By Cindy Lamothe.
He slipped a Marlboro in his mouth and blew out a big white puff that circled around us like a cloud. It was just one of those nights when there was no wind but it was so cold you’d hug your knees while sitting on the pavement. Our hideout.
Our not-so-secret, secret place.
It was midnight, and we were outside the house and sitting on the curb of the road. One of my favorite things to do. Our house was in the suburbs, laid between large houses with big lawns. The ones that are loved and taken care of. Except for ours, with overgrown shrubs, weeds, and cigarette buds in the driveway.
The black sheep of the neighborhood.
The perennial mutts. Half White, half Latinos. The messed-up family.
“When we grow up, I want us to live in two houses next to each other, with white picket fences separating us. Have our kids grow up together and watch stupid movies, be crazy, and all that good shit. Yeah, it’s gonna be a great life Cindy, just wait, I promise.”
I was 16 when my older brother said these words to me.
Four years later, he killed himself with a handgun.
Jay promised to always look out for me, to have my back, to always prepare my favorite deli sandwiches when I was feeling down, and buy me cappuccinos on rainy days. That was the kind of person he was. Though stereotypically speaking, you wouldn’t think so.
A walking contradiction, tough on the outside, goofy on the inside. Full of tattoos, a buzzed haircut (huge and frizzy when grown.) An experimental drug user, a loving friend, and the kind of person you wish you knew.
I adored my brother.
The one from another mother. The outcast. The unlovable one.
He didn’t care if you had a penny or a million to your name. If you were the drunk on the street or the president, he’d talk to you the same. It didn’t matter if you were the popular kid or the fuck-up, the nerd, or the jock. He was your friend.
Jay was a mechanic. He could take things apart and put them back together again. He had a passion and a talent for this. Rearranging nooks and bolts until a car was up and running like nothing had ever happened to it.
He’d take the unfixable and make it whole again. Like that time I called him late at night to say goodbye.
I’d taken 30 sleeping pills. The tears in his voice pleaded with me, softly asking why? “Cindy, why did you do this to me? I thought we were in this together. It’s going to be all right. I promise. It’ll get better. I’m getting in my car and coming for you right now…don’t fall asleep.” He tried to fix me. Except it wasn’t the first time. My third attempt to be exact. The scariest one. We’d already had some experiences before. Suicide experts.
When I was thirteen I found him passed out on the sofa, with Jimmy Hendrix and Curt Cobain posters covering his walls. Fast asleep. Only he wouldn’t wake up. I watched my dad shake him. Nothing. The ambulance came and went. A trip to the hospital where he laid like an angel with wires coming out of his nose. The “oh god, please don’t take him, I promise to always look after him.”
We had the routine down. We knew the drill. Like a broken record from a playbook. That same year I’d be the next to watch my stomach getting pumped, and have a tube so far down my throat I’d gag for breath. Nasty black liquid in my mouth. Enough to fill the emptiness of my soul. And I remember one of the male interns staring at me the way you watch a puppy getting put down. With both pity and shock.
The “why?” in his blue eyes.
Only there are no cookie cutter answers, none to explain how much you hate yourself, how pathetic and worthless you feel. That you are invisible and have no friends. My parent’s fight all the time…I’ve been to over 10 schools in my life…lived between countries…my little brother’s handicapped…I feel ugly. How do you explain dysfunction to the ‘normals’? The ones with perfect families who know how to take care of their lawns.
No. It was up to Jay and me to depend on each other. We knew our story, our brokenness. He was my unconventional role model; I looked up to him, his wild spirit and humor. My drug-addict hero.
We ate French-fries at midnight in abandoned parking lots just to ramble on about life and our hopes and dreams. At some point I’d tell him about wanting to be a writer, to live in Paris and visit café’s around the world. He wanted to visit NYC and party in Las Vegas. Jay was the rebel, the thrill seeking risk taker. He was larger than life, and knew how to live fully. That wasn’t me. I wanted a life full of beauty and awe. Naturally we became best friends.
I was 20 when my brother killed himself.
I remember the movie I watched before being told the news. A cartoon we used to watch as kids, “The Great Mouseketeer.” One moment you’re laughing at childhood memories and the next your heart gets raped beyond repair.
Because that’s what happens when you’re told that your favorite person in the world has shot himself to death. Screaming so hard that the street turns quiet. Your fists punching the walls. Hell on earth. And you realize that your worst nightmare has nothing on grief. You’re alone. Completely, devastatingly more alone than you’ve ever been.
The first few years after his death, I couldn’t tell anyone the terrible, dirty word: suicide.
I couldn’t even tell myself. Maybe if I didn’t say it out loud it would stop being true. Because everyone knows that when you say something, it becomes real. This isn’t a dream. It’s the real-life wham bam, your brother’s dead, thank you ma’am. And no amount of Paxil or mood stabilizers, and sleeping pills…will bring him back.
What they don’t tell you is how sick happiness makes you when you’re in grief. Sick to your stomach. Happy couples, people laughing, life going on. As if the world hadn’t stopped the minute your heart did. This is not the romanticized version of suicide ladies and gentlemen. This is the gritty, hardcore, punch in your gut loss. The version where you don’t move on in a few months, or even a few years.
I invented a story to tell people, he was driving one night and was driving too fast and crashed into an 8 wheeler. Killed instantly. He died the way he wanted. Racing his beloved Honda. The perfectly polite, don’t pity me, elevator pitch bullshit.
That story became a part of me. Like the awkward freckle on my eyebrow, or that pesky rash I can’t seem to get rid of. I couldn’t let others know that I had failed as a sister. Because that’s what happens when someone you love kills himself. In your mind you become responsible for their unhappiness, their depression, their decision.
It didn’t help that my last words to Jay were “No, I don’t want to see you.” or that it had been over a year since we had last talked, because I was still mad at him for letting his girlfriend use my car while I was living in El Salvador.
I was prideful. Yes.
And when I happened to be back in the US and he called asking to see me…asking me to reconsider. I refused. And it’s a lie to say that this event hasn’t filled me with regret. Because no amount of self-help books or quotes about positivity can fill that void.
My brother broke his promises to me.
We’ll never grow up to have those white picket fences, and have our children become best friends. I’ll never eat his amazing deli sandwiches again, or eat french-fries in parking lots at midnight. I won’t hear him laugh or tell me how important I am again. When someone dies, you don’t just lose them, you lose the possibility of being able to fix things. You lose redemption. And all of the dreams you shared with them, the ways you imagined them into your life are gone. Like a wiped hard disk.
I still remember you brother. My black sheep. My unlovable. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I saw you in a dream last night dressed in white, in a place full of love, so much love…you were happy.
In a week I’ll be turning 29, five years older than Jay was when he died. During that time I’ve broken hearts, had my heart broken, made mistakes, been the popular kid, the nerd, the fuck-up. I’ve worn the white hat, the black hat. Traveled the world, dived in before thinking. Risked everything and got burnt. I’ve laughed and cried. Got married to a wonderful man. Become the writer I always wanted to be.
And though I broke my promise to always be there for him. I kept the promises we made on that pavement all those years ago. To live fully. To have the courage to crash and burn and reborn from the ashes. That’s what my brother really taught me. To trust and be kind to myself no matter who the person I was at the time. That was his real message to me. His rebellious and loving spirit.
Here’s the truth about life: each person you love is like a novel. These pages you’ve come to love more than anything might be gone, but the soul is present. So present that it will slowly transform you. Their story never goes away, it lives within you.
My brother’s promises now live through me, and every time I get a whiff of Marlboro cigarettes and potato chips, he’s there. Every time I hear Sublime or watch A Christmas Story, I hear his laughter in my heart.
Every time I see an unlovable, I see my brother. The black sheep, the outcast, the drug addict, the stranger with the frizzy hair.
I see him. Racing through time, like the Honda Civic he once owned.
Cindy Lamothe is a writer, inspirationalist, and lover of life. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from: The Weeklings this year, The Manifest-Station, Mimosa Lotus, Inspiration for Mind Body, Sweatpants and Coffee, among others. Cindy’s quirky personality and passion for travel has led her down many strange paths, harnessing her appreciation for beauty and innate wildness. Get to know her on Facebook, Twitter and her personal website crlamothe.com, where she encourages others to let go of fear and live authentically.
Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.