your Time is Gonna Come. It's a great song, one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs, actually. Since yesterday's post was a little lengthy, today I'll let Robert Plant do the talking (well, singing). Enjoy. 


pages 14-15


   After editing today's pages, I rifled through the huge file folder where Alex not only stored his handwritten book, but also hundreds, maybe close to a thousand, poems. Flipping through one of the notebooks, I landed on a poem called, My Brother. It's a touching and honest tribute to our youngest sibling, and I'm glad I found it, so I may pass it along to Andy who will now always have this tangible testament of Alex's feelings for him. As Andy's older sister, this makes me incredibly happy. As Alex's older sister, this makes my incredibly sad.
   When I came back to Chicago the day after his memorial, I tore through the entire file folder as quickly as I could, skimming and scanning for any clues or signs that I may have missed. The coroner ruled his death as an accidental overdose. What if it wasn't? Maybe this was like the movies and he stuck a note in there for me, knowing I'd be the one to do this, explaining what had happened and why. I told myself and my husband that I was looking for a suicide note, recent poems that may have revealing information, a list, a map, an anagram, a drawing, something, something that could give me some answers. And I was, but not just. I don't think I realized at that moment, but what I was really searching for in all those pages of terrible handwriting and strange doodles, was myself.
   It's not easy, being the oldest sibling of a brother who got into as much trouble as Alex did. We fought constantly when we entered our teen years, and most of those fights began with me telling him that he wasn't doing something right, and him telling me to fuck off. Sometimes I picked a fight just to pick one. It was so easy with him, he got so emotional so quickly. Most of the time, though, I really did think I was helping. It's not like I was or am now an expert in leading a "successful life," but I hated seeing him do things I knew would only set him back, so I pushed him. And I nagged him. I started fights over things I thought were worth fighting about. I demanded to know his whereabouts. I arranged for hotel rooms so he'd have a place to sleep. I wired him money when I wasn't sure I should. I called facility after facility, searching for a place that could take him in. One particularly bad night when Alex reached out, in need of housing and help, I called a rehabilitation place near where he was. A woman answered the phone and asked if she could help me. I said, "yes, my brother is using again and he doesn't have a place to stay, do you guys have any availability? She paused.

"This is a physical rehabilitation clinic," she said.
"Oh," I said. "I guess I didn't see that on your website." At this point I was not only stressed and worried, but now felt stupid. I choked back tears.
"Maybe I can help you make some phone calls, though. What exactly does your brother need?"
"That's okay, I've taken up too much of your time already. Thanks anyway."
"I'm so sorry. You're a good sister."

I hung up.

   Was I? I didn't feel like one. I still don't. Maybe if I'm not somewhere in that file folder, Alex didn't think so, either. This is why I'm a little afraid to go through the rest of those poems. What would my absence from those pages mean? Would that be better or worse than finding my name used negatively? I mean, if he wrote a poem called, My Sister, Heil Hitler, would I feel better just for being written about at all, or worse, because, you know, Hitler? After being on his case for so many years, after all of the pushing, the hounding, the endless questions, my dogged pursuit of the answers, the demands, the deal making, the negotiating, the pressure, the expressed disappointment, the condescending forgiving. After all that, how did he feel about me? How could he feel about me?
   Searching for more answers, I opened the inbox of my Facebook messenger, and scrolled down to our last conversation, something I haven't done since he died. This is what was said.






   A couple of days after Alex died, I went to my father's house to select pictures for a slideshow we played at his memorial. My father had Alex's phone out on the coffee table. While sorting through the massive box of loose photos, Alex's alarm went off. The label read, CALL LORA.



That's enough for me.




  
  

pages 12-14


   Grief is a funny thing. Watching people trying to deal with your grief is an even funnier thing. Also an irritating thing. Sometimes even an infuriating thing.
   I've been starting to go out more, trying to conquer the hurdle that is hanging out with large groups of people, people who aren't my family or my very dearest friends. In today's pages, Alex writes about  not being ready to see casual friends and acquaintances after being released from prison. I guess we have that in common, as the level of anxiety I feel about those very kinds of interactions is humiliating and near debilitating.
   The worst part about seeing these kinds of friends, friends who are close enough to know that my brother died, but who are not so close that I'd give them my HBO NOW password, is that they don't seem to know what to say to me during this aftermath, so instead, they say nothing. Since the last time I saw these people was when Alex was still a pain in my ass and not a blip in the obituary section, I guess I expect some sort of small acknowledgement of this fact. I mean, the last thing I want to do is pour my guts out over beers at a party, but I guess I was hoping people may think of something better to say to me than, "How's it going? What's new with you?" What's new with me? Gee, not much I guess. Just questioning everything I ever thought I knew while mourning my best friend THANKS FOR ASKING.
   I don't mean to sound angry, because I'm not, really. I understand that being around sad people is hard. Humans are pack animals, after all. We have a tendency to isolate the weak, because if we associate with the lethargic, skinny, watery-eyed outcast, we may be next. I get it. It's hard to know what to say and what to do when someone you know is grieving. I understand how one could think that, in cases like mine, saying nothing could be better than saying the "wrong" thing. I'm sure my very presence is making people uncomfortable right now, and I hate that. If I'm going to make people feel uncomfortable, I want it to be because I'm dressed as Madonna and "Like a Virgin" just came on and I'm three drinks in and starting to reenact Madonna's 1984 MTV Awards performance where she humps the floor.

Yep. That happened.

But I think that we'd all be more comfortable if we just said what was going on. When you see a friend who just lost someone, please don't ignore that fact. It's all they are thinking about, and by making them ignore it, you're making them pretend it didn't happen. Since asking a grieving person what they want you to say would be Spock-level blunt and inappropriate, allow me to suggest some more sensitive, less Vulcan things to say to someone going through the grieving process.

"I am so sorry about your ______."

"We don't have to talk about it, but if you'd like to talk about what you're going through, I'd like to listen."

"Your _____ died and that's really, really terrible."

"It's good to see you. I'm sorry you're going through this."

"I don't know what to say."

"It won't make this better, but here is a beer/cookie/kitten/mixtape."

"I've been thinking about you."

"Remember that time you grinded on the floor to 'Like a Virgin?' What feels worse, the morning after that, or losing your brother?"

J/k on that last one.


Here are some things you should definitely NOT say:

"Time heals," or any variation of that.

"He/she will always be with you."

"He/she is in a better place."

"It was their time."

"At least it's over now."

"Everything happens for a reason."

"Can I have their _____?"

Yep. I've actually been asked that last one.


Because I've never grieved like this before, and therefore have never had to watch people watch me grieve before, I think the fair thing for me to do is to help people help me, and help people help others. Sitting on the sideline and hoping people meet my unspoken expectations is making all of this awkward for everyone. And I don't know about you, but I'd rather leave the awkwardness for when I walk out of a bar bathroom with the back of my skirt tucked up into my tights, exposing the entirety of my butt, and not noticing until a strange drunk lady tells me as much, okay? Let's all just say the words. We'll feel better for it.

(That also happened.)

pages 10-12


   Goddamnit. I swear, I can read about his drug use and illegal activities and be relatively unaffected (again, you don't wind up in prison for saving puppies), but interactions like the one I typed out today tear me up. For those of you who aren't following his book, today's pages were describing an interaction with a bank teller the day he got out of prison. He was trying to cash a state issued check given to him by the correctional facility, and only had his prison ID. Obviously, the teller was surprised, and Alex embarrassed. I can only imagine how many of these seemingly small, yet massively demoralizing interactions he and other former inmates had and have on a daily basis. How terrible to be constantly reminded of your mistakes like that. Can you imagine what life would be like if you had to present an ID that put all of your mistakes out in the open? Maybe yours hasn't landed you in the prison system, but there are lots of awful things people do that aren't illegal. Perhaps we should start including all of our faults on our driver's licenses, under our weight and eye color.

Bad father
Drinks too much
Tells best friend's secrets
Cheats on spouse
Neglects the dog
Lies about everything
Takes things out on family
Threw a coworker under the bus

Mine would probably look like this:

Lora Conrad
02/09/1985
hair color: brown
eye color: brown
anger management and anxiety issues
threw a computer once
covers feelings with jokes
organ donor



pages 8-10


   It was kind of strange to read Alex describe the apartment my mother got for him when he was released from his second to last (I think?) stint in prison. I remember that apartment well. My mom had spent so much time cleaning everything, and we all pitched in furniture to make it homey and nice. He had my 1950s dining table and chairs, as well as the leaning wall desk my grandfather made me. It's funny to me that in his book he only converses with my brother, who was certainly there, but definitely not the one who picked him up from prison on the day he was released, like he describes. I remember that day, too. It was my birthday, and the next day was my grandfather's. We went out to dinner that night to celebrate those birthdays as well as Alex's release, but the weekend was mostly about Alex. I remember being irritated by that. It sounds so petty now, to be jealous that my brother was getting more attention than me on my birthday. I guess I was bothered by the fact that I had driven all the way from Chicago to see my family, who I hardly ever got to see, and all anyone could talk about was Alex. Whether he was in prison or out, had a job or not, was in trouble or in-between trouble, my family's conversation always centered around Alex, and that fact both amazed and infuriated me. How could one person acquire so many people's undivided attention like that? He was like a tornado, sweeping in with a moment's notice and sucking up everything in his path. It drove me nuts, especially because I knew that he had all of my attention, too.
   The night he describes in his book, the night he was released from that stint in prison, my mom brought my birthday cake to his new apartment, where our entire family was gathered. His new-to-him television was on, and people were taking turns asking him about his plans, razzing him about his long hair he grew out over his three year stay, and complimenting his new place. I lit the candles on the cake and waited for my family to turn around.
   "You aren't going to make us sing to you, are you?" Alex asked.
   "Yeah, maybe just cut the cake? It's getting late," someone suggested.

I blew out the candles and wished all of them chronic diarrhea.



  

...

pages 79-81

   Sometimes I ask myself what Alex ever did for me to justify the amount of time and emotional energy being spent on editing this asshole&...