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.
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