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 6-8


   I have to say that I'm already digging my new morning routine. I take the dog out, feed the crying kitties, make coffee, then do this. It's taken some of the guess-work out of my day, which is always appreciated. Today's pages did require a bit more brain power in terms of editing, however. At first I worried I may feel bad for making small changes I can't consult him about. I don't know if it's the older sister in me or the former copywriter, but I'm finding great satisfaction in correcting his work. Once again I find myself talking to him in my head. "Dude, these sentences are like, Henry James long. Break them up, man." I imagine him agreeing with me just to move this process along. No matter. I'm still right, and even though he is dead, I still enjoy winning the argument. Is that gross or kind of endearing? Probably gross. Oh god. I'm such an oldest sibling. Barf.

   I deliberated about whether to share his book a little at a time, like Dickens' Great Expectations, or to drop it all at once, like BeyoncĂ©'s Lemonade. Because we're obviously on the same level; me, Charles Dickens, and BeyoncĂ©.




Since technology has shortened our attention to nanoseconds, I decided pieces were the way to go. It'll be more like a podcast/radio show this way, which not only appeals to my nerdom, but helps provide some guidance for how to structure this thing. I've never edited a dead brother's book before, after all. To say I have no idea what I'm doing is a massive understatement. I have few to no ideas/rational thoughts/whispers of reason these days.




Despite that, here is how I think this will work best. Each day I'll be uploading the small bits I've typed and edited into the chapter links on the right side of this page. His chapters seem pretty long, but if you scroll down, you should find the new stuff. His chapters are also divided into parts, which should help you find the place you left off. When I finish chapter 1, I'll create a new page for chapter 2, and so on. For my visual learning friends, see below.








Now, for a bit of a disclaimer...

   Those of you who knew Alex knew he was into some shady stuff. I mean, you don't wind up in prison several times for rescuing kittens or feeding the homeless. If subjects like prison culture and drug use described with the occasional swear word bother you, you probably should not read his book. So far he seems to be writing about what he knows, and what he knew was the underbelly of society. Like it or not, that's the reality. So, as my favorite radio host and number 6 on my celebrity crush list says, "Stay with us."

(I will try to come up with my own catchy hook, but in the meantime, thank you, Ira Glass.)


pages 1-6


In order to finish typing and editing Alex's book by July 3rd, 2018, I need to average approximately 1.47 pages per day. One and a half pages, basically. Today was day one, and I'm already on page six.

This is precisely why I need this project.

One of the traits Alex and I share (shared? When should I start using the past tense in reference to him? It doesn't feel right yet, so I'll wait, I guess) is the tendency to become so engrossed in a project that all other responsibilities fall to the wayside, the boxes on my meticulous to-do lists go unchecked, the dog sits by the door, wondering why we haven't been on our walk yet. It's a level of focus that borders on obsessive, as the idea of quitting for the day induces a crippling anxiety that can only be relieved by working even harder. You'd think this kind of dogged work ethic would be beneficial, but I think it ends up blowing up in our faces more often than not. It's exhausting to care that much about one singular thing, and most of the time, our frantic pursuit of the finish line leaves us too tired to get there.

But I can't burn out on this.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Alex and I is our understanding of our individual limits. He simultaneously behaved as if he had no limits and yet was paralyzed by a seemingly infinite amount of them, letting himself spiral into oblivion because he didn't believe he could do anything else. I, on the other hand, am aware of my tendency to let myself disappear into things, and know I need to pace myself. Running has helped me with that. I tried to get Alex into running, but the poor guy had asthma and just couldn't keep up, though he really did try.

I need this project to last until July 3rd of next year because if I don't, if I consume it all in one sitting as I am so tempted to, it'll eat me alive. I know this. It's like the first few miles of a marathon. If you don't start out slower than you feel is necessary, you'll end up crashing by mile 20. I don't want the process of reading, typing, and editing my brother's book to feel like hitting the wall. I want to finish feeling stronger than I started, and to do that I need to take my time. I need to process this slowly. Take small bites so I don't choke. Besides, Alex loved poetry, and how much more poetic could it be than to finish the book exactly two years after he began the editing process, exactly one year after his death? I mean, it's practically Shakespearean.

While typing out today's page allotment, I noticed two things: one, that his handwriting is truly terrible, and two, he has the same tendency to get distracted on the way to the point as I do. This really bothers me in my own writing, but I am enjoying his excessive descriptions, occasional repetitiveness, and unnecessary turns of phrase that were clearly ego strokes and much as they were pen strokes. As I type his words, I hear his voice narrating them to me. When I misspell something, I can almost feel him leaning over my shoulder, squinting at the screen, saying, "It's a wonder you passed the fourth grade!" This makes me chuckle, and I delete the typo, determined to spell it correctly without right clicking on the word underlined in red and letting Microsoft bail me out of my mistake. "There you go, dummy!" He says. "Now, where were we..."

I don't believe in God, ghosts, heaven, or hell. I don't believe his spirit is with me, or that he is looking over for me from some other world or dimension. Those things aren't real, and things that aren't real bring me no comfort. But this book, these 493 pages scrawled with his awful chicken scratch that I can barely make out, is, and as I read it, I am reminded that he was, too.


an end, a beginning


On July 3rd, 2016, my brother posted a photo on Facebook. The photo is actually a collage of three photos. The top left is a long shot of the pages of his handwritten book strewn about the floor, the top right is a close up of page numbers 467 and 493, and the bottom is a close up shot of the title, A Year Ago on the 4th of July.


With that photo, he wrote the following accompanying caption:



I’ve heard that a good way to quit smoking is to make a social media post saying as much. I wonder if I can start doing something, using the same logic of accountability? These are pictures of the book that I wrote while I was gone, 493 handwritten pages that I now have to type up and edit. I’ve been a bit negligent in getting started, but given the title of the book, I’d say there is no time like the present. Keep me accountable everyone! If you see me, ask me how it’s coming. With a little hard work and some luck, we all might get the chance to read it in print!
#writingismyhustle



He died exactly one year later, on July 3rd, 2017.

He never typed and edited his book, so I am doing it for him.

This is my story of telling my brother’s story.




...

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&...