death and i are no strangers. grief and i are even more intimate.
worry, that darling friend of mine, hasn’t left my side in fifteen years.
worry tends to hold my hand most days. she is always stroking the soft underside of my palm, reminding me that she is never that far away. as soft as her touch may be, she has the capacity to hurt me. the constant pressure she applies is there to make sure i know that.
2016 is the year that i let my guard down, the year that worry turned into searing pain.
from car crashes to missing cousins to suicide and cancer, i have lost count of the ways that life has come up with to beat me into submission. i have watched an ever-growing amount of lives never move any further and permanently be stuck in stasis. they never get older, they never get sicker, they never get better.
trauma empties the soul so well. it frisks me down for any small remnants of joy i may be holding on to. any hope of a better life or a slightly sunnier tomorrow has ultimately been dampened by a deep dread that stays with me every morning.
who’s next? what’s coming next?
for so long, my only salvation was that at least nothing had happened to my baby brother.
until it did.
last wednesday, my brother was slashed and beaten up badly. he called me, frightened and alone, after it happened. i was at work when he called and immediately directed him to safety while calmly questioning. my calmness unnerved him– he began to cry in the middle of my investigation. “i can’t feel my arms,” he sobbed, “and i don’t know what to do. what am i supposed to do?” fighting back my own tears, i told him to get to our aunt’s house and then let her take care of him. when he got there, he didn’t hang up the phone and she screamed. the high pitched sound made my blood curdle and my voice caught in my throat as she picked up the phone and told me it was really bad. she was going to call the paramedics and my parents. and me? i should just stay put.
she hung up the phone and i sat in my office dazed. before i knew what was happening, i burst into tears and found my way on to the bustling streets of manhattan. here i was, trapped on a island with millions of people and my brother was bleeding out across the river. i tried to go back to work, to no avail. i kept hearing my brother cry and my aunt’s scream on an endless loop. when my father called and said my brother had landed in the emergency room, i dropped what i was doing and went home.
i kept trying to channel the calm big sister i had been when i was talking to my brother on the phone, but all that came out was seven-year-old me that watched two towers crumble into nothing but blood, dust and ash. and i kept praying that this would pass and i would walk in to the hospital to greet a breathing baby brother.
when i walked into the emergency room, i didn’t see my brother. i saw his clothes. the stench and sight of his blood spattered white shorts were what stayed with me the most. his swollen body, the lacerations, the way he cried when he saw me– none of that haunts me as much as the sight of all my brother’s blood out there in the open.
i held his hand tightly the entire time we were in the hospital. when they tried to wrench him away for x-rays, he insisted i come with them. when he limped out of the hospital, he asked me for support. instead of my parents, he kept choosing me. when we got home, he laid down in his bed and cried softly for hours. he told me how scared he was that he might not see us all again, how his heart felt broken and about how his kindness was a weakness.
all i could think about was that he could have been killed.
i laid next to my baby brother, 19 years old. i touched his muscular torso and his soft face, held his hand and talked him to sleep. i told him stories about growing up together, i told him about my personal struggles. i told him all about love and told him not to shut himself off from it.
when he was asleep, i curled up next to him and sobbed.
as children, we slept in the same bed. i couldn’t sleep without touching him somehow, whether it be through tucking my toes under his calf or resting my fingertips on his shoulders. he never questioned it but he was born 3 months premature, with so many problems that the doctors didn’t think he was going to survive. but survive he did. he has his issues but he has been a fighter from day one. and when i saw him for the first time, i told my parents he was never allowed to leave my side.
when my brother couldn’t speak, i was the only one who understood his gibberishy english. i was the first one to point out he had a disability. and i have spent my whole life fighting to make sure he didn’t have the baggage i did or the carry the weight i do.
and this one time, i couldn’t protect him. i have never felt more like a failure in my life.
have you ever almost lost someone?
fifteen years ago, i almost lost my dad.
this year, i almost lost my mom and my brother.
i have never been so utterly frightened to be alone.
i came home today to a row of black cars in my driveway. i froze for a moment before running in. my mother was in the living room, softly sobbing into her palms while surrounded by our family. worry, that good old friend, put a stake through my heart.
brother. where’s my brother?
i ran through the house before locating him in the basement. he saw the terror on my face and said “no, it’s not me. it’s our uncle…” i sat down, put my head on his shoulder and listened to the details of how our uncle killed himself today.
part of me is relieved it wasn’t my brother, my father or my mother.
part of me realizes, it easily could have been.
tragedy is unplanned, trauma a permanent mark. i am slowly learning that life is not a guarantee and death, that cruel mistress, will eventually come for us all.