Sunday, February 19, 2006

My Heart

Yesterday I was cleaning my apartment, and I needed to get into a chest where I keep most of my brother's stuff. A year after he died, my dad was just piling things in his room, and it was full of all sorts of junk mixed in with things that meant something about my brother. Pens and pencils, camping food, 3 or 4 sleeping bags, pottery that he made, things that he wrote, a box of Kleenex, and a calendar from the year he died. It was stuff for someone who is still alive. Dead people do not need stuff.

It disturbed me that his room was just sitting there like that. What really disturbed me was that he left it that way- it was a mess. You'd think he could be bothered to clean his damn room before he shot himself. I mean really. Then my aunt picked up his clothes off the floor and washed them, and then put them away in his dresser. What was that for? It's not like he would be wearing them again. Well, my weird thing was to clean up his room, throw away all the stupid, worthless stuff, and give some of the worthwhile stuff to my dad, some to my mom, and some to me. I have kept the stuff that meant something to me in the chest, or around my apartment, like his pottery, pictures of him and a picture he took, and 1 of his paintings.

In the chest I have some of his t-shirts that say funny things that I remember him wearing, his video game player and games that he loved, his high school yearbook, books that his girlfriend gave him, which is kind of creepy of me because she wrote things in them. Not explicit things or anything, just affectionate things. The way she writes reminds me of a friend of mine from high school. I also added other things from him, like a copy of an email poem he sent me-

Hello, its your bro.
How does it go?
I have a job and you should know,
I will now be rolling in the dough.
Now I can buy a hoe
And make my garden grow,
And find some grass that I can mow,
And get a boat that I can row.
I think I will brew some joe
And dance to and fro.
Oh no!
I've stubbed my toe.
Oh woe, oh woe.

As you can tell, talent for writing poetry runs in our family! I think its clear he also had a sense of humor. We had a never-ending supply of inside jokes growing up. Of course I have lots of memories of him- when Mt. Saint Helens blew up and darkened the sky to pitch black in the middle of the afternoon, and Jeff woke up from his nap confused and angry because he thought we had let him sleep too long. He came over in his Grover pajamas, snuggled up under my arm, and glared at my parents, who were laughing at him. Playing in the sand box with Star Wars figures (he was born the year Star Wars came out, and died the year it was re-released.)

When he fell down our grandparents stairs and split his skull. How after that he was afraid to go over bridges. When he was in high school, he told me he'd had multiple concussions, 4 or 5, some that our parents did not know about. He fell off his bike, he hit his head rock climbing, one time he woke up with blood matted in his hair. How they played "Jungle Boogie" at his high school graduation and he told me he made them do that. The crazy letters he would send to the Pullman School Board, the type that would make Grandpa Simpson proud.

When he was going to college in Eugene and I went to visit him, we spent all night talking and calling 1 of the local radio stations trying to get them to play the long version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" until they got annoyed with us. Everything he did made me laugh, and everything I did he was proud of me for. How devastated he was when 1 of his best friends died of a congenital heart defect when he was 18. How he questioned his own life. When he became withdrawn. How he seemed to be going through the motions near the end. The call that I got from him a month before he died where he seemed to want to tell me something important, but instead talked about The Simpsons and a crossword puzzle.

The memories, the things, what people say about him, are like clues or pieces of a puzzle that don't go together, no matter how hard I try to make them fit. It doesn't make sense, even if I look at the "clues" that he was self-destructive and depressed. Most of his injuries were accidents or happened in Boy Scouts. Their friend's death from the heart defect affected all of his friends, but none of them killed themselves. However, that is not really the issue with me. The problem I have is that I remember Jeff the way he was when he was alive- funny, active, goofy, fun, sweet, and now I have a whole other collection of memories- when I got the news, planning his funeral, seeing his dead body at the viewing, cleaning out his room, and reading the police and the autopsy reports. I have the image of his bloated, blue corpse forever in my head, and phrases in my mind: "a rifle on the left side of the body, dried blood in the area of the mouth and nose, pool of blood on the ground, cool to the touch, rigor mortis, lavidity, self-inflicted gunshot wound, a light beard with side burns, dark black soot, pink frothy fluid within the oral cavity, significant amount of subarachnoid hemorrhage, missile tract."

It may seem twisted for me to obtain and read the police and autopsy reports, as the clerk at the Pullman Police seemed to think when I showed up there the day after the funeral insisting on a copy. The coroner was more understanding; he even told me he could see why I would want to read it. Pullman is a small enough town that everyone knew what happened, and knew who I was. So why did I need to read these things, and why do I feel the need to write about it? Because for me it is reality. That was how my brother died. He was a lively person who had a ton of friends who loved him, yet he died in an isolated part of the WSU campus and a stranger found him with rigor mortis setting in. It was an "apparent suicide" so an autopsy was performed. Then his body was put together, cleaned up, dressed up and put in a coffin with his bike helmet, where I looked at him for as long as I could stand (a few seconds). That memory will never leave me. Somehow, it was easier to look at his distorted face, then to see that his hands still looked like they did when he was alive. In fact, they looked like mine.

That is the reality to me. That death is cold and unresponsive. That it is distant, it is clinical, and it is final. It is incomplete, because there are no answers. It is just over, whether you are ready to say goodbye or not. The closest thing that I have to a suicide note is what Jeff left in his room:

Brahma the Creator
Vishnu the Preserver
Shiva the Destroyer
Find a path with heart and follow it to the end. -Castanada
He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. -Nietzsche
Welcome to my nightmare

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