*Written now in the voice of me at age 12*
“No, it’s not true! No, he didn’t!! He didn’t do it! He didn’t!”
My lips forming these words are my bloody fingertips grasping the rocky edge of the cliff just before the weight of my body dangling in death’s sphere pulls me into the inevitable.
Why must it always defeat our beating hearts?
“No, it’s not true! Tell me it’s not true! No, he didn’t!! He didn’t do it!”
I will fight truth for his life even when I am hanging off this cliff by one finger. I will throw my whole body into battle from the top of my head where my brown stringy hair hangs to the tips of my toes caked in pink nail polish.
“It's not true! Tell me it's not true! No! No! No!!! He can’t be dead.”
I didn’t know that screaming could encompass my entire body. And I tighten my grip on the banister to stop myself from falling over.
Three days ago, I was at the ocean building sparkling sand castles and smoothing them with the palms of my hands until their contours disappeared. My twelve-year-old heart danced when the sand tickled the backs of my calves as I ran up the path to see Grandma at the beach house. Eyes wide with delight at the sea star I’d found in the tide pools, surrounded by lush sea cucumbers. I cherished these summers at the Oregon Coast. Grandma’s love was warm and sweet like honey; she was always there to hold my hand, read me stories and make me smile.
“He didn’t kill himself! He’s not dead! Noooo, Aaron’s not dead! He can’t be dead.”
Come on, innocence. You know your roots run deeper than truth. Remember when you and Aaron would climb the big magnolia tree in Grandma’s backyard and fill the lawn chair cup holders with sprigs of moss, just to be silly. Remember when you and Aaron rode your bikes down to the river just a few weeks ago and you rented kayaks and had a race that you both won. Then you had a picnic beside the river at that spot on the bank where the land is flat and it’s easy to get out of the boats without falling into the water. And then you did chin-ups on the large branch with big brother holding up little sister, so you could reach.
“He didn’t kill himself! He’s not dead! Noooo, my brother’s not dead!”
Truth knows it’s winning. My throat has gone hoarse from screaming; my lips are cracking with fear and my body wants to collapse, weak from the brute force of truth that it’s no longer strong enough to fight.
I loosen my hold on the banister ever so slightly, my knuckles pale from gripping the wood, and lower myself to the bottom stair. I want to smash the white ceramic tiles that line the entry to the hallway into thousands of unrecognizable pieces.
He’s dead. My brother.
Truth, you win.
You can have all my innocence.
I breathe in a deep, raspy breath, holding only a small piece of truth in my hand; this is all I can manage. I watch innocence being dragged out the door while fear’s silence echoes louder than my own heartbeat.
I need to know how he did it. I need to know facts, so I don’t have to feel –because to feel is to choke on a piece of truth too big for a twelve-year-old to swallow.
The next day I learn that he did it in his truck. My brother filled his red pickup truck with mist. Not the gentle and beautiful kind that swirls up from a silent lake like dancing fairies. No, this mist wasn’t silvery white, it was green and toxic to his lungs. It was dancing ghosts beckoning him to stop breathing and firmly grasp hold of death’s hands.
He killed himself around 11 o’clock at night. It was one of those hot summer days when he died; when sweat drips off your face even when you’re sitting in the shade. But Dad didn’t find him until the next evening, after his body had lain in his truck for almost twenty-four hours. I guess his body started to rot while the stars said their goodbyes and later the morning sun made his dead flesh reek.
I wonder what happened when they pulled him out of his truck. Did they put him on a stretcher or in a body bag – or did he lie on the grass beside the driveway for a while? People keep trying to distract me. My aunts took me to the toy store, but I don’t want anything but my brother. Jumping on the trampoline in our backyard isn’t fun without Aaron. When he and I jumped on the trampoline together he made me fly so high I thought I was going to hit the squirrels’ nests in the trees.
I start at a new school in a few days and I’m excited to have my own locker. I just hope I don’t forget the combination. I’m not as forgetful as Aaron; he was always forgetting everything. What will I say when my classmates ask me if I have a sibling? That I have a brother and he’s dead? What if they ask me how he died? I don’t want to say how he died. I don’t want to tell them about the suicide. I don’t understand why people kill themselves. Did he really love me? He didn’t even leave a note for me, or Mom or Dad – just for his ex-girlfriend and her child. Does that mean he didn’t love me? I’m going to wear my rubber boots when I walk to school because I have to walk across the field and there are lots of dew on the grass in the mornings. I don’t want my socks to get wet; I hate how the dewdrops and crisp fall mornings do not look as beautiful as they used to.
We played baseball at recess today. All I could think about when I ran after the ball through the sand was that I was running in Aaron’s ashes. Dad said we could split them. Half for him and Mom and half for me. He said he would put them in an urn and keep them for me until I wanted them. Why did they have to burn my brother? Did people smell him burning? Did they burn the coffin too? Does that mean most of the ashes are wood, or are they also flesh and bone? What happens to blood when it burns? Does it boil? Oh, I hate this. Why did he have to kill himself? I never want to open the urn. That will mean it is real. Opening it will mean holding what is left of my brother in my hands. Why couldn’t he have been buried? Then I could visit his grave and put beautiful flowers on it.
I hate school and how I live in a house full of pain where smiles are hard to come by and grief-stricken looks are commonplace. I hate the image I have of Aaron breathing in the toxic gas and laying dead in his truck; my new reality. When I walk across the field in the morning, the dewdrops remind me of the tears I want to cry, but cannot, because there is no one to catch me as I tumble through this darkness. My heart is breaking from the part of me that wants to reach for death’s hand too and the part of me that wants to live to see winter come again.
I want to live. I think. I want winter to come again so I can go sledding with my friends. I want to sit at the kitchen table and watch the mid-afternoon sun illuminate the snowflakes as they float fleetingly past the sprigs of cedar. I want to pull on my boots and run into the exhilarating cold air and make snow angels. I want to lace up my skates and listen to the deliberate sounds of metal carving ice as I make intricate circles and figure-eights. I want to watch the snowflakes fall from the clouds and feel the subtle hint of coldness when they reach my tongue.
I want to see summer again. I think. I want to run recklessly off the end of a dock and feel the rush of cold spring water envelop my body. I want to watch the stars, speckles of snow on a dark rooftop, emerging from the blackened sky. I want to watch the moon cascade its light across the dark water as I stare into the faces of the stars.
But life’s beauty and happiness lie far off in a horizon to which I am blind. I know no more of childhood. Not since that night when truth threw innocence out the door.
When the pain comes, it feels like someone running a razor blade up and down my heart.
I start to drown in my own blood.
Until it finally stops.
And somehow, I go on living.
In the shadows of the child I used to be.