We shouldn’t have moved.
It is not true but it is her truth, the one that resides deep in these gravel-laden fissures of her soul. It is her way of making sense of my little brother’s death, of his choice to leave the way he did. She believed that letting him live in an apartment on his own in the city for a few years was the root cause. No matter that he had family in the city for the last 12 years of his life, it became her way of making sense of it all.
We all knew that there was no logic in blaming herself that way but a weary, shattered heart grasps for meaning where it can.
We shouldn’t have moved.
There is no need for me to reply. I know this story. I was there. The first catastrophic telling of the event was mine – only mine – and can never be claimed by another.
Her words on this day are an echo of long remembered tears now replaced by a dry, cold, sterile cell reserved only for this.
In truth, her few short words are a cataract entombed behind jagged shards of regret that have become sharper with age, their pain never soothed by months or by years, and never once by reason. Her thoughts are forever precarious, balanced high above a canyon whose depths she will never plumb.
Her anguish is hers alone. Her tears are those that only a mother can feel. Her visions remain locked in time – two decades worth – never once tumbled smooth by children, by grandchildren, by phone calls or letters, made worse by fevered dreams.
I have told her the story – as much as she can bear – but words cannot be enough. I alone was there. I alone can know.
He hasn’t called in days. I called but he didn’t answer. We shouldn’t have moved away when he was so young.
She recalls it in a whisper and then she drifts into silence, her eyes wandering deep in the past.
I join her there, quietly, gently.
He’s probably just working hard, Mom. He’s a project leader you know. He puts his head down and works for days on end. I’ll call and if he doesn’t get back to me, I’ll go over to see what’s up.
A phone call. Another. A drive in dark November. Snow. So much snow.
His car is where it should be but it hasn’t moved in days, maybe more. There is a deep quilt of white, many layers deep beneath which his car sleeps. There are no tracks coming, no tracks going.
Just go up. Knock.
The quiet has me almost undone.
Mike? Are you in there? If you’re home, please open up.
Police. Go to the police station down the road.
Yes. We understand. Have you checked with the caretaker?
I will. Thank you.
The manager’s office is steps from his building. There: a phone number.
Yes. I’ll meet you there right away.
A master key. The door almost opens but it is chained from the inside.
Bolt cutters sever; hope is undone.
I throw a switch, and another. There are odor absorbers to mask much of what he has accomplished, much of what he had planned.
It is a faint smell but still, Sir! Sir! Please, I know that smell.
He waits at the door.
I will not. I cannot. I open doors one after another, and then the bathroom door, expecting. I pull back the shower curtain but no.
I enter his bedroom through the last door – the last unbroken moment in the last unbroken November.
And I am trapped in this scene forever.
Mere seconds later – less than a minute – police arrive.
Sir, I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. You’ll have to wait outside.
He’s my brother.
I’m sorry. I’ll call you when we’re ready.
We shouldn’t have moved. We shouldn’t have left.
My visions do not run rampant, fuelled by imagination. They are not a cataract, waiting to explode over the precipice. My visions are vivid, seared, etched forever but still very much alive, still moving, shuddering as I stumble through his apartment, as I sit on his couch, as I zip tight his body bag, closing us both in darkness.
A gurney, a sloping descent over stairs that last felt his feet too many days ago, and he is gone. I will not see him again.
Sir, I’m really sorry. Will you be okay? Do you have somewhere to go?
Yes. I’ll sit here a while and then I’ll drive home. I’ll make sure to lock up.
And now two decades later, her four words bid my visions come again. They conjure still more details known only to me, held close until I am ready to share them with another or perhaps to return them unsaid to the ether.
And once more, as Lois and I walk through these months of undoing, I am almost undone.