I've been finding it very difficult to go about editing this book the way I have been. I feel like publishing it as I go is not only making it harder for me to edit it properly, but it's also doing a disservice to Alex, who, while a dedicated writer, was not the strongest novelist. This isn't a fault of his by any means. Even the most brilliant writers have had their work edited so heavily you wouldn't recognize it in its original form. Once, at Indiana University's Lilly Library, I saw a Raymond Carver manuscript on which Gordon Lish crossed out nearly every single sentence. A lot of people credit Lish with making Carver who he was for that very reason. He edited like an archeologist on a dig, painstakingly brushing away mountains of grit and grime to reveal the valuable nugget underneath. While Alex and I are a duo more akin to Ren and Stimpy than Carver and Lish, I still want to treat his work with that level of care, so I'm going to stop publishing as I go. From now on I will be typing it up on my own, editing it privately, and will only reveal the valuable nuggets. I'm sorry if this disappoints anyone who may feel like this is a betrayal to what he wanted, or is somehow not as honest, upfront, or raw. But as the invention of HD televisions has taught us, there is beauty in an edited production. Without that process, everything looks like a soap opera.
Thank you for reading along this year. While I won't be publishing his work as I go, I will still be posting about my experiences editing his work and moving through this bizarre grieving process. I also hope to again start writing about things that don't relate to my brother. I may not publish them here, but I think it's time I try. Since his first prison sentence, a part of my brain decided that it wasn't fair to experience anything without relating it to my brother, since he could experience so little himself. I'm trying to do this less. I can love him without feeling bad that he can't run down a mountain, or give someone a hug, or eat a slice of pie. I can remember him without letting memories cloud my vision of what's before me. I can honor him without being miserable. I can live. It's okay to live. It's okay to enjoy living. So I will. I hope you will, too.
In addition to leaving behind an entire handwritten book, my brother also left six notebooks, all filled with poetry he wrote. Like his book, a lot of the poems are about his life of crime. They're inspired by the writers he most admired; Kerouac, Bukowski, McMarthy, and the like. He attempts to adopt and blend the styles of these literary cowboys, these often childish men with dreams as big as their egos and tales as crude as their stomach contents. I know from my experience in college creative writing classes that most young male writers go through this phase. This uber-macho, modern day Hemmingway phase where every sentence begins with the pour of a shot and ends with a sweaty kiss from some broad. I went through a similar one, only my influences were snarky, homosexual men from New York City who could go from downright mean to wistful in five seconds flat. I was no better writing as a homosexual man from Brooklyn than Alex was as an alcohol-soaked outsider with a gun in the glove box. But while Alex didn't live long enough to ditch this put on personae, he did occasionally let it slip.
A few weeks ago, a former teacher of Alex's asked if I'd like to submit a poem of his to the university's journal. My first thought was to immediately decline, as I'm tired enough of reading about Alex's life of crime, and I still have 300-some pages of the book to go. But I got out the massive file folder that houses all of his writing, and got out the notebooks labeled 1-6. Every page is filled with a poem, many of which he distinguished with a big checkmark next to the title. I assumed he was checking his personal favorites, the ones he most identified with or were most proud of, so I started with those. They were exactly what I hoped they wouldn't be. Drugs and guns and general debauchery. Words written by a scared guy trying to be a tough guy. Words meant to scare and shock people, words he turned into phrases he did not come by honestly. Frustrated, I handed a couple of the notebooks to my husband who offered to help me skim. Mike also likes poetry, and knows a far more about it than I do, so I was surprised when he handed the books back to me with so many dog-earned pages. "The ones he checked may be the ones he liked, but the others are the ones that are good."
I turned to a poem Mike marked called, Voyeur. It was a long poem about sneaking into the old house we grew up in long after our family had left. It's conceptual in the sense that my family hasn't left that house (my father still lives there) but the idea that another family bought it and fixed it up all nice is one we used to dream of. He describes the window of his childhood bedroom down to the antique lock. He mentions the loose floorboard he used to hide things under, the very one I pried up a couple days after he died to make sure he didn't leave anything there he wouldn't want our parents to find. I finished the poem and reread it again and again. There, Alex, I thought. That's the good stuff right there, and placed a big, proud checkmark next to the title.
A few nights ago I had a very vivid dream wherein I bought a vintage motorcycle. It was a Harley I think, from the 1970s. It had pistachio colored accents, like that of my Kitchen Aid mixer, and the recently restored chrome was so shiny I could see in it the reflection of the trees I whizzed by as I cut through the forest down the winding mountain road. I was speeding up and down the rolling hills at a blistering pace, but I felt totally in control and smiled as the wind whipped my face. Not once did I feel like I was going to crash. Though I had never ridden a motorcycle until that very moment, I felt like I had found a home of sorts on the back of that bike. When I reached my destination, wherever that was, I revved the engine for my family, who had been waiting for me and was surprised to see their boring daughter/sister/granddaughter/wife on the back of a roaring motorcycle.
Cut to a later part of the dream, and I'm no longer on the bike, but am looking for it. I had grabbed my helmet with the intention of going for a ride, when I discovered the spot I had parked my bike was now empty. That's when the phone rang. I answered. It was Alex.
"Lora, you've got to come get me. There's been an accident."
"What? Are you alright? Where are you?"
"I'm fine. I'm on the mountain. Your bike is dead, though."
"You took my bike?"
"Yeah, I wanted to take it for a ride. I wiped out when turning a corner, though. I stopped but the bike kept going straight on into the side of the mountain. She's gone. Smashed to smithereens."
He said this as nonchalantly as if he were describing the weather. I slammed down the phone and screamed obscenities and threw random objects against random walls. I got into my car, put the heavy bike helmet in the passenger seat, and headed up the mountain to rescue my no-good brother.
When I woke up, the sun was just rising, shining through the wooden shades, giving the room an amber glow. I felt windblown and the airiness of a recent adrenaline rush, like I had just stepped off the bike. I recounted the details of my dream and chuckled to myself because I knew that if I really had bought a motorcycle and if Alex really were still alive, it would have played out just like that.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. My body is a lot smarter than my brain. That’s not saying much, seeing as the t...