I still remember drywall snapping in the shape of my body. There's a crumbling crisp note followed by soft whispers of dust snowing down. It almost twinkled in my ear as she berated me, blaming me for the busted wall she'd thrown me into. People said it's strange that's what I remember about being a kid, but therapists found it pretty banal. We'll fixate on anything to deflect trauma as much as possible.
Connecticut is a shit place to fall in love with. Ignore the inhumane cost of living and you've still got weather as stable as our mother before the first shot and after the last. But they sill hung around. Momma didn't raise quitters.
August has no business being so humid. It was sixty-five when I got into town the day before. Eighty-two flashes on the sign outside the bank. It's so hazy I almost couldn't see a setting sun, but overbearing heat assures everyone it's there. In a couple months, people would beg for it back, forgetting how much they begged for winter through the sauna.
The road up Huntington Avenue hadn't been maintained since it's namesake meandered up there. Fair enough. The only noteworthy place was where he ended up, a few plots removed from my little brother. Judging from tangled weeds reclaiming wrought iron gates in rising full moon twilight, neither matter much. I wasn't grabbing pruning sheers either though.
Flowers seemed impolite. They're a nice sentiment. Pretties the place up a bit, trying to convincing them they're not forgotten. Kinda patronizing, though. Gaslighting the dead is a waste of both our time and energy.
I was six. Too young to grasp the biology of why mom was a balloon. No one wanted to explain why everyone was outside the ER. After eight hours with nothing to show but a copay and toxicology report, it's easy to say he'd been sick. Too young to comprehend means you enough to fool. For our own good, of course.
Why wouldn't a kid believe them? How could they understand adults lie? They're afraid to face facts too, defending innocence to urge reality into pleasant illusions through children too stupid to understand. Evolution defers kids' knowledge to experienced adults. Still doesn't make them right.
Between the flag of forgotten first world war veteran and random beloved mother of three is the flat gravestone of the brother I'd aged past over a decade ago. Our folks were arrogant enough pen an epitaph about how much they loved the boy they lost too soon. They skipped over how much he drank to get there or the demons he'd inherited from getting the shit kicked out of him. I wondered if they'd leave as much on mine for the extra social security number that funded house renovations when I was seven. It was a nice patio, at least. Just cost any chance of getting myself a car loan until I was almost thirty. But they were adults. They knew best.
I unscrewed a flask and squat down over him, as bigger brothers do. I won't deny having a problem, but it wasn't drowning noise in liquid insulation. Whenever I had a problem, I came to the brother who couldn't get away. Dead people don't get a choice. Apples and trees, apples and trees.
Was it presumptuous to assume he already knew? Not like he can check-in, but who says the dead don't have advance notice or something? It's their area of most recent expertise. And it's not like I expected much. He's still dead. That usually doesn't change.
“What do we do about Mom's cancer?” Update and purpose all in one. If hustle-life on the struggle-bus taught me anything, it's efficient use of time. I sat cross-legged across his grave, flask ready. “Already tested my marrow.” The first sip is always sweetest. “Not a match.” I smiled. Services rendered. No inherited debt in my genome. I took another sip of soft comfort.
He didn't say anything. That's why I came. No telling me how to feel or what to do, no preconception or judgment. Dead people can't use much of either. Lucky them or pity that, I haven't decided. I poured him out a dram's worth anyways. Living folk do love our illusions of polite niceties to feel better.
“Was thinking I'd swing by to check on you.” I took another swig before a sighing breeze cooled a sweating brow. "The missus expected more out of New England, but its hard to top Kentucky springs." I thought about our new acreage and my son's first tire swing. I had to chuckle, fiddling with my flask. “Must get lonely up here.”
The fuzzy burn rimmed my eyes as I clasped the tin closer. I tried focusing on why I was there; for him, not me. Fat lotta good that did. Clenched teeth and bravado would stop the ugliest sobs. I can't imagine who found it liberating or cleansing. It was admonition, but I didn't need earnest reproof or cautionary advice about what I was doing.
“I can't keep coming back, bud.” Sobs crashed behind tight jaw, balled up fists burying my face against a flask. “The next call, the next guilt trip, another fight, memories behind every turn in the road. I just can't do it anymore, man. I deserve a clean slate."
"And I'm sorry if I'm the only one coming anymore, but I gotta take up anchor before I drown here too." I poured the flask over his grave. “So you take this. It's the last sip I'm not having. All yours, bud. You have it, every drop I got left. I'm not gonna need it in a dry county.”
The ringless finger of my son's mother and his birth certificate still using her last name seeped behind clenched eyelids. I hadn't wanted to be like them, but the sins of the former aren't so easy to escape. But when he smiled at me, I wanted to scream. Being a parent meant belts, beatings and screaming. It was about power and demeaning and what you could get out of someone who didn't have a choice. Thank God for his mother, the holy harbor pitying me enough to hold my hand across the threshold.
The last drops of spirit dribbled out as it laid open over him. Hands in pockets fumbled through keys to discordant cadence of rushed steps. I slammed the truck door in humid summer haze, determined tires wailing over myself as I sped away for the last time, wishing he hadn't stayed either.