I’m sitting inside the church with my head down, sweating on a cold winter day. My face is red, my eyes damp, my suit ill-fitting. My mother’s wail fills the room. Her cries echo off Jesus; he seems sad, too. I don’t think Mom will ever recover from this, and I fear that I’ll recover far too soon. I’m more numb than sad as I sit on the pew with my family, which is now one less. The room smells clean, like a freshly-scrubbed kitchen table, the scents of wood, leather and lemon filling my nose. Sad Jesus watches over us, and he seems to be saying, "Well, folks, you’re safe in my house, but once you walk out that door you’re on your own. Sorry."
It’s early January, and this is the last place I want to be. I haven’t been inside a church in years. I’m a lapsed Catholic. My little brother, William, is at the microphone talking about Dave, telling a funny anecdote. Dave didn’t hate William; he saved all his hatred for me. I have a few funny stories I could tell about Dave, but no one wants to hear my Dave Stories on this day. It sure was funny that time Dave tried to stab me on Halloween because I had to audacity to give candy to a group of black kids. How about that time I came home from work and he was smoking crack cocaine at the kitchen table, mere hours before his girlfriend gave birth? Boy, that was hysterical! And all of those times he stole my car? Fucking hilarious. Who can forget the time Dave lied and told me that William was stuck in Camden just so he could get a ride to the nearest drug corner? It sure was fun having Dave put me in harm’s way over and over again, wonderfully thoughtful of him. Oh, I’ve got stories all right. Stories about a brother that I loved, but didn’t like. Stories of a brother who drank and smoked and snorted to ease the pain in his heart.
Goddam it, Dave, why were you such an asshole? Why couldn’t you just have been nice to me? Why couldn’t we be the kind of brothers who get along? Why did you have to torture me for thirty years? You started it. You hated me first. I wanted to like you, but you made it impossible.
My brother is gone now. Dave died in prison. Hung himself. The guards had been beating him, and they broke his spirit. He started to hear voices. Thought everyone was out to get him (and maybe they were). He lost it. He lost his sanity and his hope. They put him on Suicide Watch, then they stopped watching him and he committed suicide. He wrote to me just last month, and didn’t sound like a guy who was planning to kill himself. Dave had found religion, and seemed to be looking forward to the future. He told me he was sorry for all that he’d done to me. I wrote back to him. I told him that all was forgiven, that we’re brothers and that’s all that matters. Blood. I don’t know if he got the chance to read my letter before he died. We never got the chance to shake hands and start over, and it’s just not fair.
William finishes his speech and everyone claps. It was a good speech, a better speech than I could have given. I feel like I should get up there and say a few words about my dead brother. But what can I say about a brother whom I despised for most of my life? That Dave and I were best pals, that we really liked each other, that he was a swell guy? I try to think of something nice to say about Dave. I scour my brain. I need a funny story to tell the crowd. Something to lighten the mood; something to distract my mother from her crying for at least a few minutes. Then it comes to me. I think of a great story to tell, a funny story that makes Dave look good, makes him sound charming and kind. The perfect story. But the moment has passed. The service has moved on to the next thing. No more stories. I guess it’s for the best. If I’d have gone up there and told a heartwarming story about Dave, everyone would’ve been thinking, "But I thought Ervin and Dave hated each other." We did hate each other. But we were brothers.
Of course, the real reason I hated my brother had nothing to do with anything he’d actually done. It had nothing to do with him stealing my car, stealing my money, chasing me around with knife, smoking crack in the kitchen, calling me names, hurting my feelings, hurting our mother’s heart. What truly made me hate my brother was his ability to make me feel small and weak, feel helpless and afraid. Dave made me realize at an early age that I had more than a bit of coward in me, and for that I hated him.
All I can do now is survive and try to make something of my life. I understand Dave’s drug addiction. I’ve felt the pull myself while snorting lines of cocaine in Pizza Tent’s bathroom, while getting my heart broken and wanting nothing else but a big fat line of white powder. I will make something of my life; I will be the one in our family to succeed. I went through my drug phase and survived, but I must always be vigilant and avoid temptation in the future. I need to be someone my mother can be proud of. Dave’s gone and I’m still here. I used to have three brothers, now I have two. I never used to think about death, now I’m on the clock.
Tick, tick, tick.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Posted by Ervin A. at 4:42 PM