Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Brother Michael: One Year Later

hi anth-

i dont have much time on here so im going to be brief. i know youre still upset and still processing the situation, and thats completely fine with me. i know the gravity of what i did to you and that this isnt a situation thats going to be solved over night. i believe that the most important part of all of this is that there will be a positive outcome. i dont want to be the person i used to be and i am trying hard to make those changes in myself so that i can be the brother that you need and deserve. i know that i hurt you very deeply and i am willing to do whatever is neccessary to work towards rebuilding our relationship. i love you and care about you very much and i hope that in the long run this will be something that brings us closer. like i said, this isnt going to happen over night but through time i hope that this will make us stronger. i'm going to be home next thursday when you get home from school and we can talk more then. feel free to email me back with how you're feeling and what youve been thinking. i may not be able to check my account until next week but i promise i will write you back.

i love you,

Written to me by my brother seven months before he died of a drug overdose at his apartment.


It's been a year since my mother came home to tell me that Michael was dead.

A week after his death, I published a humongous tribute that took a tremendous amount of effort and perseverance to pen. The piece's worthiness was proven the moment my parents and Aunt Kathy approved of it before it was published, and it was celebrated by just about everyone in my family tree and even close relations. More than anything, though, it helped me. The thought of just taking Michael's death and just sitting there, something I had done for so long, didn't feel right, and creating some form of tribute would not only aid me in realizing and coping with my emotions, but allow me to share my feelings to the world and show that I wasn't just coping silently. Somehow I had unintentionally created the image of being a lonely recluse only interested in his hobbies over the years, and this one entry would aid me in coming out of my shell.

Seeing as how I've received comments that I'm beyond my years and that relatives had begun to see me in a different light because of that one entry, I suppose it was a success. It's not like that one post solved all of my problems; but it was a step forward, and for that I'm grateful.

And now, it's one year later.

They say that the first year is the hardest, and after last year's aftermath I still wonder if I've really processed it. I'd be lying if I told you that his death didn't have an effect on me, or that I wasn't trying to steel my mind for the week preparing for today, but the fact that he's gone is hard to comprehend. I think the best explanation for this is the mind tries to trick you into thinking that he's still alive despite knowing the fact that he's dead, as evidenced when my Mom and I were having a talk about him half a year later and she was just coming to terms that he was dead.

What really hammers this notion down is that he kept moving in and out of the house after his first brush with drugs. There was a pattern of him alternating between lodging with friends and then staying at our place after he screwed up with something. To me, I had become so used to this system that it just felt like he was never home, and his death hadn't changed that. In a way it was as if he had moved to another apartment, I would just never see him again. It softened the impact, but it still hurt.

This may seem irrelevant, but I want to bring up something I had discussed recently on here that I believe relates to this issue. I've been coming to terms with the fact that I suffer from an abundance of insecurities, all of which have hampered many aspects in my life and have defined certain unwanted qualities of myself that I've only recently begun to erase. Surprisingly, it's not as if I've only just become aware of them; several of these insecurities have been around for as long as I can remember and ingrained themselves as unconscious directives in my brain. It was during this summer that I finally sat down and not only acknowledged these insecurities, but why they were there and just how they hindered my life.

Case in point: My comfort zone. The one subject I didn't go into detail in my tribute was my brother's initial experience with drugs back six years ago. The reason why this happened was because 2005 is kind of a big blur to me (at least regarding anything past April) and most of what I remember wasn't really related to his addiction. As a result, I can't really give anyone any definite response as to how I felt about my brother's addiction back then. A good chunk of what I do remember, however, was basically all of the horrific bullshit hidden under the rug that one begins to notice after becoming a teenager. I won't bother going into the details, but I took it as a collapse of everything I had ever known and, being imbued with the trademark rebelliousness of young teenagers, concluded it as the world going to ruin and me being too good for nearly anyone. Other insecurities regarding peers and social skills (the "mentally retarded" issue I mentioned in my tribute works well here) solidified my beliefs, and my brother's addiction only served to be a footnote in my eyes.

Things weren't the same anymore. As 2006 rolled by, I had transformed into a completely different person, and it wasn't a result of maturity. Two years earlier, Spongebob Squarepants was still my favorite television show and I was hyped in anticipation for the Nintendo DS. Now, I was a meek, lonely individual who was fighting an internal battle in bringing back his past. I had become convinced that the events of the previous year had killed my interests and I convinced myself that it was a requirement to bring back everything I had ever loved. With the exception of my burgeoning interest in manga (Japanese comic books), everything else that was new became a kind of sideshow and it remained this way for years. Everyday conveniences and knowledge, from my cousins to manners to friends to worldwide issues and everything else became a distant memory.

My task, however, never succeeded. The habits that had begun in 2005, of which were lounging in my room and staring at my laptop all day and reading twenty year old Japanese books, had by then taken over my life. I had unknowingly developed a comfort zone that was my ultimate trap, and I was too scared to step out of it. I was too scared to spark my interest in old Mario games again, or try and communicate with my peers, or in reaching out to old friends, or anything. I was so scared of failure that I didn't bother to step out. I was torn between finding a new identity and being shackled to my past.

My ultimate fear, however, was the notion that as a result I had become an emotionless being who didn't harbor an interest in anything anymore. I took my disinterest in most games coming out or whatever was going on outside my life as a sign that I didn't care anymore, and I kept fighting against it. It hurt especially when in contrast to other people, who expressed the same glee I once had when in anticipation, and it only served to drive my point even harder.

And that's where this involves my brother. I also mentioned in my tribute how every other form of media described that losing someone in your family is the worst thing that can happen to you. It hurt to lose Michael, but it felt as if it was never as bad as other media had portrayed it. Sometimes, I was angry at myself for not caring more about the fact that he was gone even though it was obvious that I did feel it. Maybe it was just me used to the anguish I was embedded in years prior and I needed more of it so I could function in the environment I had lived in for what felt like an eternity. As this frustration eventually ebbed away, my previous explanation of him not being around made its mark on me, and I look upon it as my sole source of rationality in this ordeal.

This year has not been easy for me. As time goes on, I keep remembering certain stuff about him that will either never come to pass or now makes sense. We were watching the first volume of Kill Bill and he said we'd be sure to watch the second one. We won't be able to watch it together. After the truth had come out in regards to him stealing my video games and selling them off to score more drugs (the reason why he had sent that email in the beginning of this post), he bought a Lego Star Wars ship for us to build together. We'll never be able to finish it together.

Then there was the time Mom had mentioned to me when Michael had expressed he felt like he never had a great relationship with me. The more I think about it, the more I don't think that's necessarily true. He'd have a point if he was talking strictly about his drug years, where he was never really home and had more of a stern attitude, but we were tight before then. There were some notable differences, and my exuberance wasn't always a match for his more laid-back, serious tone, but we were genuine brothers. He gave me advice, we pulled pranks on each other, we both shared inside jokes regarding our parents, and we still played games with each other now and then. I'm not going to pretend Michael was some sort of saint, but he was just there.

And then there was one of my habits. Something I've done long since before his death.

I've always liked to daydream, but by far my favorite one is my future life. I'm living somewhere way, way out in the country, and my house is located in a beautiful greenery setting surrounded by trees and mountains. The interior of my house is much like the one I had initially grown up in, and is loaded with what everyone would expect me to have. Books and video games and systems are lined up across the walls, having evolved into a library of print and electronics. The flying pig figure I adored in my youth and the Mario figure in his Super Mario Galaxy pose are attached to my ceiling and are flying in circles in perfect sync. Posters and rare merchandise like the Super Mario World clock I bought last month are hung delicately on the walls. There is a room solely dedicated to my writing.

I am a famous writer. I have written numerous children's books and memoirs of my life. They're all best-sellers and I'm featured on the news. One day, I'm invited to make a speech and I arrive at the building that night. Whatever I'm saying lasts well over an hour, and I receive a standing ovation. My parents are there and engulf me in a bear hug. My cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends congratulate me on my success.

Michael is not there.

I've never imagined Michael being in my future. He's never come into my future house. He's never commented on my future writing. He's never read my future writing. He's not at my future family reunions. He's not at my wedding. It was just something I never thought about, something I took for granted, and what I never stopped to wonder why.

Now I know.

But right now, I'm happy.

We went to go visit his grave today. Today, there were no tears. Instead, there were the bird calls my Dad was still imitating from the Barney soundbook I owned god knows how many years ago. They placed flowers on his grave, which I'm sure violated his code of "nothing gay, Mom." My parents left me to be alone with him for a while, and then I placed my hands on the grave and just felt him for a while. Then I sat down and talked. I still loved him, everything was forgiven.

I parted with him for the day and then made the trek over to the giant cross right at the edge of the cemetery. It's an uphill climb, and it's not easy. But I made it. I clambered onto the oversized plaque and stared out at the rows and rows of hills and sidewalks and gravestones. I stared into the sky and then down at the sight before me and longed for the ability to leap way across into the greenery. The blessings from those who rest there would keep me afloat, and if by chance I did fall, he would catch me, and toss me back to where I started, and then I'd do it again.

I am a happy man now. I now know who I am in life and what I enjoy and what I love. The insecurities I've had were overblown factors from a terrible teenage life and now I'm ready to step out of them. Life isn't perfect. I'm still scared of certain things, and there's lag and delay in what I want to accomplish, but I feel. I'm genuinely enjoying and looking forward to what's happening in my current hobbies. I'm looking to reaching out to a whole new world in college and getting to know an entirely new social circle. I'm ready for my future.

And I know he'll watching me every step of the way.