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Guest Writer

Enough about you
by Rachel Mendez

or 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 brother, David.

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 asked.

"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 morning!

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 can."

They sounded serious. I called my sister.

"David's dead," she said.

"You're lying," I said.

She wasn't.

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.

Find more from Rachel in our archives.

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