19 Weeks

Lately I’ve felt lost at the thought of leaving St. Andrews. This place has become home. You came all the time. You met my people. I love these people with my whole heart. How can I live without them in my day to day? I know the answer to this because I’ve learned to live without you. Though, this knowledge doesn’t make the thought of leaving any easier. 

Fuck St. Andrews for bringing wonderful people into my life then scattering them across the globe. Little pieces of my heart will forever live internationally. How will these relationships endure the distance? Will we have reunions as often as we promise? Will we all communicate through Facebook messenger forever? I love these people because they lift me up and make me laugh. I love living in a place where my farthest friend here is a couple blocks away. I’m scared to take that away. Damn, I’m gonna need therapy. 

Writing to you in this blog is the most helpful form of therapy I’ve found. I’m also saving Dad a few bucks not having a therapist try and tell me what to do anymore. The blog inspired another wave of people to reach out and share their own Ike stories and explain how you impacted their lives. You have an unsurprisingly large fan club. Hearing from people meant and means more than I can explain on a keyboard. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and they made me appreciate you even more. The blog also inspired people to reach out to me and share their own experiences with loss. It’s a pretty cool club, us survivors. We live for those we lost. We can’t let go of the pain because it would mean letting go of our loved ones. We choose pain like we choose our loved ones, without hesitation. We choose to hold onto the memories. We choose the pain of losing over the emptiness of forgetting. 

Talking to others helped me realize that I am not the only person lost. I am not the only person hurting. I am not the person hurting the most. I’m just the annoying one who went and thought it was normal to publish the inner workings of my mind online. 

I’ve come to realize that the ones who have lost loved ones are not the only people who experience grief. Everyone experiences grief in different ways throughout their lives. Think about it, we lose things all the time. As we move forward we must leave things behind. We lose the pets we thought would always be around, we become teenagers and lose our youthful friendships or mannerisms, we leave houses, towns, and routines behind, we turn a certain age and realize that childhood is a thing of the past. Burying you does not mean I met grief as you left. I have known grief my entire life, as has anyone who has lived. Grief is intrinsically connected to life and growth. The ones who lose people they love get a unique look at it from the eye of the storm. 

I will grieve St. Andrews when I leave. I will cherish the memories and my friendships but things will never be as they were. I will never forget the people who have impacted my life and I am forever grateful for the feeling I have towards those I was with on nights I can’t remember. Haha, I’m quoting Drake like some basic bitch instagram caption. As I’ve mentioned before, not everyone I’ll lose in my new chapter will be a loss. Some people leave so better ones can take their place. Better is the wrong word. More purposeful or better suited to my current environment is more fitting. Circumstances change so you can embrace the new. Sometimes we’re too myopic to see it. 

Comfort is blinding. The comfort I feel in St. Andrews with my loved ones makes me feel safe. Comfortable. I can’t let comfort keep me from going forward. I will be okay as I lose St. Andrews. I won’t let this loss knock me down but I’ll keep on keeping on.  This chapter wasn’t meant to last forever. More chapters, more people, more life is coming my way. I’m lucky to keep living this roller coaster. I wish your ride hadn’t ended so abruptly. My time in St. Andrews was always limited. I have time to emotionally prepare. I may feel lost, but I’ll be okay as I move forward. Great therapy session. I’m feeling better already. Same time next week?

18 Weeks

Since I’m closer than ever to graduation and a new chapter, I’ve been nostalgic in good way. I’ve begun to appreciate the past, for the good times and bad, and feel that I’m ready to move on. New place. New people. New me? My gratefulness for St. Andrews and my time here has made me reflect on how grateful I am to have had you. The worst parts of grief are over, for now, and I’ve been more optimistic than ever lately. 

In some ways, I do believe you were some kind of messiah, placed on earth to strengthen and unite various people and make us better along the way. Houston had it right. You lived your life like you would die tomorrow, everyday, and had done more in your 29 years than most people do in a lifetime. You did your duty to this life then it was time for you to go home to the sky. There are so many songs and movies that have come out since you left that I wish I could share with you. Dude, they are literally making a live action “Mulan” remake. It’s illegal we can’t see it together. Seeing “Yesterday” and not crying was a personal triumph. There are so many people who have come into my life that I wish got the pleasure of knowing you. I hope to give off bits of your radiance through my never-ending drive to be like you. There are still so many topics I wish we could discuss. What do you think of the presidential debates? There are still so many things I wish we could do together. There are still so many milestones I have yet to reach that I assumed you would be there for. These will be hard, tequila and tears inevitable, but I know I can get through it. I will never get over the pain of losing you and I will never meet a day when you don’t cross my mind in one way or another. Nonetheless, I’ll persevere and do my best to make you proud. I’ll even try to entertain you along the way. 

Despite all the pain and confusion your death caused, it also made me grow to be better. I know that whatever is meant for me will always find me and whatever isn’t will leave or miss me just the same. I have faith in God’s plan. I believe in fate but rely on hard work and instinct, just like you taught me. I know you live in a better place now. One without pain, one without worry, and one where you can be with all your loved ones, living and dead, at the same time. One where you are loved, one where you are safe, and one where you can pull pranks on the living without any backlash. You’re my personal ghost, now. I like to think. I talk out loud for the both of us now. I still miss you so much everyday. I will never stop missing you everyday. In my heart, I know you live on inside me and all the many people who love you so very much. I would give anything for you to be here with us today. I’d take having one leg, no vision, and no hearing if it meant that you could still be with me on earth. Put me in a different reality if it means I could be with you. But that’s not how my story is supposed to go. 

I genuinely believe that all things happen for a reason, and that your death, as convoluted as the meaning may be, was all apart of God’s greater plan. I have come to accept your death, fully, finally. For now. You are gone and I don’t have the power to bring you back. The only thing I can control in this matter is myself and how I act going forward. I am no longer crying everyday. I do cry most days, though. The tears that fall for you are mostly gentle flows of gratitude, remembrance, and longing. They mainly fall on occasions I feel you should be present for, times when I just need your guidance or humor to pull me through, and at the hand of warm memories I can’t ever turn away. The harsh tears still show up randomly too but not as often or brutally as before. Every now and then I scream out in pain, but perhaps am using the pain of losing you as a way to feel sorry for myself in a sort of emotional release. I’m selfish like that, I guess. 

Your death taught me that life is a never ending oscillation between the incredibly wonderful and the painfully awful. It’s never ending game that no one knew they began at birth. You fight off the first round of monsters, bask in the glory of their defeat, then another comes straight at you. But you have to keep going. You have to keep growing, in order to fight them. The hardships of the battles you face are always worth the joy of victory. No matter what happens, no matter how badly I want time to stop, life flows on. I let it. I go with it, even when it hurts. As for relationship heartbreak, I’m over it. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m done wishing things had happened differently. That one week that I did was more than enough. There really are plenty of fish in the sea. I have faith in the universe that not everyone I’ll lose is a loss and not every character in my story is forever but the people meant for me will always find a way into my life. Sometimes, you even get lucky and lose a small mouth bass for a midnight parrotfish. Ha. 

Good things have happened since you died, things that wouldn’t have happened if you were here. Our family grew closer, I understand the value of love and life now, and I began to understand who I am and who I want to be. That is not to say I choose these things over you, of course not. But that is to say that life goes on and there are always rainbows that follow even the most destructive of storms. I’m listening to Kasey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” right now. Isn’t she so hot and cool? I know, I’m in love with her too. No, I don’t think she’d reply to one of your infamous Instagram DM’s. I know, Taylor Swift sure missed her chance. 

You were the rainbow of my life. You brightened up my days and made the storms worth enduring. I see your face in every rainbow I encounter now. You were the glue that held our family together. Then you died and you brought us together just the same. You were no longer there to be the glue and, despite Dad telling me “you have to be the glue now”, I didn’t. We all worked harder to hold our family of misfits together. We all became closer without you. Something was pulling us toward each other, an energy that you gave that no longer had a physical body to pull from. You were no longer there to arrange the family meetings, book the flights to family reunions, or to rally everyone you considered family together for dinner at El Fenix. But, as you disappeared, the love between us remained. We still wanted to spend time together despite you not being there to force these interactions onto our calendar. Your absence was replaced with a love that united us. We all became the glue. That’s a lot of glue talk. I’m done with that allusion for now. 

I know this is just a phase of joy that won’t last forever, the grief monster never stays away for long, but I want to write down my happy thoughts while they’re here. Ikey, thank you for being who you were. Thank you for being the best big brother, personal advocate, and life mentor that anyone could ask for. Thank you for teaching me everything you did. Thank you for making me who I am. Thank you for becoming my greatest inspiration. Everything I did, have done, and will do will forever be in your honor. You’re still gone but I’m okay now. I will be okay now. I’ll still break down but I won’t be defeated. I can’t wait to see you again. I think about reuniting with you everyday and try to meet each day with excitement to give it my best and end knowing that I am one day closer to you. I hope you’ve already planned a welcome party for my arrival. Let’s dance all night to a strange range of music that only you could do justice. I love you deeper and more elaborate than the ocean, Ike. Here’s to you. **”Sympathy for the Devil” slowly begins to play in the background as I close my laptop**

17 Weeks

My University career is on a fast track to the finale and it hurts my heart to think that there’s another wave of change heading my way. I just got used to life without you but my life is changing and I’m going to have to cope with your loss in a new place and around new people. I wish you were here to tell me it will all work out and let me know that it will all be okay as long as I work hard and stay true to myself. Since you aren’t, I have to keep telling myself. Not the same, but my only option.

I’ve spent the entire week in the library trying to finish a research essay I sure could use your help on. I’m writing about how the modern day pillars of social media were born and used throughout the Protestant Reformation. I discuss Martin Luther as the first viral celebrity and you would hate some of the comparisons I’m drawing. Martin Luther and the Kardashians in one sentence, a historical offense. I like the topic but the last thing I want to be doing right now is an essay. You aren’t here to keep me on track so I’ve gotten quite creative with my various forms of procrastination. I even started a blog all about you, believe it or not. Who would have thought that over 800 people would read my published journal within the first week? Wack, I know. Too personal to share online, I know. Too late. 

In every bit of downtime my mind plays memories and thoughts of you and I accept these visions gratefully. You’re so easy to remember. It soothes me to remember you were here, now that I’m not violently crying at the recollection. I surround myself with people who are open to discussion on the dead whenever you cross my mind. Man, have I got some theories on life after death. I miss you more as I go through life and experience more things I wish I could share with you. It’s like you’re on a drawn out vacation. Time to come home now, Ike. I miss you too much. I feel your absence so deeply. I’ve come to terms with your death but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be okay with it. That doesn’t mean the hole in my heart is any smaller. That doesn’t mean that I will ever stop wishing you were here. It does mean that I understand that you weren’t meant to be here forever. My life was always meant to continue after yours and I have to keep living it. I am grateful for the time we had. I am grateful you were my brother. I’m grateful that you were here for 22 years to make me who I am and to show me what I should be like without you. 

I find myself latching onto people who feel like home. Even though I know it’ll never be home again, a chunk of these people are Texans. Olivia and I discuss you all the time. Poor her, I should be paying her for therapy. We are some of the last few with deadlines left and find solitude in each other through library breaks filled with gossip and cigarettes. Yeah, you heard me, my nicotine addiction has flourished into straight tobacco. Yes, I’m still trying to learn how to properly inhale. No, I am still not buying my own packs. Olivia and I always wish we could snapchat you, outside the library with cigarettes in hand. You would snap us back immediately with love and necessary judgement. We both miss having you to edit our papers, even though you often read them aloud to your sixth graders as examples of what not to do. We laugh knowing how you would react to us smoking and procrastinating and find peace knowing that you’re in the little rays of sunshine that keep us warm amid the Scottish breeze.

The other day, I had my landlord read my tarot cards. She mentioned that she would love to do a reading for me and urged me to let her know what questions I’d like answered. My mind immediately went to you. Despite my life being rooted in uncertainty, you’re the only question I want answered. I want to know how you are. I want to know why you died. I want to know if there was anything you wanted me to know. She said she had never done a stack focused on someone in another realm, but the cards will show what they want me to know. She did a celtic cross spread and, with chills, told me she couldn’t wait to explain it all because the cards had powerful messages to tell me. Apparently she cried as she laid them before her. 

My landlord took me through every card placement and its meaning. Rather than bore you with the details, I’ll share the synopsis she gave at the end: The connection we had ran deeper than the ocean. Our relationship made me who I am and is central to my self-identity. My relationship with you may be the strongest bond I ever have with another person. I can’t live my life in a way that losing you paralyzes me from going forward. I’m about to set off on a journey that will help me to understand your death. I’ll gain perspective. I have great adventure coming my way. I have many options and numerous roads to success about to present themselves to me. The way I understand people and perceive the world around me is my superpower. I have to let my creativity and kind nature drive me through instinct. I must be weary of my own strength, not all pain should be private. I can’t fear letting people in. Vulnerability and strength can co-exist. My life is all about moving forward. I must have faith in myself and move forward through hard work and decisions. Not making a decision is worse than making a wrong one. You will be with me always but my life is about me and not you. 

Pretty cool, right? Much more positive than I was anticipating. Although it didn’t answer the questions I put forth, I am comforted by this bit of wisdom. After all, from what I can see, the cards are right. You were the most important person in my life but you were not and are not my entire life. My value and importance aren’t diminished because you are gone. You made me who I am, I will forever try to make you proud, but I will not let your death inhibit my life or keep me from moving forward. The irony in this all makes me laugh. The further I am from the heart wrenching, broken into a million bits, waves of pain the closer I am to appreciating your life, the closer I am to gratitude, the closer I feel to you. 

I choose to celebrate you through my life. I’ll keep moving and taking life’s twists and turns as moments of growth through hardship. I’ll keep moving but I’ll never forget where I came from, the people who have been there through it all, the people who were there for a time, the places I’ve been, and you. I will never forget you. But, like my landlord told me, this life is about me. I’ve got to go live it.

The more life I live, the more I am learning that we all are a little broken. We’re all a little bruised, and we all have our own stories, burdens, and experiences. The more I live, the more I learn that it’s often those things that can make us the richest and truest forms of ourselves. It’s the sufferers who have learned to rise after intense brokenness who are the most beautiful people I have met in this life. It’s the ones who know despair and who have channeled it into strength and purpose who make this world brighter. I hope to be one of them.

16 Weeks

The pain of your absence has been heavy lately, but that is to be expected after a prolonged period of joy (hence the break in the journal weeks). I find it’s impossible to write when I’m feeling genuine happiness. I guess the most powerful literature comes from raw pain (if you can even call these emotion-driven rambles literature.) The pain has not been the all-encompassing and ubiquitous torture it has been in the past but has become a lighter load that only gets heavy enough to acknowledge every now and then. The grief monster even lets me deny him sometimes. Other times, he demands to be seen and entertained for a while. His pressure for entertainment reminds me of all the times you’d throw my phone across the room to have my undivided attention. You two really know how to press my buttons. I only entertain the monster behind closed doors when I can cry in private, as I’ll never be the person to break down and demand comfort publically. Ironically, I like the pain that comes with him. I like having the grief monster around, every now and then. He reminds me that I have you to miss. He reminds me of the good times we shared. He reminds me of the love I have for you. He reminds me that you were once here and that I need to live in your honor. I want to feel his presence because he connects me to you. 

Your final autopsy was printed last week. Of course, it came out during the biggest week of the St. Andrews social calendar. We had no class and events all day every day. I had to turn away the pain and choose to be happy each morning, as I knew you wouldn’t want any trivial information on your death to impend on my ability to enjoy some of the last moments I’ll get to cause debauchery in this Scottish town I’ll soon leave behind. The pain of this new information was put on hold because it could be, because I know it will always be there. These priceless times with my friends won’t be. Nonetheless, the grief monster has been knocking and the lull in social requirements proves a sound time to let him in. 

Your final death certificate was printed suffocation next to the cause of death. We are still not satisfied with this claim but have come to terms with the fact that you are gone and, for one reason or another, you aren’t coming back. I wish I could see the reason why but I have faith that someday I’ll understand. It probably won’t be until you can tell me yourself. That’s okay. The additional pain of heartbreak from he-who-shall-not-be-named-anymore is a not so pleasant addition to my grief. Our breakup was for the best, but I still despise him for making my pain worse in my time of utter weakness. I do appreciate the self-reflection and growth that came along with it. There is something inside me telling me that everything will be okay and that all of this hardship is improving me as a person along the way.

It’s a constant hole in my heart, missing you. That hole is never to be filled. That hole is my space for you, your new home and the place where the best aspects of me will forever be rooted. My heart is still broken but it is beating. It is beating with joy and gratefulness. It’s growing stronger as it mends itself. I’m proud to be doing this on my own. I am not all on my own. I have our family, I have your friends who have become mine, and I have my own family of friends who have all surrounded me with unwavering love. 

I recently have come to realize that grief and heartbreak are the most beautiful kinds of pain. The presence of grief and heartbreak mean that you once had love that filled their space. The deeper you hurt, the deeper you once loved. And holy shit, do I love you a lot. Fucking hell, it hurts so badly to think of how deeply I love you. You were my favorite person in the world. Now, you’re my favorite person out of it. These conditions, heartbreak and grief, destroy a person. They cloud you with confusion. They change everything you know. They break you down completely. Since they are absolutely destructive, they require growth. Like a phoenix, you have to rise from the ashes and develop a new sense of self all on your own. You must build yourself up on your own. This is essential. Filling these holes with other people is like trying to fix a leak with tape. It just puts off an issue you’ll have to face later. Heartbreak is beautiful, once you’re finally strong enough to realize. I am finally strong enough to realize. This grief will never end because my love for you is forever. Heartbreak is just a delightful side platter I didn’t order but got served anyway. I’ll pay the check and be done with it, eventually. The pain of relationship heartbreak will fade away but, for now, it at least shows me that love was once true. My grief will exist as long as my love for you does. Forever. I am okay with that. What is life without pain? A life without growth. A life without love. And that would fucking suck. 

Love is something I have been focusing on a lot lately. Not the kind of romantic love that makes your heart skip a beat or forms butterflies in your stomach but an appreciative love for people and their unique individuality. Inspired by you, I let the people I love know how much they mean to me. I tell them often, in various fashions. I send letters to our loved ones. I call whenever I can. I am a vicious phone zombie nowadays because I want to know how my loved ones are, what they’re up to, how they’re feeling and why. I gift books or flowers just to brighten someone’s day. I verbally express my appreciation to people in a way I never have before. I actively try to bring light into any situation I am in. My darkness is saved for times when I can fall apart on my own. Losing you has shown me that life could end at any moment and, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to leave behind a trail of light and love in my absence. Just like you have. The pain I have been feeling lately is always met with appreciation and a will to go on and persevere through whatever is thrown my way. Thank you for guiding me through this process. Thank you for being you and, even in death, showing me how to be me. I like the person I’m growing into in your absence. You make me so proud to look up to. I hope I make you proud to look down upon. 

13 Weeks

The past week I have felt like a new person. It’s my first week back in St. Andrews since spring break. I finally feel like I am strong enough within myself to take this life, without you, head on. Two weeks ago, I was in Hawaii with my best friend in the entire world and a group of people I believe were brought together by fate. Quit your snarking, I’m really into spiritual awareness at the moment. It helps. I entered the vacation broken. I flew home medicated by Pearl’s anti-anxiety meds because I couldn’t stand the sober pain of my shattered heart. I can, finally, clearly acknowledge how I spent the week after finding out about Nico in a vegetative state playing Mario Kart and constantly composing paragraphs of emotion that I’m thankful I didn’t ever show to anyone except my journal. The ones I did send were only a fraction as cruel. Words are powerful and not to be wasted on people I’ll soon let go. I had suddenly lost the two closest people to me just weeks apart. Brokenhearted doesn’t begin to explain the pain I was experiencing at the peak of it all. Mom put it best when she questioned “God Cams, how much pain can one heart take?” A lot, I now know. But I grew while I was away on spring break. I became stronger and more independent in those two weeks I was out of, sometimes toxic, St. Andrews. I am finally ready to embrace this place post losing you. 

My newfound confidence and personal strength have finally taken off and this week and I have been out of my comfort zone contently. I submitted some of my poems to a school club and they were selected for their poetry night. I stood in front of a crowded room and read the words I’d written for you, my new favorite muse:

This past December my older brother, my rock and best friend, unexpectedly passed away. I wrote this poem one afternoon when I realized that the death of a loved one doesn’t occur once. Derailed by slivers of recollection, they die in pieces, breaking away a little bit more each time you realize the little quirks or the different roles they played in your life are now gone too.

No more you 

No more mid day phone calls

No more funny texts

No more inspiring mentorship

No more opinions on what happens next

No more editing my papers

No more judgment on my clothes

No more trivia battles

No more scrapbooks to compose

No more snaggle tooth smile

No more booming laugh in my ears

No more favorite face in a crowd

No more resting place for my fears

No more philosophical conversations

No more letters, comics, or jokes

No more hugs and no more high fives

No more burgers for you to poke

No more freshly shaved head to touch

No more matching hands to admire

No more early morning fitness

No more dreams for you to aspire

No more funny t-shirts

No more crazy socks

No more see you tomorrows

No more “I love you, you’re my rock”

No more of my advocate

In your place, there’s now a hole

No more of all of this,

Because no more brother to fill the role.

It hurt to read these words aloud. It was terrifying to be so vulnerable in front of a crowd filled with familiar strangers and the family I’ve chosen overseas but I knew you would have been proud to see me take part. I read another poem, the one about secrets spreading like wildfire in a small town, and ended on a much more lighthearted note than I began with. People afterwards came up to praise me for my ability to make them cry and laugh in one evening. I could feel my heart being topped off with love. I’ve finally patched up most of the holes that kept letting love spill out. The week went on with events and I was finally strong enough to join in without hesitation. I was a guest on Victoria’s radio show, discussing heartbreak and poetry amid other fun conversations. You would have loved it. I wish you could have tuned in. I attended the school hockey game with my friends and a group of people I’ve recently gotten to know. We had so much fun. We drank, we laughed, and we cheered on our team with the enthusiasm of an American crowd. I found joy knowing my strength and confidence were growing. I loved taking part in the kind of wholesome fun I know you would appreciate. 

The weekend came and I flew down to London to stay with Hannah. Traveling hungover constantly proves torture. My disheveled state resulted in me, idiotically, forgetting my wallet in Heathrow. Taking your advice from when my car battery died a couple months ago, I remained calm. You would have been proud after you made fun of my idiocy. “Well, what can I do now?” I thought as I laughed at myself for being such a fool. A disheveled mess, I arrived to the Gruy’s and asked them to help me pay for my cab. Hannah laughed and related to my hangover while looking fabulous and maternal with her precious baby girl on her hip. I now understand why you had chosen the Gruy’s as your second family. They are amazing people. I could write a book on their value to humanity. Kind, interesting, accepting, and relentlessly loving. Hannah and her family welcomed me into their beautiful home with open arms and made me feel like I mattered to them, even though we barely knew each other. I hope this relationship grows in the future. Thank you for bringing these people into my life. 

Hannah and I sipped prosecco the night I arrived, discussed life since we’d seen each other after your service, then left to go see Conner play his show in the East End. It was refreshing and awe-inspiring standing in the crowd watching him perform like a real celebrity. The last time I’d seen him play was after your service when he sang “In Your Life” to a melancholy audience. Less distraught this time around, he looked great. His exterior rugged, but his shy-boy persona proved endearing and charming. The ladies went wild. You would have loved it. He brought the guitar we had given him, the one that used to belong to you, and he gave me a shout out before playing it for the first time in front of an audience. I swallowed back tears while enjoying the music and wishing you were swaying next to us. 

I know I keep telling you, but I can really feel myself growing through the pain I’ve recently endured. I can tell I am different. I like the person I am becoming. I’ve felt immense pain in the last few weeks but these dark times have made me all the more grateful for the good. Losing Nico cleared space in my heart for new beautiful relationships to grow. Nico’s end in my story has brought new people into my life and reinforced those who were there all along, a lot like losing you. Finality of death is a lot like the finality of a broken relationship. Cemented in the past, that person is gone from your life and you have to grow to fill the holes they leave behind. I can no longer communicate with either of you the way I used to and I have had to find other things to occupy my heart and mind.

Despite all the absolute bullshit the universe has thrown my way, I am no longer hiding from the world but am ready to move forward. I am ready to go out and socialize. I am ready to be outside my comfort zone. I am ready to talk about you to anyone who will listen. Screw whoever gets uncomfortable when I bring you up. I like to discuss you because you were amazing. You were fascinating. You were loved by all those who were lucky enough to know you. I am proud you were mine. Yeah you died, but you lived life to the fullest while you were around. It’s worth discussing. I like to talk about you because you are always on my mind. I shouldn’t keep hiding what I’m feeling, vulnerability and strength can and should coexist. People need to be given a chance to see the inner workings of your mind. Most times, they respect you for it. The ones who matter anyway. You are my reason to keep going. My newfound strength is due in large part to the fact that I am positive that you are always with me. You may not be with me physically, and you may not even be with me spiritually anymore, but you are always inside of me. Your heart and wit and humor live on inside of me and all those you loved. We have to keep pushing forward for you, if nothing else. I am pushing through the hard times in search of the good for you, if no one else. I am having fun lately. I am enjoying life again. I’m growing, brother. I wish you were here to see it. I wish you were here to tell me to get back to work every once in a while. 

12 Weeks

I landed to DFW early on a Sunday afternoon a new person with a healthy mindset and a fresh tan. Dad and Carter came to pick me up. They were late because Carter made things difficult in one way or another. Classic! I wish you were still here to give her shit. She doesn’t take it the same way from me. I loved seeing the two of them walk through the airport doors. It was one of those small yet meaningful moments when you realize how loved and lucky you are to have people to do stuff like that for you. I’m lucky to have them. We were lucky to have you.

We went straight to you from the airport. Your gravestone finally came in. It couldn’t look better. Dad and I tried not to cry but eventually succumbed to the pain with a sense of secrecy. Sunglass on faces, hands in pockets. We are both still shaken to our core in a similar way. United in grief, I could see the anguish flow through his body just as it pulsed through mine. Carter tried her best to be optimistic. She filled the air with sentimental yet meaningless conversation while I pretended not to cry, as I looked anywhere but at the people around me. After half an hour, we pulled ourselves together and headed to Mi Cocina to eat nachos and queso. We wouldn’t have had any leftovers if you had been there too. 

After spending time with the sisters I got to choose at Abby’s, I went to yours again at sunset. This time was quieter, better for reflection, and easier for me to actually communicate with you. So anyone nearby wouldn’t know I’m an absolute psychopath who thinks you can hear me whenever I speak outloud, I spoke these words to you a bit under my breath: “I realize you can see God in the Texas sunsets. I bet the views are even better from the other side. Don’t judge me, I blame my southern Christian upbringing for these statements. I have a perfect view of the sun now as I sit at your grave. Your stone is done so well. It really couldn’t be more perfect. Scott and Griff were here yesterday. They sat above you and you drank together. I pictured you in heaven matching them shot for shot, audibly laughing while sitting in a recliner made of clouds. I love knowing your stone is always surrounded with a love that will never die, even though you have. I feel a new positive energy around me but a looming sadness still consumes me from time to time. The grief monster is my new favorite villain, the perfect antagonist. He’s so easy to hate but I like having him around. He sure knows how to keep things interesting, constantly changing the mood of any scene. I’m watching Sunday turn into Monday. I wish this wasn’t where I have to come to visit you. How can a graveyard be the place where I go to see my favorite person? I guess it’s nice I always know where to find you. I will never stop wishing you were here. It’s dark and I can no longer see through my tears. I’m going home, but I’ll be back. I love you, Ikey. Rest easy, Brother. I’ll see you soon.” I kissed my hand and touched your name on the new stone before heading to your car to cry along with The Beatles as I drove home. “Yesterday” always hits our heartstrings. 

At 8 am the next morning, I was in the hospital for a laparoscopic surgery. Mom and Dad were both with me. We laughed about how the waiting room has bible verses in a fishbowl. Dad and I made fun of Mom for wearing diamonds and Prada stilettos just to sit around in a hospital. Dad was glad she didn’t hear my comment about the Devil wearing Prada once my jokes started getting malicious. Right before I was directed to watch an informative video on my upcoming procedure, Dad received a call. He left the room with a weight on his shoulders I could visibly see. The grief monster was demanding his attention, I knew it. It was like he winked at me on his way out as he jumped on Dad’s back. I knew the call was about your cause of death. We’ve been waiting for months and constantly refer back to the question of how whenever we speak. Dad re-entered the room with a sorrowful look on his face. The grief monster smirked over his shoulder. “They declared he choked,” Dad muttered softly as he tried not to break our hearts, and his, any more. An unsuccessful attempt. I could physically feel more pieces of my heart cracking inside my body. Who knew there was so much breaking one muscle could bear. The words hit me in the stomach like you used to when I wasn’t giving you enough attention. I was instantly in tears. I, uncharacteristically, didn’t care that I was in public. I was a full force wave of emotion walking from one end of the hospital to the next. Beware Medical City, there’s a Texas hurricane occurring indoors. The clacking of Mom’s heels were the alarms warning the people around me to take cover. She followed slowly behind, annoying me with her audible wallows. Dad left us to do whatever it was he said he had to do. I knew he was really going to break down in solitude. As we entered the doctor’s office, I became bitter. I was still crying tears of sorrow but I was undeniably angry.  I wanted to tell you to chew your fucking food. I wanted to tell you, in person, that it’s your own fault you died. I wanted to blame you, but you are no longer here to justify my anger and turn it back around at me. I had to do this on my own. 

The video of my surgery began to play on the screen. It’s a video from the 70’s, crazy hair and outfits and all, that is apparently required before the procedure. The video started showing the diagrams of what was about to occur inside of me. I felt nauseous. I felt uneasy, angry, and sick to my stomach. Mom was next to me, more aware of my emotions than her own, and ran to tell the doctor that I was not okay. I would not be watching the rest of the video. Instead, Dr. Kinney gave me two xanax and a muscle relaxer. The tears slowly stopped and the grief monster backed out of the room as the medication seeped through my bloodstream.

The next few days after my surgery, I was on bed rest. Dad had the doctors prescribe me the strongest pain meds they could so I would actually stay in bed. It was kind of nice, honestly. I watched 3 entire seasons of Game of Thrones in a matter of days. I’m obsessed now. I wish we could discuss it. Dad came by every few hours to bring me food. Mom kept me up to speed on my medication. I didn’t leave the house until Wednesday and that was only to get a facial and a haircut. Friday afternoon, Dad called a family meeting. We’ve been having these a lot lately, since you’ve been gone. It’s strange. We sit in the front room of Mom’s house, the very room I learned of your death, and discuss the important matters at hand. We act like a family that wasn’t marked by addiction and divorce. Nothing of the past matters anymore. We still have each other. That’s all that matters. These meetings always revolve around you. Even in death, you’re bringing us together. Mom, sitting in her red cashmere robe, just woken up from a midday nap, slurred, “It just doesn’t make any sense” when we began to talk about you, apparently, suffocating. We all nodded in agreement. It doesn’t make sense. How can someone who had eaten an hour before death die of choking on food? We all took turns filling the silence anyway we could. Carter and I tried to turn the situation into humor. We laughed as we realized that if we wanted to start a charity in your honor we would call it the ‘Chew Your Damn Food’ Organization. Sponsored by A1 Steak Sauce! Mom rolled her eyes as she complained “can you two shut up?’ No mam, we can’t. We are your daughters. 

Your phone and wallet have finally been released back to us. Dad handed over your possessions reluctantly. Your black leather wallet, like the rest of your life, was pristinely organized. Each item had a purpose. The numerous rewards cards, debit and credit cards, your multiple business cards all await your return in the same fashion you left them in. We’ll never take it apart without putting it back together just as you had it. Thanks for the $20. I used it to buy nachos and a margarita. Carter and I are thrilled about possessing your phone. Were you rolling your eyes at us getting excited to hack into it? Real rocket science to have your birthday as the password. 

Carter and I had to leave the family meeting to meet Scott and Griff at Mi Cocina. We drove your car and brought the cell phone along with us, desperately hoping to feel closer to you. I know you were watching and willing me not to read your texts, especially when driving. Carter acted as soon as the thought of your annoyance crossed my mind. I was mid scroll through a stop light on Mockingbird when she snatched the device from my grasp. When we parked in Highland Park Village, I decided that since we now have your phone we have the perfect opportunity to mess with people. My inner prankster, modeled after yours, was thrilled. I liked every Instagram you’d been tagged in, from your account, because that’s what you would have done. All those sorrowful remembrance posts got an extra like from Ikeandcrews. A joke in poor taste but, hey, if we’re not laughing about it we’re crying. People should get used to the dark humor or learn to stay away. I messaged your group text with your best friends. Of course, they have yet to take you out of it. I typed out, “hey guys. Just woke up! What’s new?” Carter wasn’t sure if I should press send. I did it anyway. I laughed hysterically at myself while she rolled her eyes before laughing with me. She sent the next text, “I’ve had the craziest dreams lately.” After a couple minutes, they all realized it was us and began to joke back. “Hey bro, we miss you. What’s the dating scene like up there?”

The week has quickly come to an end and it’s now Saturday and I must, once again, leave the comfort zone of Dallas and head back overseas. I wish I didn’t have to go. I wish I could stay here with Dad, Carter, Mom, our friends, and you. I hate being another person to leave these people I love so much, even if it’s just for a matter of months. It is still so foreign to me that when I want to visit you I must go to your gravesite. You were always the first person I wanted to see when I arrived to town. Now, I always know where to find you. No difficulty with logistics there. The conversation sure is a lot less lively, though. 

Dad and I discuss visiting you as if we weren’t going to look at your name on a plate in the grass. Our schedule for my last day seems so pure. Finish packing, fill a prescription, have a late lunch, go see Ike. I’m standing over your grave now. I am wearing your Rubik’s cube socks. You’re right Coldplay, every teardrop is a waterfall. You would laugh and tell me how crazy my shoes are if you were here. Are you saying this down to me now? I tell myself you are. I feel you and acknowledge you as sun beams down on me and lets me know you’re here too. Miranda Lambert was right when she sang “it really sinks in, you know, when you see it in stone.” You’re dead. I’m not over it. I’ll never be over it. All I hear in my head now is your laugh and the grim “Over You” chorus. “You went away. How dare you. I miss you.“ I pray to God, out loud, before I leave. “Dear God, Please let Ikey be okay. Please let him be healthy and happy wherever he is. Please let him be with you. Please let him still be him, unchristian flaws and all. Let him know I love him. Let him know we all love him. Tell him. Now.” I repeat this twice before kissing my hand, touching the “brother” on your tombstone, and walking to join dad sitting on a bench nearby.  It’s time for me to go now. I love you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. 

Dad goes back one more time. I fix the flowers on the stones nearby. Most of your neighbors don’t have people like Carter and Dad who come almost everyday to keep your gravesite clean. Dad even has a brush and rag in his trunk that he takes to his daily visits to clean off your stone. He has the lawn service schedule memorized and knows when it’ll need to be cleaned off. VIP service! Only the best for the best. Dad is crying when I return. Openly, which you know he rarely does. I hug his back. He mutters “I miss him so much,” as his back begins to shake and the sadness overcomes every muscle on his face. I can’t help but fall apart whenever he does. He takes a deep breath before shaking my shoulder and declaring, “you’ve got a flight to catch.“ We walk towards the car together. He stops one more time. He looks back longingly. “He looks great.” I nod in agreement and lean my head onto his coat. We walk to the car, arms wrapped around each other, and head for DFW. I scribble these final thoughts down on my phone notes before putting on a Kingston Trio album for the drive. I miss being able to visit you already. I know you were there with us today. I love you stronger than the sunbeams you were sending our way.

11 Weeks

Despite feeling like I was in a timeless void, spring break arrived just in time. It took every bit of strength within myself to get my work done, get packed, and get home to Dallas. I had to hand an essay in late and even messaged my tutor the brutal details of my emotional state to incite some sympathy so he’d grant me an extension. I hate this never-ending schedule we all live on. Time refuses to stop. I remember how you came all the way to see me last year for your spring break from school. Perks of being a teacher. We had an absolute blast. It was your first time coming to visit without Carter and we decided to go to Glasgow and conquer the city. All we did was walk around, explore, eat, and laugh. Constant, deep belly, good for the soul, laughter. The kind of laughter that was perpetual whenever we were together. Who knew the Pentagon was in Glasgow! And Mecca! The Grande Ole Opry too. I haven’t decided if the memories of our trip that Facebook and Snapchat keep showing me are making me a happy kind of sad or a sad kind of happy. I’m grateful for the reminders of happier times, nonetheless. 

Mom thought that I should spend the entire spring break this year at home. She urged me to cancel my upcoming vacation. She thought my ongoing mental and physical health problems could be solved by her personal favorite method: laying in bed and pretending the day isn’t occurring outside. She caused a scene and tried to convince Dad that I needed to rest and take it easy. Like most things, she was wrong. Thank God I went to Hawaii. The week I spent there changed me for the better. Some Eat, Pray, Love shit for you. As soon as Georgia and I got to DFW airport we started laughing. We laughed the entire trip onward. We only stopped laughing when we needed to take a drink, rip the juul, or go to sleep. I love her for the constant light and vulgarity she brings into my life. I tell her everyday, now. I marveled at the splendor of nature in Hawaii and felt gratitude for the ability to be in such a beautiful place and experience it for all its wonders. Each day was met with adventure. We woke up at the crack of dawn without an alarm. We hiked. We swam in waterfalls. We learned how to surf with new friends. We road tripped to beautiful destinations like those seen in Jurassic Park. We took a helicopter and a boat ride. We (I) cliff jumped. We swam with sea turtles. I loved every bit of clarity I was given simply by being taken out of the St. Andrews bubble. 

I saw myself, in the face of strangers who became friends, as an individual. I saw myself as a person who didn’t need to be someone’s younger sister or girlfriend to feel safe and confident. I could do that on my own, titles not included. With the love and appreciation of those I was with, my closest friends, our family, and the strength within myself, I cleaned out my heart and began to take out everything that didn’t matter. I gathered all the regret, hatred, and self-deprecation I could carry in one go. Now, I have more space for love and optimism. On my own, I now know I’m whole. I still miss you in everything I do. In every adventure, I still wish you were along for the ride or at least able to be Snapchatted within an instant. I wish I could tell you all of my stories from the trip in person. You would laugh with me, at me, and remind me that I’m not invincible but I live an exciting life. The eternal longing for your presence will always be there but it’s getting easier to be grateful that you were there for any time at all. Who would I be without those 22 years together? A lot less funny, that’s for sure.

I only cried once in Hawaii when I had too much to drink and thought you were the night’s sky trying to communicate with me. I mean, the stars don’t just blink like that normally. I could have sworn I saw the moon wink. Was it really you or was it the tequila talking? Unfortunately, I assume the latter. I texted Carter and told her “there’s a bright star blinking at me and I think it’s Ike. The moon is staring me in the eyes telling me it is. I keep praying to God, hoping he’s okay.  I hope he’s still alive and happy somewhere, even if it’s not with us. I hope he’s still Ike somewhere.” Standing under the super moon, I wrote your name in the sand with my toes and the waves washed it away as they cleaned my feet. Poetic, right?