The Depressing One

It’s part of the rites of passage into adulthood that you’ll have to deal with personal tragedy.

You can’t escape that. Those who cope well come out stronger, more well-rounded; those who can’t will deteriorate until they themselves are the tragedy. When tragedy presents itself, you straddle the line between survival and self-destruction until you either fall from the cliff or grasp the guardrail. I had never been one of those people who believed in intuition. At the same time, I can’t explain to you why I decided not to silence my phone on that particular night. Maybe because the last thing I saw before returning to my apartment to fall asleep that night was my neighbor, Kyle. Kyle was in the lobby of our off campus apartments, muttering about how he couldn’t get his room key to open his mailbox. I knew two things about Kyle; he bore a striking resemblance to my brother, and he was a guy who had no patience for floor parties that ran past 11pm. Everyone had known Kyle to write little passive-aggressive notes and tape them to tenant’s doors; “Quit knocking on the walls, please and thank you.” “If you want to hear loud music with a group of drunks, I’d encourage you to go to a nightclub.” Everyone always tore these notes off their doors the next morning, resolving to pound at the walls and turn the dial to 11 the next time they threw a party. It became a pastime of tenants in our building to wander the halls, drunk at midnight on a Tuesday, seek his door out and pound on it until they ran away laughing. Next day, there would be a note; “Please quit pounding on my door at midnight. I have things in the morning.” And the cycle continued. Kyle glanced at me from his hunched position in front of the mailbox, blank as a ream of fresh printer paper, and then immediately turned his attention back to his keyhole labyrinth. I thought nothing of it, made my way toward the stairs and to my room on the third floor. I dressed for bed, shut the light off, maintained my routine, but for whatever reason I just left my phone on the nightstand. I even thought about shutting it off, but I decided not to. It’s well documented that receiving a call at 5 in the morning means either somebody is dead or in jail. I had assumed it would be jail when I rolled over and answered. I wasn’t so lucky. My brother was 23 years old, smart as hell, with a wry smile and a gentle disposition. If anybody deserved the best life would begrudgedly hand over, it was him. He was one of those kinds of people who were always quick with a joke whenever you had a bad day, who inherently knew when you needed comfort and when you just needed to be left alone for a while. In short, he was the perfect candidate for dying too young. Immediately his face flashed before me; a big, toothy grin and eyes that shone with an abundance of life. How does somebody like him just die? You always hear stories about people who are full of life and then are struck by a drunk driver or mugged by a fidgety bandit with an unpredictable trigger finger, but it’s another thing to experience it first-hand. It really is pure disbelief. Life doesn’t work that way. If you’re healthy, you don’t suddenly die. You grow old and deteriorate until you’re supposed to die. He still seemed real to me, even as Mom punctuated her news with a wail and the

sound of her slumping into a dining room chair that saved her from falling to the floor. She probably didn’t even know there was a chair. Life has a macabre way of granting you these little consolations. I don’t remember walking to my friend’s apartment and hammering at the door. I remember falling into her arms and crying. Grasping at the refrigerator door and choking the neck of the first bottle I could find. It was whisky. It would have seemed putrid at any other time. But with the mixture of hot mucus draining down my throat and the dehydration that accompanies painful, wrenching crying, it tasted like nothing at all. I cried a lot over the few days. Alone, between bottles of whatever I could demand through threats and pleas for pity; “My brother’s fucking dead! You get that?! If I want to drink, that’s what the fuck I’m going to do! Now give me something before I beat the shit out of you right now!” These threats couldn’t have seemed like they carried much weight; they were always the point where my voice would crack and I’d lay against the wall crying until I convulsed. But these threats managed to get me what I wanted. Everyone tried to pin stipulations onto it; “Only if you stay and talk to me for a while. You need to talk.” But their gentle encouragement was easy to ignore when all of my emotions were operating at their extremes, so I would grab the bottle and scream “Just leave me alone!” before slamming the door behind me with all the strength I could afford. Then I would find my bed, drink, cry, throw any empties against the wall. I didn’t care about the security deposit. Money means nothing, it’s just numbers. I’m dealing with mortality here. My mom came down to bring me to the funeral. Everyone in my family knew by this time that I was in hysterics, leaning over the railing, lusting after the abyss, ready to jump whenever I damn well pleased. I was in no condition to drive. And anyway, at this point I don’t believe I even had the strength to drive. My body had lain motionless in bed for days, and at this point it took the strength of Altas just to walk to the bathroom. I didn’t look at my Mom when I opened the door, but by the way her voice choked I knew she couldn’t believe what I had done to myself. I hadn’t showered since she gave me the news. I hadn’t eaten. I looked like, for lack of a better word, a corpse. Pale, waxy, unable to stay on my feet without the aid of the doorknob. Once I had gotten dressed minutes later, the amount of time I spent on my feet changing into my all black ensemble granted me the ability to walk, albeit with the grace of a young Forrest Gump. I never lift my eyes off the floor. I muttered to Mom that I wanted to go. She obliged quietly. I still hadn’t once glanced up by the time we had exited the elevator. Even if I had wanted to, all the grief and tension that was confined into our little tomb probably would have weighed too heavy on my neck for me to succeed. When the doors opened, I felt a blast of cold air. Originally, that’s why I thought Mom gasped. But she stood frozen in the elevator, as if she was paralyzed. That’s when I finally looked up. Kyle was at his mailbox again. His body was turned toward them, but he was looking over his shoulder, directly at Mom. His eyes were wide with horror, like he couldn’t believe how inconsiderate he had been. To be standing in the middle of the lobby right as we had been leaving. I could tell immediately that he had somehow been made aware of his resemblance to my dead brother.

It was with mute terror that I watched as my mom’s feet began to shuffle toward him. I was too weak to grab at her, and I could tell I wouldn’t be able to call to her. She was walking in a trance, her mind had gone blank with grief and disbelief. I doubt Mom even realized she was walking, just that she was getting closer to Kyle. Kyle was still staring with eyes wide open. He hadn’t moved a muscle since I started looking at him. I managed to walk out of the elevator and lean against the adjacent vending machine, watching Mom and being powerless to stop her. It was the same helplessness that got me into this mess. She drew within 10 feet of him, keeping the same monotonous shambling you see in early George Romero movies. Suddenly, Kyle turned his body toward Mom. I wanted to yell “Stop!” But I couldn’t find the words. Instead, I just groaned weakly. Mom kept walking. Kyle was facing her directly. Mom began to reach out toward him. I finally found the strength to yelp, “No!” And then Kyle outstretched his arms. Mom fell into his embrace and started crying without restraint into his shoulder. Kyle turned his gaze toward the part in her hair, gently cupping to back of her head while his other hand wrapped tightly around her torso, and he started to whisper, “I’m sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry.” Mom cried louder. Kyle tightened his embrace in turn. He started consoling her the same way Mom would console my brother and me whenever we scraped our knees as children. “Shh. Shh. It’ll be alright. Shhh.” And that’s when I walked. No, I strolled. I strolled right over to the both of them and gently grasped Mom by the arm to turn her toward me. She complied, and for the first time I looked her directly in the eyes. “C’mon, Mom, we have to go. I’ll drive.” Mom held onto my arm as I opened the door and we stepped outside. As we started to walk down the stairs, I placed my free hand on the guardrail.

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