I’ve spent my nights since I returned from Houston drinking wine, eating, and watching Downton Abbey with my neighbor. I keep referring to it as Downtown Abbey. My English neighbor corrects me but I’m too tired to remember my error. I keep waking up at 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning and lying awake for hours. I repeatedly open the box of work I brought home and toss the lid back on. Yesterday I was uncharacteristically restless. I began cleaning out closets, cedar chests, dressers, and cupboards at 9:00 a.m. I stuffed four trash bags with clothes and various odds and ends for my cleaning lady. I filled three more with towels and sheets for my mother. I finished at 6:30 p.m., not pausing to eat or rest. Then we put a ham in the oven, along with roasted potatoes and asparagus. It was delicious. Comfort food.
Today I was supposed to work at the office, but I feel too wiped out. I look in the mirror and I see a woman who appears to have aged ten years in a week. I’ll be 50 in exactly 50 days. I’m beginning to look more and more like my sister, who’s 6 years older than me. I don’t like her at all. She’s a cold, cold woman. Seeing her face staring back at me when I look in the mirror is depressing. I’ve spent my day today staring at the computer screen and Googling things like, “Death ages you.” And makes you look like your bitch sister.
So here I am: both brothers are dead. My father is dead. I’m left with my mother and sister.
All the men, dead.
This is so fucked up. Now I can see why women marry their fathers. Or their brothers. It’s comforting. I feel no comfort. The closet-cleaning, drinking, eating, sleeping, and tv are my attempts to avoid my pain. But it’s always there. All day. All night. My chest feels like an anvil is sitting on it. I can’t breathe. I keep sighing. I’ve got bags under my eyes. My skin looks washed out. Ashen.
I forced myself to go for a Pilates session on Saturday. The instructor kept talking about imagining my breath filling my lungs, gathering the energy in my core. As I slid up and down the reformer, I thought, “My brother’s body is dead. He can’t breathe. He can’t gather energy in his core. I can. But he’s gone. He’ll never breathe again. His body stopped breathing fifteen minutes before I got to the hospital. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I could have been with him all weekend. My brother was dying and I wasn’t there.”
My family has been wiped out in the space of eleven months. Brother. Father. Brother.
Thanksgivings and Christmases are no more. They didn’t dwindle one by one over the years; they were wiped out all at once. I don’t have my own family to take their place. Instead I have three cats. Sally sleeps lying across my neck. I love that. It makes me want to never leave my bed.
And there’s that ache, expanding in my chest again, making it difficult to breathe.
Things will never be he same. I’ll never be the same. I was so lucky a year ago. Blissfully ignorant of this kind of pain. I’ll never be blissfully ignorant again.
Until one week ago, I still had my brother. I was grieving my father. And my brother. He was grieving our father and brother. I looked at some texts I’d received from him before he got sick.
“I miss Dad.”
“Be extra nice to Mom. Remember, she’s going to be 77 this year.”
He was sober. He had a chance for a happy future. Stolen from him by leukemia seven days ago.