We are loading up an episode of Girls and eating homemade spaghetti when I burst into tears unexpectedly.
I cry soundlessly at first, tears slipping down my cheek, past my chin and into my bowl. But then, suddenly, I am sobbing loudly, grossly. My shoulders tremoring, my fingers pinching my eyes to make them stop.
The television is dead frozen on the title screen.
By the time my husband takes the spaghetti bowl from my hand and lifts me from my chair, into his arms, I am heaving guttering breaths, vulgar sounds from my chest.
I did not know a person could make these sounds.
Until my brother died and I made those sounds.
It wasn’t just the reappearance of the memory of his death, just two years ago, that made me cry so suddenly. It was an unexpected, accidental inhalation of his cigarette in the upholstered arm of his chair as I sat down.
His chair, that is mine now.
And as much as that chair is a big soft place to write, a comforting place to eat spaghetti and read Hemingway, it is a tweed harbinger of churning regrets. It is a holding space of lost things and childhood rituals, his impish blue eyes. There are a cushion of questions and matted unanswers, seeping with cigarette smoke. Smelling like him.
It is a his-then-mine chair.
And it makes me angry, sometimes.
It comforts me, sometimes.
But mostly? It makes me very, very sad.
Little brothers aren’t supposed to die. This is something you know as a child without someone telling you. Old people die, great grandmothers and senile neighbors. Great Aunts die, leaving cats and doilies to be meted out among relations.
Little brothers, the ones who are a foot taller than you and who smile with their eyes, do not die at age 30.
But heroin addicts do.
They are the ones that stay children eternally, sweet and starving. Their world slowly dwindling, shrinking in size just as you, the older sister, have the world opening up. They don’t have things, can’t give you things, aren’t sure of anything.
You get married, you have a baby. You have never seen drugs, save for 1980’s TV commercials, campaigns by Nancy Reagan.
But they? They have spoons in their car. They get lost driving down your street. Have girlfriends with track marks and heavy eyeliner.
You pick up your little brother to take him to the dentist. He brings all the things that matter in his world, in a plastic garbage bag: his television remote, his cellphone, a half smoked pack of cigarettes, $14 and some coins. Who is going to steal your tv remote? You ask him, gently, kidding. They might take it just to fuck with me, he answers dubiously.
You don’t ask who they are.
One day, he shows up at your house. A weekday morning, holding a highball in his wavering hand. Could he borrow something hard to drink, some whiskey? Just to help him get some relief? When he turns his head, you see a mangled ear and a gash, wet and seeping.
You don’t ask who did this to you?
You know, without asking, it was them.
He is one of them, really. The ones who have nowhere else to go but dark streets in a Ford Taurus with one headlight. The ones who give away everything they have for one last fix.
They do not want to die. Or maybe, deep down they know they will. But they are dying every day, for years.
Until they suddenly are completely gone, that last fix fixing it all, forever.
They die with the water faucet running, on Thanksgiving morning.
And this is how I came to keep my brother’s chair.
And this is how I ended up crying into my spaghetti.
Maybe I won’t always keep the chair.
Maybe I’ll wake up one morning, tomorrow morning, and push it out of the family room, straight to the garage, banging walls and scuffing the floor. And then, on garbage day, I’ll push it all the way to the curb.
Maybe I’ll give it away.
Probably, I won’t.
Probably I will eat toast and jam there tomorrow morning, with the cursor of my computer screen blinking in front of my half-sleeping eyes.
Probably I will press my nose into the worn arms of that chair when I am desperate and wanting to find my brother again.
Probably I will keep the chair forever. Because there isn’t very much else that’s left.
Because like the soft and scraping pain of what I have lost and the memory of his smiling eyes, it is permanent. Mine forever, to keep.
He didn’t live very long. He didn’t have very much.
But he gave these things to me.