My brother died on a Wednesday. Three weeks ago.
It split what was supposed to be a very typical week for our family in half. Without going into any of the morbid details, let’s say Monday and Tuesday represented a thick chunk of wood. Wednesday then throws a chainsaw into the mix and I’m sure you can imagine the state of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. May as well add every single day up until this point if anybody is still counting. The wounds still haven’t healed, in-fact they still feel as fresh as the day they first opened.
Mom chose to undergo therapy and grief counseling. Dad started drinking again. And I cried every day for what felt like weeks, but mostly in private. I was offered counseling myself, but I declined because I didn’t really want to talk about it. About him.
I actually have a lot to say about Ade, which was his name by the way. But why should I force myself to open up to somebody who didn’t even know him personally? Somebody who probably has a predetermined list of subject matter to discuss with somebody like me. And I bet I can tell you what the checklist says.
· 17 years old – Check
· Male – Check
· Dead sibling – Check
· Ask him about his relationship with his brother. Talk about the importance of friendship at a time like this.
Okay? But I don’t have friends because Ade was my only real friend. Ever since we watched Son of Rambo together, he loved to call us blood brothers. Except we were real blood brothers, genetically bound by the very liquid that courses through our veins. The same veins that he sliced open with a kitchen knife that my mom got in a set as a Christmas present. Ironic isn’t it?
Christmas was actually when Ade started acting distant. It became obvious because, like most kids his age, Christmas was his favorite holiday. Now don’t get me wrong. I could have told you when Ade was on the verge of tears because I had taken the last lemon flavor ice-pop, even if he profusely refused to admit it. But given the time of the year, it was so much more obvious. Brotherly instincts work in mysterious ways and so when Christmas Eve rolled around, and Ade wasn’t running into my room like an ape who’d just been released from Chicago zoo screaming ‘One more sleep! One more sleep!’, I was naturally very eager to find out why.
I talked to Ade that morning in his room. Knocking on his door and hearing his tired little voice only made me even more concerned. However, I have always felt a subconscious duty to refrain from being that type of older sibling. The type of older sibling that constantly reminds the younger half that they have childish ritualistic obligations they must follow until the older sibling finally decides they no longer have to.
So, when Ade jarringly looked up at me from his desk with a pen in hand and his old scrapbook in front of him, his mousy brown curls ferociously looping just above his wide, chummy chestnut-colored eyes and said that he was fine, I simply believed him.
I appreciate that I missed the initial signs that morning. As you can probably imagine it’s something that I will never forgive myself for. Ade turned thirteen last year. I assumed that he had just outgrown the magic of Christmas; that it no longer excited him like it used to. Sure, it was kind of abrupt, but I had no reason to bother him about it.
Ade’s mood continued throughout the day and so Christmas Eve proved mostly ordinary and quiet. We watched Home Alone before we ate which didn’t particularly peak my interests because I’ve seen it more times than I’ve sneezed. I only really watched it to monitor Ade and to his credit, he smiled a couple of times. Home Alone was never really one of his favorites, so at the time this was more than enough to satisfy me.
By the time we ate, I started to feel uneasy about Ade’s mood again. Dad was nursing his own mood because his annual Christmas-Eve booze up with his co-workers had been called off. But to her credit, Mom had gone out of her way to prepare what had always been his favorite meal; Chicken tenders. I’m talking about the ones from Wholefoods that they tell you to soak in buttermilk on the back of the packaging. Not only could Ade devour seventeen of these things in under a minute, he usually helped mom by jumping up onto the kitchen counter and individually dipping all of the tenders to such a precise degree that they looked like they had been prepared in a factory. There was no such thing this time around though. I finally snapped and asked what was up when Ade started fingering his food rather than eating it. It was just too unlike him, and it became clear his mood was rooted deeper than I initially thought.
His reply? Yep. Honestly, I’m Fine. Just not that hungry. The F word again. The most manipulated word in the English Language. Just say it and magically cure all your problems, fears and uncertainties. Or at least make everybody in the room believe that it has.
When Ade only managed a few uninspired laughs and didn’t stand up in the middle of the room to sing a single verse from A Nightmare before Christmas, everybody was naturally very eager to know why. It wasn’t that it was his civic duty to perform for us. All we wanted was to know what was bothering him. He refused to tell us that anything was wrong. The majority of times that I tried to ask him after that, he would just pretend he was drawing or writing in his old scrapbook until I left him alone.
We never really found out what was wrong with my brother.
Now I would love to tell you that he had a tummy bug or a fever and that this story has a happy ending, but you already know that isn’t true. No, Ade’s behavior continued throughout Christmas-Day, the day after Christmas-Day and then early 2019 was mostly the same story. I would also love to tell you that I tried to help him, but he did an excellent job of combing over all the unhappy and uncomfortable thoughts that he was battling against daily. Some days he was better. For a few precious hours a day, I felt like I had my brother back, but it was never permanent.
It just became his personality. Part of him. Dad said it was probably ‘just puberty or something’.
Fast forward to today. The day I’m writing this.
My brother is dead, and that is permanent. But I can remember him for the person he was. Not the person he became. That wasn’t my brother. I mean the real Ade, the same Ade that helped me build forts out of pillows and played Mario kart all through the night by my side.
The only place I feel comfortable doing this is in the place he died. At his desk in his bedroom. At first, I couldn’t step foot in there, for fear of breaking down in a ball and never getting back up again. But grief leads you in directions you never thought you could go. It pushes all your boundaries and in cases like mine, forced me to go out of my comfort zone.
I’ve been visiting his room every single day now for the past week. My dad has been putting all his stuff in cardboard boxes and I’ve been tipping them over and musing through them every day. Every day unlocks a new memory that we shared. A memory that was previously locked and chained by grief and sadness.
Tonight, I found something, though. Something that I have never seen before or know why it could possibly be in Ade’s possession. By no means a memory that the two of us shared at any time. It was a piece of paper, scrunched up at the bottom of one of the boxes, presumably to hide its contents, I don’t know?
At first, I thought it was completely blank and I almost threw it away because the writing is so incredibly small. The first thing I noticed was the dried-up red marks staining the sides of the paper. It’s almost as if Ade was laying on it when he killed himself. Or at the very least it was nearby. My parents didn’t let me see the aftermath of his death, for obvious reason, so there is no way I can know for sure.
Like I said, the writing is so small. I had to hold it mere inches away from my face to even see it, but I think I finally have it worked out.
the night is long and the days longer
footsteps, so many footsteps
unaware of the torture
i can’t bear it
i am so so scared
of the man upstairs
The note is in my pocket now. I don’t know why the last line is highlighted. I don’t know what the rest of it means and why my brother was seemingly in possession of it when he killed himself. I don’t know if it’s even his hand-writing or not, I have tried to compare it to Ade’s homework but it’s just too erratic to know. Anybody could have written it in such a rush. I don’t know if it’s a suicide note or is directly related to his death and how he was acting all that time or merely just a coincidence, but something about doesn’t sit right with me. My mind hasn’t stopped racing since I read it and it’s just about reached top speed as I write this out.
I have an uneasy feeling in the deepest pit of my stomach and my brotherly instincts are telling me that those words mean something significant. Just like those words he muttered me to on the morning of Christmas Eve.
You weren’t fine, Ade. And I’m determined to find out why.