Monday, August 11, 2014

My Brother Mike Is Dead

I just heard that my younger brother Michael was found dead in his apartment.

This was the brother I was closest to in our young adulthood.  From the time I was 26 until I was 30 or so -- while I was in graduate school, in other words, and he was an undergraduate -- every May, as soon as Spring Semester finished, he and I would load up his pickup truck and drive off across the United States, always on a different route, on a five or six week long camping trip.

We trekked through every state in the lower forty-eight, though we liked the mountains best, and Texas least (sorry, Heebie).  Once in Northern California, Mike very nearly set the Redwoods on fire, using a five-gallon can of gasoline to start our cookfire in a drizzling rain.  (See, when you're dumping gas on a fire, it's a really bad idea to do that with the fire already lit, because the fumes can cause the flames to run right back up into the can, and then -- )

We camped beside a creek filled with blackberry bushes in Ashland, Oregon.  I was still running then, and I picked blackberries, and then went out running while he drank whiskey and smoked his Marlboros.  Marlboro Reds in the Box.  The next day we went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and saw Titus Adronicus. Who knew Shakespeare's bloodiest play could be so funny?

We camped high in the Little Big Horn Mountains, at a campground so remote it didn't have plumbing, or power, or any other campers.  Around dusk, though it was June by then, snow began to fall, giant flakes of it.  We sat by our fire and watched it fall, drifting from the dusk, wondering about the tiny narrow road we had taken to get up to the camp, if we could get out again.  (We did.)

I was the navigator, and one rule we had was no interstates.  I hunted us the most interesting routes I could.  "Ooo," I would say, studying the map.  "Look at this one.  It's a grey road.  Let's see what that's like."

"Pavement Ends," he would predict, referring to a sign we often saw.  "That's what it's like."

But in the field, he was bolder than I was.  "I don't know about this," I would say, as the pavement ended, and the road grew dicier and dicier.  "Maybe we should turn around."

"It's a road," he would say.  "It's got to go somewhere."  And shift into third gear.

(My best story about this is the time he said this and the road ended in a corn field, and the farmer on the tractor giving us a perplexed look.  Not all roads do go somewhere, y'all.  Just saying.)

Another rule we had was no fast-food; no chain foods.  We ate local restaurants and diners whenever we could, or out of farmers' markets and stands.  This could be as dicey as having the pavement end, but it was always interesting.

We body-surfed in the Northern Pacific together, which was really too cold for such behavior, and stopped one hot day in the Cascade Mountains to do something really dangerous: a clear green river was roaring along beside the highway, deep and lucid and lovely.  We knew better than to swim in a river with a current that strong, but the day was hot and the water was so perfect.  And we were in our mid-twenties.  Who thinks you're going to ever die at twenty-seven?

I'll never forget how beautiful that water felt.  How powerful and clear and strong.

When I went to work on my Ph.D. and he joined the military, our worlds began to change.  After 9/11, the world changed us even further.  Once I loved him more than I thought it was possible to love a brother.  When he died, I had not spoken to him in over two years.

How can a road go nowhere?

And yet it does.


15 comments:

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

The older I get, the more it means that so-and-so and I were young together . . . the shared frame of reference trumps a lot. You and Mike had a wonderful time when you were young, a time worth remembering, whatever happened later. Even if in some sense the loss already happened, now it's final. I hope he is at peace, and that you find peace in your memories.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. :(

Bardiac said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Brother's are special, even when we've grown apart, as are the old friends of our youths.

My thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

So sorry. --L

Tree of Knowledge said...

Oh delager, I am so sorry.

delagar said...

Thank you, all of you.

It's been a rough night. My parents (obviously) are taking it very hard.

Anonymous said...

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your beloved brother. Your memories are precious.
ChrisinNY

Anonymous said...

I remember you saying once that your brother was possibly in the midst of committing-suicide-via-negligence. Is this the same brother? Regardless, I'm really sorry for your loss.

You were probably in the wrong parts of Texas.

- Heebie

Carrie said...

Life has a way of changing people, it is always hardest when it's someone you could never imagine being any different. Charish the good times, they are what matters.

Christine Boese said...

Oh, even more heartbreaking than I thought, and please give my condolences to your parents too. I had no idea of how things had changed with the passage of time.

I'm struck, when you tell of your road trips, of reading one of your MFA novel manuscripts you shared with me, with such vivid descriptions of the pickup fixed up for the main character's travels, looking for her father, I believe. I remember loving the book very much, and now I learn some of the traveling you did that I'm sure informed a lot of that book's realism.

He was at your wedding, right? I feel certain of it, but I could be wrong, but I had the image of one photo I took just stuck in my mind. Ben is in the picture too. I went digging through my albums last night trying to find it, but I didn't save a full set from your wedding, and I have so many albums and piles of pictures in this small Brooklyn apt. And my scanner is busted anyway, since it was from the days of film. A big gap in my life, between the film worlds and digital, but that's a story for another day.

Was it the picture I am thinking of? He is younger. Ben and I were hanging out. But it is just one of those goofy candids of the two brothers that seems to sum up both personalities. Go through your old wedding pictures, if you have time before you go home. See if you can find that shot. It might be good to have for a memorial service.

(also, there is a wonderful one of you and Christopher in there that is one of my favorite pictures ever)

Thinking of you.

flip said...

I am so sorry for your loss.

lfconrad said...

My heart hurts for you.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

omg, I'm so sorry to hear this news. Thank you for sharing your good memories with us. Hugs.

undine said...

So sorry to hear of your loss.

Ann Thompson said...

Thank you for sharing the beautiful memories of your brother. I am so sorry for your loss.