9 Weeks

A thought hit me, hard, as I woke up in the morning. It was a thought that had crossed my mind numerous times before, but was one that I kept dismissing with resentment and disbelief. It wasn’t until Dad emailed me his ideas of the same nature that I knew it to be true: You lived a full life. Those of us you left behind feel cheated but your life was as complete and accomplished as anyone who dies in their old age. The old people just get to go peacefully in their sleep. They lose the draw to active excitement, I guess. They don’t wish their last moments to be filled with fireworks, cowboy boots, and karaoke like you probably did. Your death was a tragedy for us but your life was not tragic, quite the opposite. I do not like thinking it but your life here, with us, was now complete. You had come full circle, given more than you had ever taken, and improved all those you encountered through the light you gave to the world.  These thoughts are further confirmed when I look at the impact of your death. We are suffering but you were complete. As Dad put it, “a race exceedingly well run.” We have to begin to appreciate that. We are trying, but it gives difficult a new meaning.

I keep wondering what you are now. Did you get to pick what you became? Are you a ghost? You would be the kind of menacing ghost who finds joy in tormenting others. The kind of ghost who would move someone’s cell phone from one side of the room to another just to watch them question their own sanity when looking for the relocated possession. Are you a star? Do you shine in the night sky and grant wishes to those who pray hard enough? I doubt this because none of mine have come true. Are you an angel? Did you have to pass some kind of test, or go in front of a committee and plead the case as to why you should be allowed in the gates? Who am I kidding; you’d be on the top of any recruitment list. Are you anything at all? Did your spirit fade out to nothing when it left your body? You’re still alive in so many memories, but could that be the only place you are still alive? Something inside tells me that all energy must go somewhere, but I’m not sure where or who gets to decide. Freakin’ mysteries of the universe. Do you get to know the answers to all these queries once you reach Heaven?

Ben emailed me to let me know he had hacked into your computer. After tirelessly trying to guess your password, he called for backup. Thanks to the helpful hint, Chase guessed it immediately. Ben found an assortment of speeches and documents you had written for fun in your free time. Who the Hell already writes speeches for events that haven’t even occurred yet? You do, that’s who. I cried for hours when I read these. Knowing you would never get to read your written words broke my shattered heart a tiny bit more. I lit a candle in my room and tried to see through my violent tears as Nico sat behind me on tissue duty. Amid the end of season speeches for your athletic teams, there was a speech you had written for the future. It was a speech for you to deliver once you had achieved your ultimate goal and became president of the United States. We are so painfully American. I can picture you delivering this speech perfectly. You would be decades older, probably have no hair, but would exude a sort of intelligent strength that would make the country feel safe in your hands. You would have won the election by a landslide and would have had a modern campaign slogan despite my pushes for a resurgence of the “I Like Ike.” You would look handsome and humble walking onto the stage and standing proudly between the flags before delivering your State of the Union Address. It would take all your will not to summersault out in front of the crowd. Dad would be watching from home with Kathiann and Wendell. Mom would be playing the news at her house with 10 of her closest friends, balling crying as sipped tequila and repeated, “that’s my son! Go Ike!”  I would be standing in the back of the senate chamber with Carter struggling to keep her from punching the journalist who had tried to paint you as a socialist dictator in order to sell papers. “I JUST WANT TO TALK TO HIM,” she would scream as I pulled her away and covered her mouth with my hand. You would thank me for this over pizza later that night. Amid the camera flashes and constant clatter of people trying to get your attention, you would clear your throat. You would begin with an entertaining opening line. I’m not smart or witty enough to guess what it would be. The room would laugh then immediately fall silent. Your speech would go on to discuss national issues, social matters, then end with addressing how the United States should handle the continual problems abroad. You would then get to recite the words you had written so many years before:

“America is a leader in the world, as a leader we lead from the front.  The world goes as the United States goes. As the commander and chief I live what I preach and as a country we do what we want the world to do.  As Michael Jackson said, I’m starting with the man in the mirror. We must decide how we will act and the world will follow.”

The room would immediately erupt in applause. More camera flashes. More questions from the journalists down front. “Mr. President, I’m from channel 8, can I get a statement?” Everyone who was listening would be filled with a profound sense of patriotic appreciation. The feeling would be similar to the excitement when Hugh Grant shuts down Billy Bob Thornton in Love Actually. I wish so badly that this scene could be more than fiction. 

8 Weeks

I was wrong. I am still randomly crying the earth-shattering-look-to-the-sky-and-hold-your-heart kind of crying. Lately, I have felt so low and distanced from those around me. Maybe this is because I can’t feel or even fake a humane level of happiness. I find no joy in my schoolwork. I just want to be writing, collaging, or exercising. I prefer doing anything I can do with half a brain because the less alert I feel the more I am distanced from the thought that you’re gone. You feel so far away, nowadays. When I am feeling happiness it is brief and often met with a painful reminder that whatever is making me happy can never mask the pain of losing you. You played so many roles in my life. You were my brother, my best friend, my teacher, my life coach, my personal comedian, and more. I’m a different person, now that these positions are open. I’ve been marked by loss and my sense of self has been destroyed. I try to remember that you are with me but the world is much more dull without your physicality. Nothing will ever compare to being able to send you a voice memo and get an instant reply. Nothing will ever compare to being able to FaceTime you and see your balding head looking back at me. Nothing will ever be able to compare to being able to hug you, touch your spiky hair, and hear your voice, in person, telling me what to do. Even though your advice and compliments were always met with an insult, I prefer your voice to radio silence.

Uncharacteristic of the tiny Scottish town I call home, the week has been extremely sunny. The weather has been absolutely beautiful and you can feel the positive effect the weather has on everyone’s mood. Where there is typically a bluish-greyness covering the town, there’s been warm hue of orangish-red on everything the sun can reach. The weather has positively affected my energy as well but dually presents problems that most others don’t face. I feel the beautiful weather makes it all the more difficult to hide my pain. People are more energized and want to drink more, hang out more, and socialize more. I am still not comfortable drinking and don’t want to be social all the time but also don’t want to isolate myself to a point of no repair. Without the wind and rain, there is no more excuse for my face being wet and red. Now, people will know I have been crying. And, worst of all, I can no longer blame being tired or reclusive on “the weather is such shit.” Kenny Chesney couldn’t have been more accurate when he sang, “Sunny days seem to hurt the most. I wear the pain like a heavy coat. I see you everywhere I go.” The more I see and feel the sunshine the less I can mask my pain and the more I am thinking of you. 

Like the sunshine, I can feel you peeking through the clouds and landing on me wrapping me in love. I can hear you through the songs that play on your IPod. I can smell you in the clothes of yours I stole from your apartment, even though they’ve been drowned in perfume. I can see you in the pictures all around my wall. I was so excited for you to see my apartment yourself. When I lay in bed, you are constantly around me. Your Team Texas sweatshirt hangs on my closet door to the right of my bed. Your favorite Beatles photo looks back at me from the collage across the room. You are the peak of my photo pyramid on the wall next to the collage. Your face decorates the corkboard above my door in the Polaroid photos we took in Indiana last summer. My bag of ‘I Like Ike’ pins stare at me from the chest on the floor. You are seemingly everywhere and nowhere, at once. 

Tuesday, I was sitting in the King James library trying to study for a Visual Analysis test on Thursday. I’m typically quite good at these kinds of tests. This time around, the information just wouldn’t stick. I was procrastinating on Facebook when Julian sent me a movie trailer for a movie called Yesterday. The soundtrack and plot instantly made me think of you. It broke my heart thinking how badly I wanted to send the link your way. If you were still alive, I would have sent it to you immediately and asked if we could see it together. Sitting in the library, I felt the tears begin to swell behind my eyes. I quickly grabbed your iPod and my sunglasses and bolted out the door. Immediately outside, I saw two friends. Thank God I had the protection of my sunglasses so they couldn’t see the chemical reaction I was having to this random burst of grief. I flashed a smile and mumbled a simple “Hey, how are ya” before pacing for privacy. I found a nice bench to sit on. Secluded, surrounded by trees, all within direct view of the sun. I cried as hard as I could without muttering a sound. Like a fool, I forgot to bring tissues. I kept having to wipe my nose on the sleeve of Mom’s Valentino jacket. I’m not sorry. I looked up at the sun and could feel you wrap me in warmth but the pain continued as did the tears. I put my headphones in and shuffled your “Spring” playlist. The song landed on “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac. The lyrics made me sob even harder. I knew you had played this song for me. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I listened to it three more times over. I’m pretty sure the people walking past me were rattled at the sight of a young girl sitting alone crying, smiling, staring at the sun, and blowing her nose into her sleeve. I couldn’t care less. After about twenty minutes, I decided I had to pull myself together. I shuffled one more time before walking back to the library. I instantly smiled when “Seasons of Love” came on. If we measured your life in love, you’d be ancient. 

Dad informs me that your autopsy results are still not in. This news makes me the kind of irrationally angry you always made fun of. I wish you were here to turn this frustration into humor. I can’t do it on my own. So, here I go. HOW can this be? HOW can it take so fucking long for the state of Texas to tell me how my goddamn brother died? WHY is no one rushing this? Fuck you, Kerrville County. It’s infuriating to think that there is still information about your death that I don’t know. The cause of death is one of my many questions that can be answered. It is one of the questions that gets to be answered, all while there are thousands more that never get that opportunity in this lifetime. We are all grieving so hard. We need the closure of your autopsy. I pray to God, often, and beg him to tell me the earthly explanation to your death. When he doesn’t get back to me, I turn to the almighty and all knowing power that always responds: Google. The search engine says autopsies can take as long as 6 weeks. Well, newsflash Google, IT’S BEEN 8. It’s been 8 weeks and I still don’t know the scientific explanation to why your life ended. WHY can’t someone tell me how you died, so I can try to make it to the next level of grief? Will these results even take me to another level of grief?

I’ve come to understand grief as a pain unlike any other. It is a silent battle that is as unique as the person experiencing it. Everyone understands that having someone you love die is one of the worst pains anyone has to endure but they can’t fathom how the pain feels and how deeply it hurts. It is impossible to understand what someone is truly feeling. Those mourning the same loss can understand it best, but never the exact same way. For example, I empathize with how Dad and Carter are feeling but their pain is personalized, as was your relationship with them. As I’ve gotten to know grief, personally, I’ve found that it has numerous traits that are present in everyone’s experience. Grief is irrational. It does not care if you have plans or a paper to do. If it wants to come and bother you for an afternoon it will.  Grief is crooked. Sometimes I feel genuine joy in my heart and can laugh and dance like you never left but the next day, or maybe the following hour, I may not be able to smile or leave the safety of my bedroom. Grief is physically painful. For me, grief often feels like a blow right to the chest. It takes my breath away and forces me to bend over and succumb to the pain until it decides to fade away. The most disorienting aspect of grief is that it is not always pain. Sometimes, grief is gratitude. I am genuinely thankful to have had someone that is so excruciatingly painful to lose. The pain means that I had someone I once loved with my whole heart. Some people are not that lucky. I would choose the pain of losing you over never having you at all, any day. Because of this, I know that grief isn’t the loss of love. Grief is mourning the loss of an earthly place for all your love to rest. I no longer have a love for you that I can actively engage with. I no longer have a big brother to verbally tell me what to do or to physically embrace. That is not to say I need to find some sort of replacement for you. We both know that will never happen. Over time, I will simply have to come to understand that my love for you will always exist and, even though you can’t interact back anymore, it is still real. Grief is love. I’m lucky to have it because it means that I had you. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. 

7 Weeks

I’m not sure if I’m still in a funk or if this is my new normal. I feel like I’m strapped into a rollercoaster of emotion. My ride occurs in the dark so I’m unable to prepare myself for the many drops and flips along the track. One moment my happiness is growing steadily towards the top then the next I’m free falling towards the ground at 100 miles per hour and I need to find solitude and sunglasses so no one can see the tears crash out of my eyes. I’ve retreated into myself and have become a hermit like I’ve never been before. My circle of friends was small before but has since gotten even smaller. I don’t mind this much. Now, I don’t feel obligated to do anything I don’t want to do. Maybe this is a bad thing. Maybe this is causing me to isolate myself in an unhealthy matter. At this point, I really don’t care. I want my friends to pass me the Juul and leave me alone. Give me whatever is bad for me. My brother is dead. I’m no longer afraid to die.

It still takes a profound amount of effort to get up and make it through my day. If I can get through the day’s sunlight without crying, I am proud of myself. People keep telling me how strong I am and how impressed they are by me but they don’t see me fall apart behind cheap shades and closed doors. I wear strong armor but I feel my heart and soul deteriorating inside this smiley shell as the wall between who I knew myself to be and who I am now keeps getting higher and higher. People expect me to be normal, whatever that word means anyway.  My deadlines still remain, event invites keep coming, and life spins madly on. How can the days continue to come? Do people not know that I am fighting the most painful battle I have ever had to face? No, most people don’t. They expect a happy girl to get her deadlines in on time and still show up to class and parties. Even when I’m trying to be social, I feel like I am accidentally exuding pain. I can tell some people don’t want me around because of this. I’m sick of the sympathy invites, I’m sick of people pretending to care, and I’m sick of people telling me that they’ll always be there for me when we both know that statement to be false. I know I’m being harsh but that’s life. This is mine without you.

I walk down the street and try to remember the advice I collected from you over the years. You verbally gave me so much advice but you led by example and taught me more through your actions than your words ever could. You always put your duties before anything. If you had work or an obligation you’d previously agreed to you would put in the hours and show up prepared. For you, it wasn’t even a question. You did what you were supposed to do and that was that. You had an inherent sense of right and wrong and you never let the devil on your shoulder sway you to make bad decisions. Of course, you did make bad decisions. But your bad decisions were premeditated and all in light of a good joke or too much booze. Wrong choices like cheating, lying, or deceiving were ones that you never made, under any circumstance. It was against your nature and you probably would have grounded yourself for a month or evaporated into smoke if you ever did anything of this nature. You spoke to everyone. You liked to speak to everyone. Anyone you came in contact with was granted a snaggle tooth smile, a firm handshake, and a warm “Hi, I’m Ike Crews.” Most importantly, you always made an effort to demonstrate your love to those you cared about. You were always in touch. You visited loved ones as much as you could. You would have missed a party at Elton John’s house if it meant you could spend an evening with your loved ones. You even took me along on a date that summer I interned in D.C. because you thought we weren’t spending enough time together. Poor Krizstina had to deal with the both of us for an evening. You were the kind of friend and family member everyone wants to have. You were the kind of person that gave a kind of undeniable, tough yet constant, love. The kind of love that makes you feel secure. The kind of love that makes you grow with ease. The kind of love you can’t live without once you’ve had it. I can assure you, anyone who felt your love is struggling to live without it now. Why did you have to be such a good person? Why couldn’t you have made some more mistakes? Why did you have to learn life’s lessons so easily? Maybe if you weren’t the impressive person you were you’d still be here with me. New greeting card idea I should email to Hallmark: ‘Maybe if your loved one wasn’t so good they wouldn’t have died so young. Sin in their absence.’ Think they’ll like it?

I am always listening to your iPod and hoping the songs will show me some musical philosophy to make life without you easier. Most times, it does. When people see the outdated music device they laugh. I always respond with “no distraction, just music.” I think they would judge me if they knew I considered the iPod a tiny piece of your heart that I can carry in my pocket. I’ve convinced myself that you choose the songs that shuffle on. It calms me to think that you’re watching me and hoping that I get whatever message it is you’re trying to send. I know this is a bit crazy. Thankfully, you have exceptional taste in music so I won’t be getting any vulgar ideas about having sex or doing drugs. These messages will come with a poetic subtlety from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. 

Last week when I was deciding whether or not to go to Paris with my friends, you played “Champs D’Elysee” by Joe Dassin for me. The happy tune made me realize that it was okay to spend the weekend doing nothing but walking around a beautiful city, eating delicious food, and looking at art. So, with that little push from you, I went to Paris with my friends. We laughed at almost every situation. We danced to country music. We discussed conspiracy theories. We sang “Champs D’Elysee” whenever there was a break in the conversation. We ate croissants. We pretended that saying “bonjour croissant!” with enthusiasm meant that we could speak French. Damn tourists. It was the most normal I have felt since you left me. It wasn’t my old normal I was feeling. It was a new this-is-life-now-and-I’m-making-the-most-of-it kind of normal that’s a little less sure but a lot more determined. My friends let me talk about you often. They were okay when I slipped you into stories here and there and they would even ask me questions back. This is something I’ve found to be rare from people who weren’t at your service. I’m often cautious to bring you up because I don’t want to make others uncomfortable. It’s a fucked up thing really. These people should be fine. I’m the one who lost the sibling. They should be trying to not make me uncomfortable, but oh well. To each their own. Pearl has been the best throughout all of my chaos. Whenever I have needed her, she has been there with hugs and a delightful pessimism that only she can provide. She lets me turn this horrendous situation of your death into dark humor. Most people find my joking about death extremely uncomfortable. Increased by peer discomfort, this has proven to be my favorite coping mechanism. As we walked along the Seine, Pearl laughed when I told her my parents were so lucky they had me because they’d be screwed if Carter were their only kid left. (Kidding of course, but a joke in Pearl’s direction because she’s an only child). She encouraged me to buy a lock for you to place on the bridge. I chose a blue one like the blue gravestone Dad and I chose a month ago. I can’t believe it has already been a month since we designed your headstone. On the lock I wrote, “I love you, Ikey” and drew a heart to represent the little piece of mine that the lock now has. I gulped back my tears as I threw the keys into the river. Sophia captured this moment on film. I’ll love you even when they come to cut the locks down. Thanks for pushing me to take the trip. You know I needed a good-for-the-soul kind of vacation. 

Dad and I talk often. We start with updating each other. I tell him about my classes and the hunt for a job after graduation. He tells me where he and Kathiann have traveled to lately. Then we begin to discuss our family. We always start with Carter. Then to Kathiann and her girls. Then to Mom, Kelly, and Miller. Then onto the grand finale: you. I can still hear the pain in his voice when he talks about you. His voice starts to slow, he takes deep breaths, and he tries to be as positive as possible in an effort to stay strong. I know he is breaking down on the other side of the phone. Oceans away, I can picture the expression on his face where his eyes sink, his face and eyes become red, and he flexes his lips to remind himself he can still control his face even when consumed by grief. I had never seen this expression before you left. I am familiar with it now. The mannerisms of pain are demonstrated differently in each person. Dad’s are humble and reserved. He told me that he is just about done packing up your apartment even though every time he goes over there he loses himself in your scrapbooks, records, and general memorabilia. I knew this would happen. I hate that I had to leave Dallas and am not able to be there to help him. I would be there everyday he was if I could to push him along and hold him together. Thankfully, you were stupid organized. The physical demand of packing up your life isn’t overbearing but the emotional weight is way too heavy to lift all alone. Your death has made me realize that life is a never-ending cycle of packing, moving, and unpacking. Then you die and someone else does it for you. Thanks for the burden, ya jerk. 

Where do you go after you die? My faith in God is strong but there are still so many questions I wish could be answered. Do you still exist as I remember you? Will I see you again? Have you seen all of our loved ones? Do all dogs really go to Heaven? Because Bear was a menace and I’m not sure if he would make the cut.  If we do get to be reunited, where do we live? Does everyone have a nice townhouse or does everyone get to build his or her own custom dream house? Is there a life up there like there is on earth? One with demands, duties, and schedules? We can’t possibly live in heavenly bliss forever. Is Heaven one big connected oasis? Or does one’s soul fracture into a million little pieces and each piece plays a different role in someone else’s heaven? Is it all a figment of our own imagination? If it is, does that make it any less real? It terrifies me to the point of tears thinking that death could be eternal darkness and I’ll never get to see you again in the physical presence I crave most now. Tell God to please let the stories of Heaven be true. Tell him to please let me see you again.

I still cry most days but it’s no longer the earth-shattering-look-to-the-sky-and-hold-your-heart kind of crying that bursts out of my eyes and runs down my face. Now, it’s more of a subtle bat-your-eyes-and-look-down-at-your-shoes kind of crying that gently rolls down my cheek. A more depressed cry, if you know what I mean. I have found myself perpetually looking for traits of you in the people around me and holding those people closer than before. These pieces will never make you whole but they are comfortable place holders used to combat the emptiness you left behind. For example, I find a lot of you in Alex. He shares your goal-oriented enthusiasm, your psychotic work ethic, and the brutal irony of always being right. I’m rolling my eyes at the both of you right now. He keeps trying to recruit me to run a marathon with him but I’ve agreed only to train with him in the mornings. Like you, he gets me up way earlier than I would on my own and pushes me to run farther than I would on my own. He often tells me to stop setting limits on myself. I always laugh and think of the many times you uttered similar advice in my direction. I’ve found it remarkable to see how far my feet can carry me. It’s always much farther than my mind tells me they could. You’re always there with us during our morning runs in the form of the iPod. I turn on the “jogging” playlist when I’m heading out the door and it feels as if you’re heading out with me. “Woo! Let’s do it, Cams.” Just this morning, I was feeling defeated at 4 miles. My right knee was hurting, my back was sweating, and my nose and ears were uncomfortably cold. Fucking Scotland at daybreak. I wanted to stop and walk home. As quickly as this thought came into my mind, “With A Little Help From My Friends” started playing through my headphones. I giggled at the poetic justice you sent my way. I looked up at Alex, who was urging me to catch him with his judgmental gaze, and matched his pace for the end of the run. 5 and a half miles? Piece.of.cake. At the end of the run, more lyrical philosophy soothed my mind and heart as I took a victory lap down Hope Street. This time it was “Changes” that you played. Tell David Bowie he was right. I can’t change time but it sure can change me. Ask him if he’s seen Shrek.

6 Weeks

It’s been 6 weeks since you died. In any other matter, this amount of time seems extensive. When applied to your death, this feels abrupt. The pain of your absence is still so raw, like an open wound that aches at the touch and won’t stop bleeding no matter how much pressure is applied. It doesn’t help I can’t stop picking off any scab that tries to form. A disgusting habit, I know. It’s been 6 weeks and we still don’t know your official cause of death. The death certificate that serves as a bookmark in my “A Time to Grieve” pamphlet on the bedside table reads “pending”. How can someone so healthy and full of life just randomly drop dead? How can an autopsy take so long to be finalized? Dad and I are still in agony trying to make sense of why it was you who had to leave us. I’m sure everyone you loved feels the same way too. This pending news give us something to hold onto but at the end of the day we simply just want to know how to try and make sense of why

I’ve heard the story multiple times. First, the version the police officers told Dad the night they tracked him down from an un-cashed check in your wallet. I bet this was your Christmas present; Dad has such a way with thoughtful gifts. I heard the opinion of Dr. Kassir the morning of the 31st when Dad demanded I still go see him about a bleeding mole despite the horrible night we’d had just the night before. This exchange was actually comical. You would have thought so too. Dr. Kassir was caught off guard by the sight of Mom and Dad in the same room. Once he realized we were all crying, he wasn’t sure how to handle us. I laughed through tears at his discomfort. I heard Nicky retell the story of your time together starting with you arriving in Houston all the way up to the time he had to pack up your bag and drive your car back to Dallas. This account is the one that plays in my head most often. I love knowing your last hours were spent eating steak, drinking heavily yet responsibly, playing air guitar to Ledd Zepplin on raised surfaces, and playing with fireworks because you couldn’t wait one more night until the New Year to set them off. If there was a time and place for you to die, that sure was it. What does Glenn Fry think of you on the air guitar? 

It’s been 6 weeks since you died and I still haven’t had a dream about you. I pray, hard, every night that if God can’t give you back to this earthly realm could he please lend you to my dreams. I close my eyes and you run through my mind. I often picture you two summers ago on our Great American Road Trip. It was the best of times. My plans to visit you in Houston were cancelled, thanks to Hurricane Harvey, and you came to Dallas to see me instead. We knew we had struck gold when we decided we should drive your new car to Mount Rushmore instead of staying in Dallas for the week. High fives until our palms hurt. Laughter despite Dad hissing, “keep it down” while he was on his business call. You wrote up an itinerary. I decorated it with every marker I could find in the apartment. We took Sprinkles cupcakes over to Carter’s in an effort to convince her to sign the ‘legally binding’ itinerary. We left the following day. I have so many memories from this trip. The general memory that plays in my head of this time is one of you wearing your goofy gas station sunglasses, dip in lip, singing along to the radio while your left hand is out the window. I rode shotgun the entire trip. You loved giving me a daily award for “worst navigator of the day.” We clapped and cheered enthusiastically when it came time for the daily awards ceremony. “Wow! What an honor. I wish I had prepared a speech.” I have videos of some of these precious moments. In one, you’re singing at an open highway, like an emotional pre-teen, and look directly at the camera while you sing the climax of “The Climb.” It breaks my heart in a good way to watch. In the other video, you’re standing below Mount Rushmore. You strut down to the park’s stage and perform your infamous summersault to an almost-empty crowd. Carter and I erupt in applause just as the video ends. You sent this video to all your loyal snapchat friends. The other tourists thought we were insane. We didn’t care. They judged us. We loved it. That trip was supposed to be The Great American Road Trip: Part 1. Part 2 would come summer 2019 when we set out on the road, again, to conquer the Grand Canyon. You had already purchased the tickets for Havasupai Falls. How can we go without you?

I often picture you strumming a broom and singing to the best of your ability. You always sang loud and proud, like you could actually hold a note. Yeah I know, you totally could. Ha. I often see you wearing a suit in your office and looking at me, disappointedly, through the Facetime camera because my history paper wasn’t up to your standards. I know I know, I use way too many commas and write like a tabloid journalist. Sue me. These memories only play when willingly called upon while I’m awake. Even in my dreams, you refuse to come back to life. I just want to see you alive again, even if it is a pigment of my imagination. I wake up frustrated when I realize another night has gone by without dreaming of you then notice the sun creeping up outside my window. The days won’t stop coming. I wish I could stop time. I wish it was still 2018. I wish Carter was still 27. I wish I could be closer to the time when you were alive because each passing day is another 24 hours I have to go through without you here to brighten my life up. 

I need to know the exact diagnosis of your death to fully wrap my head around the fact that you, my big brother, have died. The one who was supposed to be there through everything has left me in this world. As I search for you in the past, historical stories have provided me concrete grounding to occupy my mind while it’s wired on study meds. For example, I read into the funeral oration Johannes Bugenhagen gave at the funeral for Martin Luther. I found an article on the topic sitting on a library printer and decided it was fate. The article now belonged to me. I owe somebody a couple printer credits, but I’m not sorry. Bugenhagen’s oration was delivered on behalf of the Reformed Church and proved crucial in defense of the malice that the Catholic Church was trying to spread in the wake of Luther’s death. The way in which one died in this period was extremely important as it was a testimony to the truth and reality of one’s faith or lack thereof. Bugenhagen stated that Luther went to heaven as boldly as Jesus did, as his last moments were filled with prayer, scripture, and the recitation of John 3:16. The oration discusses Luther’s physicality, large appetite, and love of good German beer, which are as much a part of Luther as his theological prowess and powerful preaching. The oration went on to establish a template for those wishing to eulogize Luther as a Protestant hero and to become a significant document to be read by the Reformed Church into modernity. This information was stimulating to me as I saw parallels between Luther’s legacy and the way we will forever speak of you. Through every bit of networking done since your passing, we’ve painted you as hardworking and dedicated individual you were but still emphasized the goofy, fun-loving, and mischievous aspects that made you whole. This set the precedent for how you’ll be remembered by anyone who was paying attention. I bet you arrived up to Heaven, bold as Hell, looking like an absolute rockstar. I hope you’ll be waiting for me with a “congrats on your release from prison” sign, like the one you made for Carter two summers ago, when I get there too. 

We recently discussed Freud in my Art History class, focusing primarily on his opinions on death in light of the Aids Epidemic. I know right, a very happy lecture to hold on Valentine’s Day. We discussed how when one encounters a traumatic experience we often revisit that experience. I do this, often. I close my eyes and see your blue shoes walking away from me that final time, the look on Dad’s face when he muttered “Ikey Died”, and your cold, vacant body laying in a coffin. It’s a vicious loop that won’t turn off. These visions increase my heart rate more than a Juul rip first thing in the morning. To me, these events bare equal weight in both my past and present. In line with Freudian Theory, I’ve attached my love for you to the items of yours that I claimed as my own. Apparently, these items will lose value over time, as I combat your grief and learn to let you go, but, for now, and for the foreseeable future, they remain my favorite possessions. My class discussed how Freud believes we each have a distinct pressure towards death, one that overrides our instincts to survive, procreate, and satisfy desires. The intensity of his theories seem rash but I sure am far less scared to die because I know you’ll be there to take care of me again once I do. In Freud’s opinion, that the goal of all life is death, you are a huge success. 

Although stories of your death, memories of you, and historical analysis occupies my mind, nothing can mask the absence of you and your cause of death. There is always a subtle longing for you with every new investigation I begin. I need you to be here to give me your opinions. I need you to inspire more research. I need to know how you died. I need to know if you were in more pain than you were letting on. I know your neck bothered you for years but on paper you were the healthiest person I knew. You worked out like most people brushed their teeth, like it was something you knew you had to do first thing in the morning and never thought twice about. You ate vegetables (most of the time) and even let me convince you that becoming vegetarian may very well be the best thing for our bodies and the planet. “Maybe, I’ll be vegetarian in 2019,” you said. I wish you got the chance. You never forgot to stop and take care of yourself when it was necessary. You had no shame in staying in because you were tired. You were a genuinely happy person. You powered through hard days and smiled through the bad. I need to know why you died. I need to know if there was something secretly wrong that went on without symptoms, perhaps something genetic that could deprive me of yet another family member. I can’t lose another family member. Not for a while. Not while we are all still shattered from losing you. I need to know if there was something that could have been done that night to save you. Could someone be to blame? Did someone make a mistake somewhere between Nicky’s ranch and the hospital that ultimately led to your death? I know blaming someone won’t help anything but my mind is tempted with the idea that I could have a place to focus my anger. I need to know if there is anything I could have done to stop this or whether it was a random accident, orchestrated by God, as part to some larger plan. People telling me “only the good die young” simply does not suffice either. I know this people. Give your greeting card condolence a rest. 

I need to know why and how you died but I am also appreciating knowing that we are not done doing things for you quite yet. The pending status on your death certificate reminds me that there are still parts of your puzzle missing. It allows me to hold onto this initial pain a bit longer. It reminds me that I don’t have to get over you just yet because there is impending information that is coming our way. This information is required to really bring a stop to your life. I mean the parts of life that no one ever thinks of when someone dies unless you are the one dealing with it. The little things like draining and closing your bank accounts, cancelling your internet and TV accounts, cancelling various memberships, closing down a life insurance policy, and, the one I dread the most, the cancelling of your phone plan and the reallocation of your phone number. I say this like I am the one dealing with all these painful logistics but you know Dad wouldn’t let anyone else handle the final organization of your life. I am merely the one asking the questions and pushing him forward whenever he wants to slow down. I keep pressing on him, pragmatically, like I know you would do if it were me who died. Sometimes, I wish it was.

When I do hear the news, it will be another set of undeniable emotions but it will also mean that it is time to finally mark your death certificate in my head and in my heart. It will finally be time to calm the storm of confusion in my mind and let the next few stages of grief commence. I still call your phone whenever I need to hear your voice, which is more often than I’d like you to be aware of. I am still in shock that you’re gone. I still have to leave the library in tears because a reading is reminding me of you and it breaks my heart to know that I’ll never again be able to discuss any matter with the poignant intelligence you always brought to the table. I would do anything to hear your answers to my constant questions. What is it like in Heaven? Did you go there immediately or were there some things you had to take care of first? Have you seen our grandparents? Have you talked to the Loncars? Can you see me from up there? Is there any way you could come back? Why are you no longer here to answer me?

Since we are still unaware of your cause of death, your possessions are still being held in Kerrville County as evidence. Your cellphone is turned off somewhere in a plastic bag with your wallet and whatever else you had in your pockets. Probably some dip, a pack of gum, and a lighter, if I had to guess. It feels so wrong to label your personal possessions as evidence of death. They are evidence to a life that was lived, loved, and brutally left behind without any earthly explanation. Yet. Carter and I are anxiously anticipating the return of these items so we can go through your phone and relive the many memories you had documented. I can still hear your voice saying, “haha okay, we’ve got to take a picture,” “Cammi, get this pose,” or, the urgent, “airdrop me that right now. Not in a second. I mean right now.” I need to see your phone background of you, me, and Carter standing patriotically underneath Abraham Lincoln’s head. It’s wrong to think the police labeled Nicky’s ranch a crime scene. Let’s be real, it was always a bit of a crime scene. You would go there, imbibe freely, and cause as much trouble as you could thousands of acres away from anyone who could stop you. I only know this from the hilarious media you curated for the masses while you were there. “Here’s what it would look like if Hawkins and I adopted a baby.” It was a crime scene for rules, the death of expectation, and the end to social restraint. The ranch was never supposed to be a crime scene for a death, especially not yours.

Weeks ago over dinner, Alyson told me that when someone dies bits of their soul go to those who are missing them. She said that you were with me and would remain with me through the hardest parts of grief holding me from a million realms away and making sure I was okay. She knows this because apparently that is what happened when she lost her mom. One morning, she woke up and knew her mom had gone on to a place galaxies away. At this point, Alyson was ready to go on without her. She had gotten over the shock of grief, the pain in the months to follow, and had accepted the fact that there was nothing she could do to change the past. She knew her mom had gone to live fully in Heaven and would always be taking care of her but now it would be from a much further distance. Don’t you dare leave me yet. I am not ready. I am nowhere near ready for you to go on. I still need to think that you are with me, even though I can’t see you like I want to. Please don’t leave me for a long, long while. I love you so much. I miss you so much. I am not ready for you to be any farther away. 

5 Weeks

Just like before, the firefly light slowly dimmed. The people slowly stopped coming to wake me up. The flowers stopped being delivered. The sweet notes stopped being dropped off. The days keep coming. I’ve gotten myself into another robotic routine of waking up, working out, and moving around until it’s acceptable for me to crawl back into bed. I hear you some mornings saying “the new dayyyy,” just like in the voice memo you sent me before we met up for our final yoga class together. In St. Andrews, most nights are filled with club meetings and events that revolve around people getting together and drinking excessively. Despite my previously active social life, I no longer have the urge to take part due to fear I might fall apart the more I drink. I have built up a strong wall between my inner turmoil and outward composure that isn’t quite alcohol proof. I stay in every night playing Monopoly, Timeline, and Wii with anyone who will play with me. I stay home most of the time because I fear people are afraid to have me around and I don’t want to burden those who aren’t willing to take me on. I can feel my new composure diffusing sorrow and I don’t want to get too close to anyone and spread my, possibly contagious, sadness. I’ll forever appreciate those not scared of contamination. Most people don’t know how to handle me but that’s okay because I’m not sure how to handle myself. 

The aftermath of burying you has proven to be the hardest battle I’ve faced so far. The smoke and dust has all settled but I’m still here in a world without you. All of us, the ones who relied on you to always be here, were forced to return to our lives all across the world as if nothing had happened, as if we didn’t lose such a large part of our lives and hearts. We can no longer get together as often as we want to and our frequent text messages simply can’t compare to sitting in silence sharing one another’s pain. Coming back to school, away from the comfort of our family, is the most difficult thing I have had to face after watching you be lowered into the ground forever. My world has completely changed since the last time I was in school. What kind of student will I be without you editing every single one of my papers? What do I do without your daily Facetimes and memes to look forward to? Life has forced me to continue my schoolwork and job applications but I know nothing I write will be half as strong without you here to harshly edit my words. The calendar dates keep changing, yet I still am living in the night of December 30th when your soul left me forever. 

I still physically hurt from your absence everyday. My heart feels black and cold. Everything reminds me of you and I have to call your phone once a day just to hear you alive on the answering machine. For the first time since you changed it, I’m glad the voicemail recording says, “Hello, you’ve reached Ike Crews” rather than the old “Hello, you’ve reached the law office of Don Durrell Jackson.” My friends have truly been there for me but my mental state is so convoluted that even I don’t know what could help. The pain of your absence has started to come in tumultuous waves. I realized this yesterday afternoon when I hid on Castle Sands for a private cry. Waves are vicious and relentless, crashing in then fading away, just like grief. I’m a good swimmer but am struggling to stay afloat. Sometimes I’m grateful to have had someone like you for the short time I did, sometimes I’m confused that you’re actually gone, and sometimes I’m completely broken and all I can do is cry and write in my journal as if it’s a direct line to you. That last situation is where I’m at now. 

You prepared me for so much but never for a life without you in it. You were the main person I relied on and I always knew everything would be okay simply because I was your baby sister. I remember you trying to father me throughout my college application process while Mom and Dad weren’t even sure what schools I had applied to. I remember you sending me random bits of information, WTF Facts, just for entertainment and to enlighten me with wisdom and humor. I know you did this to many others. “Did you know John Quincy Adams enjoyed skinny dipping in the Potomac River early in the morning? We have more in common than I thought.” I remember you always reminding me what to do next without me needing to ask. You were the best teacher to me and you weren’t even getting paid for it. I remember the time we cried with Carter on Market Street the first year y’all came to visit me in St. Andrews. After too much to drink, we realized our parents had left us each individually traumatized by their human mistakes and turbulent relationship. You wiped our tears and told us that we would all be okay, mainly because we would always have each other. “Thank God Cammi finally grew up to be cool,” you added to make the situation lighthearted. I most recently remember the night after trivia when my car battery died. I messaged you and Carter for advice. Carter didn’t care. She told me to Uber home and leave mom’s car unlocked in the parking lot through the night. You cared. You waited with me for an hour and a half in the rain, without me even having to ask. You told me that I had to keep calm in times of confusion and figure it out. You said that my stress was only clouding my ability to act rationally. “Chill out Cams. It happened. Deal with it.” I’m trying to take this advice now. It’s a whole lot easier said than done. All my fondest memories are with you and it kills me to know that it is only in the photos, voice memos, videos, and stories that you are still alive. 

Everyday is hard. I wake up and remember you’re gone and want to curl in a ball and cry endlessly but have to push forward and keep living like I know you would want me to. Because I don’t have you to annoy anymore, I frequently reach out to your friends. Each one offers a piece of you I miss so dearly but it kills me to know that these unique parts of your character will never make you whole again. People say you never get over the pain of losing a loved one but you learn to live with it. I am not there yet. I am nowhere close to being there yet. People have stopped taking care of me. The flowers have stopped coming. No more food is being made for me. The days keep coming, yet you’re still gone. I would do anything for you to come back. 

4 Weeks

The day before I returned to school, I went to your apartment with Ben, Zoe, Nicky, Griff, and Scott. They walked through your home and claimed your possessions as their own. Your life was slowly taken apart, piece-by-piece, with every trip we made over there. I liked to listen to “Supermarket Flowers” whenever I drove over. I can feel the lines “memories of a life that’s been loved” and “a heart that’s broken is a heart that’s been loved” when Ed Sheeran sings them to me. To make it easier on Dad once I was left town, I made people take as much of your stuff as possible. Carter and I had previously claimed your framed pictures on the wall. I wanted The Beatles pictures and she wanted the football ones (a true testament to our contrasting natures, each credited to different parts of you we’ve molded into ourselves). Nicky took that ugly, neon painting of a tree you so greatly loved. It now hangs in his office in Houston. Really ties the room together (sarcasm). He also took your Indian statue and said it will look great at his Ranch. I’m excited to see it but am not sure when I’ll be strong enough to visit the place you died. The last place you lived. Maybe this summer. Maybe never. Ben took all your suits, some dress shoes, and the extra copies of the CD you made him for his wedding. Not many people can say their best friend wrote a song, recorded it, and handed out printed CDs in custom cases at their rehearsal dinner. No one would think to do that but you. Scott claimed the large “I Like Ike” poster and a St. Marks sweatshirt before falling asleep in the bottom bunk of your bunk beds. I’m sad I never got to sleep there myself. Your offer to stay was always denied due to the assumption that I would drive you crazy if I stayed around long enough. Griff claimed your board games and some of your many books as well as the nightstand Dad had taken from the original Dillon Reed offices in New York. They saved books and various memorabilia for the ones who couldn’t be there in person. We put your guitar aside for Connor to have once he came back to Dallas. I gave your bunk beds and desk to Ms. Ledford. I know this is how you would have wanted it, your items being put to good use by people connected through love and friendship.

The next day was my last day in Dallas. It had accidentally been the longest time I’d spent in the metroplex since I graduated High School in 2015. I have a newfound love for Dallas and my people there now. I will forever associate it with my understandings of home and family. I went over to your apartment one last time and let the guys come through for one final sweep. One by one, they slowly left. Saying goodbye to them was like saying goodbye to different parts of you. It hurt immensely. The kind of pain you know is coming but are never properly prepared for. Dad and I went back in to take one more look around after they left. Even in its ravished state, it made me feel close to you knowing this was once your home. I never wanted to close the door on this space. It took all my strength to will my legs to walk out. My tears were falling harder than I chose to acknowledge. I locked the door one last time. Fuck that stupid electronic lock that never works properly. I loved being keeper of your house while I could, but my role was officially over. I handed in the keys to my replacement. I quickly walked two steps ahead of Dad on our way out hoping he wouldn’t notice the heart wrenching pain that was consuming my body and was written all over my face. I waved him off and headed down the highway to visit you one last time.

Tears fell from my eyes the entire car ride over. As you know, I’m a horrible driver to begin with. Add all my emotional baggage and impaired vision, I was a liability. Watch out other drivers, Crews missile inbound. My phone was connected to the aux cord in the car. I was mid-way through another stream of “Supermarket Flowers” when I pulled into the memorial home. As soon as the car turned onto the property, the song suddenly changed. I felt an immediate pressure on my heart and the radio began to play, our song, “Sanctuary.” My whole body began to shake. An uncontrollable shake like after you drink too much coffee on an empty stomach and can’t will yourself to stay still. The gentle rain of tears rolling down my face swiftly became merciless hurricanes of pain. I cried out. I sobbed my eyes swollen. I was crying so hard I had to hold my face due to fear my eyes may actually fall right out of socket. I know you had put that song on to remind me that even though I was leaving you would always be with me in my heart. You’ll always be my sanctuary.  I know you communicate to me through music now. Carter too. She said you played “The Trail We Blaze” for her just the other day. She had a similar stop-the-car-and-sob-your-eyes-out experience. We love assuming you are the one behind our Spotify shuffles. The song’s duration proved the perfect amount of time to collect my pride and glue my eyes back into my head. When it ended, I was ready to get out of the car to see you. I walked slowly up to you and sat on the wet grass before your plot. I rolled my eyes at the temporary plaque that misinformed specters you had died on December 31st. Idiots, he died on the 30th. We only told y’all ten times. I told you I loved you more than anything, explained how proud I was to be your baby sister, and kissed my hand before touching the grass that had begun to grow over you.

I drove down Northwest Highway to your new neighbor’s apartment. Dad and I sat around quietly, fearfully anticipating my impending departure. He told me that if I wasn’t ready to go back overseas we could delay my flight a couple days, a week, even a semester. I didn’t let myself think this was an option. I knew I had to go. The longer I waited to continue my life the harder it would be to start. I also knew that you would get mad at me for sitting around feeling sorry for myself for one more day. Dad and I didn’t say much driving to the airport. I connected my phone and we listened to the playlist Ben made in your honor. Dad walked me inside. We checked my bags. We refrained from saying much because we knew if we spoke, even made eye contact, we wouldn’t be able to hold back our tears. Our dry faces didn’t last long, as the tears came ferociously as we hugged goodbye before I went through security. We held each other so tightly that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to pull away. People must have thought we were some sensitive individuals hugging before I went away for a matter of weeks. A scared daughter going away on a semester abroad or something wholesome like that. The people at the airport had no idea we were saying goodbye to our most important support systems after enduring a horrible tragedy. Dad pulled away and stepped back, urging me forward. He stayed to watch me go through security and I cried the entire time. I cried when the guy asked to see my passport and boarding pass. I kept crying when your pin set off the metal detector and I had to remove it. I kept crying even when my bag had to be searched, three times, because I had forgotten to take out a pack of matches. There really is no room for sympathy when it’s a matter of international security.

Sponsored by Mom’s elaborate medicine cabinet, I had a sleeping pill to medicate me through the long journey ahead. The next 16 hours felt like genuine time travel. I fell asleep while we were taxiing in DFW and didn’t wake up until we pulled into our gate at Heathrow. I fell asleep sitting up during my four-hour layover. If a kind man hadn’t woken me up to let me know I had been asleep for a while, I would probably have missed my connection. Did you will him to do this? I know you did. I slept through the next flight. I slept the entire taxi ride back to St. Andrews. I had to tell my Scottish cab driver that I had had a tough Christmas break and that my brother had died unexpectedly, just so he wouldn’t try to spark up any conversation for the duration of our ride. He left me alone to cry and stare out the window while musical philosophy played from your iPod. Big thanks, Frank. I arrived home to my flat and saw that friends had left me snacks, flowers, and kind notes. Another wave of fireflies in flight. Haunted by the photos of you all over my room, I broke down and sunk to the floor as soon as I was left alone. What next? Who do I become in life without you? Overcome by confusion and grief, I did nothing but sleep for those first few days back. I slept through my first class of the new year. The teachers excused my absence under the reason Bereavement.

3 Weeks

The days following your funeral were the toughest. The people slowly left our house. The flowers stopped arriving. The food went bad. The days kept coming. We weren’t sure how to go on after burying you. Griff put it most poetically when he said, “this is like the feeling after your team loses a hard fought football game but the feeling won’t go away.” He hit me with a scrunched-face “what?” when I laughed at him. All of us who were hurting the most still got together as often as we could. We played trivia every Wednesday at Plucker’s under the name “Hurricane Ike”. We never got close to winning, due largely to your absence, but still enjoyed the lively atmosphere and knowing that you would be there if you could. We sang karaoke at Griff’s birthday party. Our final song was “How to Save a Life” by The Fray. A real mood killer, but the kind of song that felt therapeutic to sing aloud together. We went to Medieval Times, cheering on the green knight with extreme enthusiasm. After dinner and the show, we drank more at Scott’s and sang as loud as we could to Queen and the Mulan soundtrack. I pictured you giving “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” your all. We went to your apartment, often, and each took tokens of the life you so strongly loved. (Don’t be mad at me for this) I even let Mom in twice. She traced her finger over everything you had touched. She instantly claimed the picture of Brian Epstein you had hanging above your bed. She believes that Dad shouldn’t have it because he probably has no idea Epstein was the manager to The Beatles. She’s probably right.

Dad and I were in your apartment, all the time. Your view of the bank next door really was a high-class site. We flipped through your scrapbooks, drank your flavored water, and stole the remaining pieces of your strawberry gum. I love that stuff! Thanks. We collected your mail, and the lady working in the back room came out in tears to offer us her condolences. It made me cry too. You really were a friend to all. I gave her the ‘I Like Ike’ button I had on my coat to remember you by. I carry a couple on me at all times now. Dad and I often wondered what your wardrobe would look like if you never attended St. Marks or Davidson, as their logos were printed on the majority of your clothing. Dad lost it when we went over to your record player and noticed that the last record you had listened to was one by The Kingston Trio. His shoulders got stiff as he tried to hold back tears. The tears fell anyway. He’s not much of a music man, you know, but you two shared many lighthearted car rides and conversations in their honor. I hope he finds peace in those songs eventually. My favorite part of invading your space was noticing how you had kept every note, letter, and postcard you’d received in the last few years. You sure had a lot of pen pals. That’s the kind of kind hearted person you were. I kept flipping back to the one I sent you from Japan last spring break. I audibly laughed through tears at the message that read“You’re my favorite sibling” that Ami wrote in code (in Japanese). Carter had received a matching one, but I never told her that her card read, “you’re my second favorite sibling.” I guess she now claims the title by default. I love her with my whole heart.

I know Dad will struggle to make these apartment visits and pack up your things without me. He struggles while I’m around. He loses himself in the memorabilia you’d collected throughout your many and frequent adventures. It hurts my heart to imagine him standing in your apartment, holding your possessions, lost in a mourning stillness. I can’t be here much longer to will him forward. Our immersion into your belongings inspired your gravestone. We decorated it with music notes, cowboy boots, and the simple yet poignant words “Scholar, Athlete, Teacher, Coach, Beloved Son, Devoted Brother, True Friend”. Dad says all the great presidents have similar headstone characterizations. I checked. He’s right, but I’m sure you already know.