My Brother Died

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My name is Andrew.

My name is Andrew. And my brother died.

He was my baby brother.  His name was Sean.  The kid I used to tease. The kid I used to fight with.  He was the kid I smoked my first cigarette with, the kid I used to get in trouble with. When I ditched school, when I got caught shoplifting, when I broke the church window, Sean was there. When I got in my first wreck, Sean was the person to help me piece the car back together.  When I got divorced, Sean was there to piece ME back together.  

He died in a lonely little truck stop in the middle of Iowa.  He was driving big rigs  for a living.  He parked his truck, ready to sleep for the night, before heading out on the road in the morning.  Only that truck never moved again.  We're not sure how he died exactly.  Was it a heart attack?  A brain aneurism?  Sean wasn't always on the up and up.  Did he overdose?  We don't know.  But I'm scared for him.  Did he know he was dying?  Did he reach for the phone, or try desperately to climb out of the cab and go for help?  We don't know.  We don't know.  Did he panic?  Knowing that his life was ending?  I wonder if he realized that what he saw was the last thing he was ever going to see?  Did he cry out for our mother before the blackness overtook him? I only know that he died alone.  I'm scared for him.  We don't know, we don't know.

My brother had a wife. My brother had four young boys.  My brother loved his wife. My brother loved his four young boys.  What do you say to them?  I can't take their pain away.  I can't hug their pain away.  I can't buy their pain away.  

"Gee kid, sorry your daddy is dead. Here's a McDonald's gift certificate. Spend it carefully, because once it runs out, that's it.  Your daddy ain't gonna get you another one."

And his youngest child, barely four years old, too young to comprehend.  Time and again, when the phone would ring, he would get excited. 

"Is it daddy?" the child would ask. 

How do you respond to that?  

"No, it's not your daddy.  Your daddy is gone. And he will never call you, and he will never come home again. If you would like to visit him, he's buried in the county cemetery, only a ten minute ride from here.  We buried him in that baby blue coffin you picked out for him. On Christmas eve.  When you should have been worried about Santa coming, but instead you were helping plan  your daddy's funeral. I'm sure he would have appreciated that.  Oh, and that telescope he bought you for Christmas?  The one you two were planning on using to look at the coming comet in January?  Yeah, looks like you're on your own with that one.  Sorry kid. Here's a McDonald's gift certificate. Have a good life."

And people keep telling me useless information like:

"It's not your fault."

"There was no way you could have known."

"You shouldn't feel guilty."

"Millions of people die every day.  It was just his time."

Bullshit. I know millions of people die every day. But this one, this one was mine.  This was my people. Not some random stranger.  I am not some useless person who floats through life. I am Andrew. More is expected of me. I have the capability and responsibility to look out for the ones I love.  

Only I didn't.

He wanted me to come with him. To work beside him.  I had the opportunity to be there for him and take care of him.  I had the opportunity.  I could have been there when he keeled over and passed out. If I had been there I could have called someone, gotten the help he needed.  But I wasn't there. So he died. He died and then slowly froze in the cold Iowa winter.  I had the opportunity to be my brother's keeper.

Only I didn't.

And I stare at my phone every day.  There is one missed call.  One missed call from my brother. Just days before he died.  I meant to call him back. I meant to tell him I loved him. Only I never did. I thought there was time.  I told myself I would do it when I had time, when I wasn't so rushed. I told myself I would do it on my day off. I never got that chance. I hope he knew that I loved him.  I hope he knew that I was proud of him.  

Why do I get to live?  Really I have nothing. I have no wife. I have no children. All I do is work my boring dead end job every day and then come home to my empty apartment. If I died, nobody would miss me.  Even my work could find a replacement in a couple of days. I am nothing. But I get to live. I get to live and others get to die.  I would gladly trade that in just so when the phone rang, that little kid would be able to talk to his daddy. I would gladly trade that in so that kid wouldn't have to grow up alone.  

Survivors guilt they call it.  Regret. Pain. They say to let it go.  And maybe I am.  I can't change anything now.  I shouldn't feel guilty for laughing. I shouldn't feel guilty for feeling joy. But, besides the memories, this is all I have left of my baby brother. This is MY guilt. This is MY regret. How dare anybody try to take it away! It's all I have left. So no, I think I am going to hold onto it for just awhile longer.  

So what do I do?  I try to hug the pain away. I try to buy the pain away.

"Here kid, here's another McDonald's gift certificate. I'll buy you another on payday.  I really do hope you figure out that telescope."

My name is Andrew.

My name is Andrew and my brother died.

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