I think of my eldest brother, Eric, more now that he is dead than I did when I was alive. I used to feel guilty about that. I used to make excuses and I used to want to tell him why I had no idea that he was so close to death.
I would tell him this:
The summer before you died, I found out that my wife* had been having a relationship with one of my best friends for six months. I was completely unaware of this until a certain moment at which I just knew. I then went on to confirm this intuition by breaking my own ethical code. I opened my wife’s email account and read the correspondence detailing their passionate sex life as well as the ways in which they kept their relationship a secret from me. I believe the metaphor that is used in these situations is something along the lines of going into a tailspin. My tailspin started with a bottle of bourbon and a pack of cigarettes. I still remember the stores in which I bought these items. My binge lasted about two months. I house-sat for friends-of-friends and threw a lot of parties. I hooked up with a woman who went on to become the biggest three-year mistake I ever made. She used you as leverage as a matter of fact. But more on that in a minute. Two things brought me out of the tailspin. First, there was 9/11. Second, there was 9/13, which was the day my boss told me to get it together or I would lose my job. By the time I snapped out of it, you had been hospitalized and I had no idea it would be for the last time. I am sorry I was not there for you.
Eric died fourteen years ago, on November 7, 2001. I probably think of him every day, or at least, on most days. It was never like that when he was alive. We were not close in any conventional sense of that word. But I felt towards him the same thing I feel for my living brothers: loyalty. I do not know if he felt that way towards me; that is one of the things that make me sad about not having had the opportunity to try to develop a relationship with him in what the developmental psychologists would call “middle adulthood.” The grammar and word choices in that last sentences bespeak the distance I felt from him and from all my biological family. I wonder about that a lot: the distance, that is.
I do not wonder if Eric would be alive now if today’s technological and pharmaceutical advancements had been available 14 years ago; I know it. Yesterday, on the anniversary of his death, I was considering—and not for the first time—whether people who live through eras of great technological change get angry or sad when they realize that if their loved ones had survived just a bit longer, they would have survived, period. I thought of all the people who died in the years before penicillin became available, for example. I get angry and sad in equal measures.
*Melissa and I were married by a Methodist minister outside of the auspices of both church and state. At that time, legal matrimony between two womenin the state of New York–or anywhere in the United States, I think–was not an option available to us.