I first realized that the world was not my friend thirty-four years ago today. It was during that season when I always see the world through a veil of phlegm and tears, thanks to the dogwoods around my neighborhood and their incessant need to procreate. Through my next-door neighbor’s window I saw my mother come running out our back door, her eyes watering more than mine and an expression on her face that I couldn’t read. My brother Sam lay in his room with an empty bottle of pills at his feet.
I think it was the dogwoods that brought him home to us that spring. They were the only thing he said goodbye to before he left. Three months he’d been gone that time. He told me about it, not Mother and Father.
“I’ve got high hopes for you Andy,” he’d say, “you’ll break the yoke too pretty soon.” He always had an ironic twist to his smile when he talked like that.
My big brother was committed to life, or so he said. That was why he started hitchhiking. Apparently you can experience of more of life when relying on the sympathy of strangers than at other times.
When he came home that April he was eloquent. He’d paint pictures of the beach in Mexico, the commune in Tennessee, the concert in Chicago, until he worked himself into a frenzy and ran off into the woods behind the house. That’s where he got his dose of experience while he was here.
I wanted to follow him. That wasn’t possible though. I couldn’t even go outside without sneezing. Then three weeks after his homecoming he was dead.
I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he felt like he’d experienced enough. Maybe he was trapped by his need to return home. Maybe he’d hit a low and the pills were one last attempt to experience, a grab at life, not death.
I do know now what my mother was thinking when she ran out of the house that afternoon. She was asking my brother why he couldn’t have made it look like an accident.
And I still couldn’t follow him. Not even to the grave site. My throat constricted as I walked outside and I spent the service choking on my inhaler in the limousine. All of God’s green earth was against me. I hadn’t thought about it like that until it took Sam too. And even dead he had more freedom than I could hope for.