years my life seemed stagnant. I went to graduate school, worked,
spent quality time watching videos on the couch with my dog
all while gaining weight with the steadiness of a snowball. Last
year, though, things started changing.
Or, more accurately, I was changing things. I'd
started listening to music and painting again. I'd started going
to the gym regularly and was losing weight and gaining muscle
mass. I was even dating. A lot of this change was inspired my
For instance, David was dating, too. Although he
lived in California, we talked nearly every day about our dating
prospects and failures. He was using Internet dating services
and would send me links to the women he considered emailing. Just
about every night I would sit at the picnic table in my back yard
and look at the sky while talking to my brother on the phone about
these people he might date.
We talked a lot about childhood, too, and about
getting over things we still resented.
I resented that my stepmother was often mad at
me or called me fat. He resented the typewriter my mother wrote
her novel on, which took her away from us for long periods of
time. We'd hear it through her study door. Tap tap tap.
"I hate that fucking thing!" David said
over the phone, 30 years after the novel was finished. I sat under
the grape arbor, watching a tiny plane flash across the sky. Right
after that outburst he said it was important to let things go.
Last year he was on a binge of getting people in
the family to talk to each other, to forgive each other, to understand
each other. It was his mission. Sometimes it annoyed people. I
was inspired, although not always able to be as good as he was.
I still got angry at people in the family.
David's response would always be, "Let's try
to figure out what she was trying to say."
Maybe I just wanted him to say, "Yeah, that
was a stupid thing for her to say." But, like some sort of
holy man, he'd try to get me to understand the other person.
One night we talked about the fact that we never
felt comfortable telling people we love them. "Do you realize
that you and I never say ' I love you' to each other?" he
"Yeah," I said. "I've noticed. Weird,
huh?" We chuckled, talked a few more minutes, then hung up
without saying it.
One morning in September, I woke up really early
for no reason. It was five on a warm September morning and I stayed
in bed for a while, comfortable and happy. I lay in bed looking
out the window at my favorite tree. I watched the sun climb its
branches and leaves.
I wrote in my journal until it was time for the
gym to open. Then I got up, got on my bike and headed to the gym.
Birds flew up as I biked past. The air felt sweet like pure water.
The gym was quiet. Only the serious bodybuilders
were there that early on a Saturday. I got sweaty on the elliptical
machine, then lifted weights for another half an hour. On the
way home I stopped at the drugstore to buy new tweezers. A perfect
Once home I checked my messages. One from David's
oldest son: "Call us as soon as you can."
One from my sister: "Call me as soon as you
They sounded serious. I called my sister.
"David's dead," she said.
"You're lying," I said.
That was a year ago. We still don't know what made
a healthy man, who ate carefully and exercised daily, who lectured
us all on the need to take care of ourselves, die peacefully in
his sleep at 46.
I rarely sit in the back yard at night and look
at the sky anymore. But for a while after he died, I'd still sit
back there, unconsciously bringing the phone out with me, waiting
for him to call.
An atheist since age seven, I nevertheless tried
as hard as Houdini's wife to feel some sense of my brother's spirit.
I never really did.
Maybe there was one moment, when a particularly
ugly day found me sitting outside crying, that I felt David's
hand on my shoulder.
But maybe not.
Now the air smells like September again. And one morning soon
I'll wake up at five, perhaps to a cat's meow or a crow's cry,
then lie in bed watching the sun climb the leaves and branches
of my favorite tree.