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.