The Katherines and I — Chapter One

Three years ago, when my brother died, I — we — were 14.

Landon was what my guidance counselors liked to call an all-star; smart, good-looking, a three sport athlete. Everything came easy to him. You couldn’t describe Landon in a word; he wasn’t one. The easiest way was to call him likeable, popular, cool. And, I suppose he was. But he wasn’t shallow. He wasn’t only a pretty picture. The snapshots never did him justice. He wasn’t a black-and-white painting of do’s and don’t’s, not transparent, not opaque. He was the translucent film in the center of an endless loop of maybes and things nobody understood. He liked spaghetti. His favorite color was green. He couldn’t whistle. He was real and he wasn’t real.

He had a lot of girlfriends, but he never cheated. The breakups were always quiet, when they were alone at our house or in a restaurant. Mutual, usually, or so he told me. But he often didn’t. Even when he and his girlfriend Lacy broke up after a year of being inseparable, I didn’t find out until a week later.

My brother, he always talked about being a writer, but never while we were navigating the busy hallways at school or during the short minutes between drills at basketball practice (which I quit after he died), but rather when we were alone in our shared room in the basement, lights off and covers pulled up to our chins, long after our parents had fallen asleep. The stars illuminated the place, casting gray shadows like blankets over an ocean that never waved. I’d be staring at the ceiling, wishing I could shut my eyes, and I’d hear him whisper from across the room: “Hey, Louis.” We talked about everything and anything on those nights; shallow things, like the girls we thought were pretty and who would win the world series this year, but also deeper, risker topics. We talked of what we wanted to do, who we wanted to be, wondered why and how and what-if and everything in between. We laughed, because it was a habit and we couldn’t bear not to. We wished. We wished we didn’t have to. We wished and wished and wished upon the gray blankets that surrounded our cell, the cell of our nighttime room, that we didn’t, didn’t, didn’t want to leave because of what was out there, and we wished that we were brave. We could have taken the cell, but we didn’t.

He wrote stories. All penned by hand, a mix of his untidy cursive scrawl and a neater, bouncier print. I was the only one he ever allowed to read them. They were beautiful in the way that he took ink and paper and became the spinner and he spun; he spun stories, memories, souls and people that could not and would not be accepted as simply fake.

But it was also in the way you could see all of the pauses, the blemished, where the ink faded in one pen and he was forced to switch to another, where he scribbled little pieces out and replaced words like said with words like announced or cajoled.

I loved how you could see which verbs he pondered over, which he had to look up in the dictionary and which passages he wrote much too fast to keep up with what he was thinking. His notebooks, they were him. More than any other physical thing. I learned a lot from him, I think, more than he could have ever told me out loud. Once, I asked him why he always wrote about fictional things, never anything truly real. He answered that really, all we are are fictional stories. We, unlike the characters he created, just got the chance to write our stories with actions rather than words. We can learn just as much from watching a fake story from the outside as we can from leading our own lives.

Landon and I were fraternal twins, so we didn’t look exactly alike, but people always told us we did. And when I looked at his picture, or studied my own face in the mirror, I did see it. Our eyes, perhaps, or maybe our lips. And our callused hands. But, all in all, I eventually concluded that people thought we looked the same not because they did, but because they thought that we should. After he died, people still told me we looked alike. But, now, I think it’s more about the fact that they needed a face and a body to match up their memories to. I was never the writer, the creator or the leader or even much of a follower. It was easier for people to believe that we were one of the same than to realize the absolute definity of my absolute insignificance. So in flesh and bone, I’m here.

A lot of people were jealous of Landon’s life. He was decent. He was ideal for what teenage boys should be, according to adults, and the high schooler the younger kids aspired to be. Nobody hated him. But he, apparently, was not quite as happy as he appeared to be. He hung himself from the ceiling fan in our room one October night after we got home from school.

When it comes to families of someone dead, suicide, I think, is a lot harder to cope with. People are selfish. It’s easy to blame yourself when a loved one gets in a car crash, has cancer, lose their life in a work accident, even if you’re halfway across the world and haven’t spoken or fought with them in years. It’s easy to say that you could have stopped it, that you could have called before they left so they might have missed the blue Toyota driving twenty miles over the speed limit through a red light, that you could have donated more to the leukemia penny way at your school in fourth grade. It’s easy to tell yourself it’s your fault, even when, deep down, you know it isn’t, you know that there’s no way you could have warned them. You couldn’t have predicted or realized it, and even if you didn’t exist they would still be dead. But with suicide, it’s different. You’ll always, always wonder if, at least partially, it is your fault. You keep telling yourself that you should’ve given another embrace, another I love you, a moment less spent rowing and a moment more spent laughing. You look back over things and search for something, anything, that might have given them a bee sting. The little bit of pain, caused by a tiny prick that swells and swells until it’s huge and itchy, and bugs you  until it goes away, which, sometimes, it doesn’t. But the question is, can you stand that bee sting? Can you cope with it, or will you have to cut off your hand?

Landon never left a suicide note. I kind of wish he did, and I kind of wish he didn’t. It all just seemed so abrupt, so final. One second here, the next gone. That’s the crazy thing about death, though, isn’t it?
After some time passed, I realized, and wondered about, his no-note leaving. What else is there to do but wonder, anyway, when your brother dies? He was a writer. You would expect a ten-stanza ballad to the cruelties of the world. But all he left was advice, a request to be fulfilled by my mother.

It was typed on his open and humming laptop screen, the white light blandly illuminating the room:

I would like white flowers at my funeral, if you please.

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Goodbye Letters For Old Mistakes

Hello all! This is my first post, a story about a little girl and her mother. Thoughts? I would love your feedback!

As Ginny gingerly took one of the capsules and placed it using her thumb and forefinger between her teeth, she tasted nothing. She knew the taste of nothing from water, from the square crackers she ate when she was sick, from the light green crunchy vegetables her mommy made her eat because she said they made her tummy feel good even though she didn’t like them either, but this nothing was different. That was a soft, rugged nothing, like the time she had taken a butter knife in her palm and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until it hurt, but it didn’t; the only pain it brought was the kind that made her stomach feel all odd and deflated rather than the kind that made her eyes all wet and her throat closed like someone had taken their two strongest fingers and crushed it without slightest bit of effort at all. This nothing was the blade of a kitchen knife, a slick, sharp sheet of cold metal that sliced her hand the time she tried to squeeze it. It didn’t hurt, not right away. The blood seeped out of her palm and colored her pants crimson, and then when the first little drop of red splattered on the floor, that was when she felt the prick that turned into a screaming screaming screaming pain loud in her head because it was so hot and cold and then the scream came out of her and it was so loud and then Mommy heard it and then she came and scooped her up in her arms like a little baby and then she told her it was okay even when it wasn’t.

This nothing waited a few seconds, then it pricked you. And the prick was hard.

There were underpanties on Mommy’s bed, ones that were shaped like Ginny’s own My Little Pony panties, but they were see through except for a bunch of criss-crossing white strings. They didn’t look like they would cover her private parts very good. Ginny wouldn’t like having all of her privates showing like that.

Mommy always told Ginny to never never ever come into her room because bad things could happen, but Ginny knew that if they were really that bad Mommy would tell her. She never did. She knew that she shouldn’t touch the stove when it was on because her hand would burn, and she knew that she shouldn’t hide and come out to surprise Mommy because that would scare her. She did it once, and Mommy said that she almost had a heart attack. Ginny wasn’t sure what a heart attack was, but Mommy said that was how Grandpa died, so she knew that it had to be pretty bad. If Mommy told her about the very very bad things that would happen if she did these, why wouldn’t she tell her what would happen if she went into her room? It must not be that bad, if she wouldn’t even tell.

Ginny took another one of the pills and put it in her mouth. They didn’t taste very good. Maybe you had to keep trying them if they were to taste good. That was what Mommy said when Ginny tried to take a sip of her red juice in the fancy glass that she always liked to drink at night. She called it an acquired taste. Ginny didn’t know what that meant, but Mommy explained it to her, so now she does. But Mommy wouldn’t let her have any more of the red drink because she says it was only for big girls.

There were a lot of things that Mommy told Ginny not to do. There were the little things, like the stuff that Ginny’s preschool teacher, whose name she couldn’t remember very well, told her not to do too, but there were weird things that Ginny didn’t quite understand. Mommy never let Ginny have friends over for playdates, and she wouldn’t let her go to other places, either. Mommy never let Ginny see Grandad and Nana anymore. She wouldn’t let her talk to Daddy on the phone or see him because she said that he lived in a bad place now.

There were other things, too, that Ginny knew she shouldn’t do even though Mommy never said so, like how she shouldn’t talk about the time when she and Daddy went fishing and they caught a big bass and went out and got donuts afterwards and it was lots and lots of fun; when she started talking about it at the dinner table Mommy got sad and started crying. Another thing that she knew not to do was come out of her room on the nights when they had mac n cheese for an early supper because Mommy was having friends over. Once she came out to the kitchen at night to get a glass of milk and she found Mommy wrestling with a man that she didn’t know. All of Mommy’s clothes and a pair of the see-through panties were on the floor. Mommy and the odd man didn’t see her.

The pills didn’t taste any better when Ginny tried a third or a fourth one, or the fifth sixth seventh eighth ninth. She was counting them, because she was just getting good at counting in her preschool class, and Teacher told her class to practice at home whenever they could. They got lots and lots of worksheets at school that told them to count the shapes: How many red triangles are in the box? How many blue squares are stacked on top of each other? How many little white pills does Ginny put down her throat? Teacher would be proud of her for practicing even when Mommy didn’t remind her to.

The pills remind Ginny of the little candies Mommy gave her sometimes, even though they were less pretty and less yummy. Mommy didn’t buy the candies for her very often, but that was okay. Ginny knew that they didn’t have very much money, and she knew Mommy didn’t like to spend it unless she had to.

But Mommy was always more nice for a few days after she had friends over. These were the days she bought Ginny candy from the gas station, or she took her out to eat at Applebee’s. Applebee’s was Ginny favorite restaurant because they had good french fries, the curly kind. She didn’t like their mac n cheese, though.

But then there were other times, the not-good times. Some nights Mommy would stare at the mail she got from her post box and just cry. Ginny thought that maybe it was because she couldn’t read the mail she was getting, so she tried to help by reading it to her. But she wasn’t a very good reader yet and messed up a lot of the words. Mommy didn’t stop crying.

It was usually a day or two after a bad night like this one that Mommy had friends over. Ginny didn’t like the friends at first, because it looked like the odd man in the kitchen was hurting Mommy, but she grew to like them because they seemed to make Mommy happy.

Ginny lost track of all the pills she took. Teacher would be disappointed that she couldn’t count them. Soon the little baggie would be all gone. They were sitting right there in the open on her dresser, in the same kind of baggie that Mommy packed Ginny’s sandwiches in for lunch. Ginny saw Mommy take pills all the time, like when she would hold a hand on her forehead and say that she didn’t feel good. That was why Ginny ate one of the pills in the first place; she wasn’t feeling good.

But they weren’t working. If anything, Ginny felt worse than she did before. She had a headache and her tongue felt funny. She felt like she might throw up.

Ginny laid down on Mommy’s bed and closed her eyes. She had to move some of the see-through panties to the side. Mommy had lots of nice pillows on her bed, she noticed, nicer than a lot of the other things in their little apartment. Ginny fell asleep.

Later, a few hours or so, Ginny’s mommy couldn’t find her. She came to her room to check even though she knew that Ginny was a good girl and wouldn’t go anywhere she told her not to go. But when she cracked the door open just a little bit, she saw a tiny little figure laying on the bed.

She rushed to the bed to pick her up, nearly crying from relief, but Ginny didn’t notice because she was dead.