The Ones You Don’t

I read a quote recently. It said that a book is a suicide postponed. The person who shared it hadn’t attributed the original author, and I didn’t bother googling it because I didn’t want to remember my brother that way. Because for him, it was the other way around. Because some neat little quote can’t contain all the permutations of mental illness. Because he’s not here anymore, but his half-completed manuscript still is.

I found it on a flash drive in his computer while we were cleaning out his stuff. I’m not a writer, but it didn’t take long to figure out his system. D2, D3, and so on for completed manuscripts. Tracked changes peppering dashes of red. This last one was a D1, and there were no changes. It just abruptly ended at page 150. He didn’t leave any notes, no explanation texts. What happened happened, and he went away. That’s it.

I couldn’t read those pages for months. Past putting him in the ground, past splitting up his belongings like a mis-packed school lunch on a field trip, because none of us wanted his things. We wanted him.

I kept the flash drive. Put it in a lockbox and forgot about it for a few months until one day I came to it fresh, cleaning out my stuff. Ever since his death, I needed my space to be empty and clean. Scrubbed and sterile.

I pull out an old guitar, one of the few things I made a rule to not purge, and I fill the space with sounds instead of things. Our childhood home was filled with mountain ranges of garbage, unwashed clothes, and rotting discards. Our dog would fish out these things, paw at them, and that would give us an excuse to throw stuff out, clean up a little until mom would yell at us to stop again.

So I play something that’s a little progressive. Hard to follow. Hard to play. It’s been a while, so the calluses aren’t there. I play till it hurts, and then I realize what I’m doing. I want to break this thing. I want to break everything that I still own.

I put the flash drive in my computer. It’s past three in the morning when my body starts reading. Whoever’s going over these words then relays them to me as I hover somewhere near the ceiling. And there’s seeing the way he looked in that box they’d put him in at the wake, then putting that away and having some of his story instead, sips of it, then gulps as the sun comes back up and I can’t sleep and this is the last thing he’s left, this is it, there’ll be no more of him beyond what I’m now reading.

I go out into a night that’s like pouring microwaved water onto yourself. I pull a pack of cigarettes out of my pocket. I don’t smoke, but tonight I do, one after the other, until my fingers stink of chemicals and smoke and I feel I might leave what’s in my stomach on the roadway. There’s a wind coming in low, tunneling in past three flats and other vacancies. I go back in and read, come back out and smoke.

I look up story structure, plot, and dialogue. I try to understand what it is that I am going to do. Back when he was still here, people would mention how much we sounded alike, how it was hard to tell us apart on a phone call. So I read up about literary voice. I learn.

It doesn’t come easy. I can hear him tell me that it doesn’t go like that. That I’m getting it all wrong. I tell him I’ll smooth it all out in the rewrite. I can almost hear his laughter–the only giveaway that it was him, because our laughter couldn’t be more different. His like he’s laughing for the first time. Like this is a special thing that he can only share with you. My laughter always sounds forced. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I know where it’s coming from. You can never truly know the inner workings of another person’s mind.

When he was alive, he’d tell me about how you can always fix things in the rewrite. That the pages you have are better than the ones you don’t. Did he ever hear himself when he said that? Did he ever remember those words in a darkened room, where the only thing making sound was his breath, his lungs trying to keep him alive?

I get past another ten pages. Another chapter. I accumulate words behind me and climb the fire escape at night when my chest is heavy. I smoke these cigarettes that I don’t want. And when I’m too far into this adopted story to stop, I take it with me up to the fire escape. The screen’s glow lights up metal, a bit of brick. It makes them seem like they’re merged. Like they’re together somehow, and always have been. Always will be.


You can see through the symptoms, past the stigmas, bedlocked all day, getting up only to eat or shit, and there’s the not being able to pay for your meds and so taking what you have every other day, then every third day, and of looking into the mirror and seeing exhaustion, eyes hazy, cheeks hollow, and of waking up and holding your skull to figure out what’s really going on, with also of course the putting off hangouts, rescheduling, and then ghosting altogether, and there’s weeping in the morning and at night with no reason, of the way that people look at you different once you disclose your diagnosis: pity or fear or both, and then there’s going to one specialist, then another, and being (im)[in]patient, and there are the side effects, blurred vision and slurred speech and constant fatigue, and there’s taking one to counteract the side effects of another, then taking another to balance out the new side effects, and there’s finding the right pharmaceutical cocktail that will keep you alive, and then there’s getting cocktails with friends and the panic attack that comes only because of people being in your vicinity, and there’s bringing someone home and having to stop without knowing why, and to go out in a field where there is nothing but grass and open sky and to lie down in this and look up at this and there’s nothing more you can do now but to lie here and wait, and of course there’s not sleeping for days and having the delusion that you’re now in hell and your body is a macrocosmic vessel holding light and dark and you’re walking through the grocery store in clothes you haven’t washed in weeks, walking through aisles and seeing the lights all around, the cold air of the freezer section, and the faces of grocers are distending into sneers or ghoulish smiles and everything you hear is directed at you, and that you haven’t taken your meds in a week, haven’t slept, haven’t eaten or showered, and there’s making a concerted effort to get out of bed and get to your therapy appointment, and there’s tracing it back, or else trying to, back to the source, where it all began, and was it some instance in your childhood, eating paint chips or dust bunnies or teething on the electrical cord, what was it you want to know, and it’s so hard to remember when you haven’t slept, so you take benadryl like it’s candy and knock out for a day or two, get your shit together, wash, etc., and you’re still wondering what it was, sourcing it back to trauma that might’ve caused it all, and your family history becomes a set of Russian dolls, pulling out one surprise after another, and you’re unearthing bodies buried with concrete slabs on top of the caskets, and old wounds bleed freely as you lie in the bathtub with no water, grabbing the razor but not knowing what to do with it, and thinking of drawing the bath first, and the jumble that comes with counteracting your body’s natural instincts, fears, etc., and there’s putting down the razor, picking it back up again, wanting to cease consciousness, it’s here, the weight of being as you see it now, the supreme responsibility that comes with being alive, and you’re looking at your arms, the way the blood courses through your veins like miniature rivers, and you’re not a macrocosm after all but a micro-, and you’re still palming the blade, now testing it on a small patch of skin as if this is some sort of allergy test, and you let the blood trickle slightly down the flesh before pulling back and then wanting to do it and then wanting to do it and then wanting to do it and then not…wanting…but it isn’t clear which way this is going to go, and so you put the blade down to think it over, and in the process you fall asleep, and wake up half a day later, not even remembering why you’re in the bathtub, until you see the razor, and before you can stop yourself you throw it in the trash and take the trash out to the dumpster and don’t look back, and you come back in, and you sit, and you listen, and you cry, and you remember to breathe.