4. Atonement

The following post contains language and imagery that refers to suicide. Please take care in reading. If you need support at any time, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

I am not sure if the voice I hear in my head belongs to my brother or just my memory of him. I hear it most profoundly in my sleep, even just a word or two. Watch your step, he gently warned the other night, right behind me as I hiked up a steep hill. I turned back to look at him as I stumbled. He was gone. 

The loop that plays through my head is not the moment just before he took his life. It is the moment just after. I do not conjure up the opportunity to change his mind. I do not imagine trying to stop him. Neither options occur to me until suggested. Rather, my mind insists on this: I will rush to where he lies. I will slide my arm under his neck, lean over his chest, and pull him close to me. I will hold him as tightly as I can. I will push away the terror that comes at seeing his broken body, and I will mind only that I am there with him, that he is not alone, that he feels the wellspring of love my heart holds for him. I will pour it over him again and again in those final moments. I will speak to him calmly. I will fill the room with my voice and I will fill it with my love. I will banish the anguish that surrounds him. I will comfort him as I did when he was small, when it first crept in, when our childhood began to crumble and little made sense in the world. 

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2. The Only Woman Alive

April 26, 2020

Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here came on the radio the other day. It opens with a long and sparse guitar intro, in which a cough can be heard across one of the tracks. The sound is startling, as though someone unexpected was suddenly discovered to be in the room. More than once I’ve looked over my shoulder when hearing it. It’s what I love about the song, a reminder that this moment has been and will continue to be shared across distance and time.

When I heard that transcendent cough this week, it articulated a feeling I had barely been aware of, though I had been experiencing it almost relentlessly the past three months. It began ninety days ago, the day my brother took his life. There it is. In writing. That tufted weight that tugs at the edges of my brain. It is the presence that accompanies me when I wake in the night, the heaviness that pulls at my eyelids when I open them in the morning, the static that buzzes beneath every conversation. I don’t have to be thinking about it to feel it. But every now and then, a cough sounds and I am reminded. And I am startled by the reality of it all over again. 

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1. The Tether

The tether. That thing that binds us to our families of origin, not by any desire of our own, but through the mere act of existence. We spend our lives exploring the roots of this connection, be it to an unending wellspring of love or the heavy, unshakeable burden of pain. 

In its healthiest form, the tether is meant to eternally connect us to a place of love and acceptance. It ties us to the hearts of those who know our deepest flaws and greatest mistakes and yet love us anyway. It is the place we can always return to and the greatest security life can offer us. The very existence of an umbilical cord, that first biological connection in utero, suggests the importance of this tie between humans. 

A broken tether leaves us in freefall. It exposes us to the greatest anxiety a human can know- the potential of being detached and alone in the world. To be deemed unloveable by the humans we need most to love us, or the person who committed to do so until death do part, shifts something in our interior life that we can never fully regain. It is antithetical to the existence of humans, the deepest pain one can experience. And yet, almost all of us will experience it at some point in our lives. 

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