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By Andrew Boswell
Part 1: For Elusive Reasons
It's not every day you find out that your brother died. It's also not every day that you get to ask him about it. Yes, my brother came back from the dead; and yes, I felt an overwhelming need to write about it.
He called me out of the blue one day. I hadn't spoken or seen him in over three years, so his call came to me as a huge surprise. There wasn't much small talk. We greeted each other and asked how we were doing. I said I was fine, but he had something to tell me. I thought he might ask me for a ride across town or money, but instead, he told me that he had died last December. I was dumbfounded.
How could something like this happen? I thought to myself as I tried to figure out a response. Before I could, he asked to meet up. I said sure, of course, and then I proceeded to ask him what the hell happened. He wouldn't tell me exactly how it happened, but he did tell me what had saved him, a microwave. Yes, a microwave. I almost didn't believe him, but I knew he wasn't clever enough to make something like that up. Plus the absurdity of it, what did he mean a microwave?
I think I should mention a few history details before I continue on with this story. My brother's name is James, and for his sake, we'll leave it on a first name basis in case he ever reads this and doesn't want anyone else knowing it's him. My brother has been addicted to heroin and methamphetamine for over a decade. He is currently twenty-three years old, which means he's been an addict since he was thirteen. We never got along because he made it extremely difficult to be around. I kept my bedroom door locked at all times, even when I left the house. He would steal from anyone. This included pain medication that belonged to my aunt who had cancer.
My brother doesn't look much like me, but that's because we have different fathers. The most noticeable feature on his face would be his nose. He broke it when he was younger, so he has this bone-bump on the bridge of his nose. His skin is extremely scarred up from lighter burns and mysterious cuts. He has Las Vegas themed tattoos, like playing cards and dice scattered throughout his body. He also always wore a hat, even inside, or at night, he sometimes even wore one to sleep.
We decided to meet at a small community park that was near our old childhood home. When I saw James, I was surprised by how much fuller he looked. The drugs had caused him to look like a skeleton, and everything he wore looked like giant drapes over him. Now, he looked plumper. The t-shirt and jeans he wore fit perfectly. He looked great, except for all those burns and cuts on his arms.
“Hey, Jon.” James extended his arms out.
“You look great. I can't believe it,” I said.
James laughed, “You too, I see you're going for that Clark Kent look.”
“I get that a lot,” I joked back. “What have you been doing?”
“Just the same old stuff.”
Which was nothing. He hadn't worked in years.
“I see. Well, you look great. I can't believe it.”
James laughed again. He brought out a pack of cigarettes and offered me one.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“Stopped, huh? That's crazy.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” I watched him smoke his entire cigarette before anything else was said. I figured he wasn't going to mention anything about his death, or the microwave, or the thing he wanted to ask me, unless I asked him about it.
“So,” I said. “You called me.”
James laughed. “Yeah, I did. Gettin' right down to it, huh?”
“Well,” He said, “I'll start from the beginning. Well, kinda.” He paused for a few seconds before continuing. “I was staying with a friend. You know, Spencer.”
The last time I spoke to my brother, he was living with a strung out addict named Spencer, who was in his fifties. James explained it as, a tiny ass town in Montana with a bunch of crack-heads.
“Yeah, I remember him.”
“Well, he got some,” James continued, “you know, heroin. He had already shot up and was passed out in his bedroom. I shot up too, but I was out in the living room. I got real hungry all of sudden. So, I decided to make myself a cup of soup. The next thing I know, I'm in a hospital.”
“So, you died while you were making food?”
James nodded. “Spencer said he only woke up 'cause the microwave kept beeping. He said he got up to go yell at me and that's when he found me on the floor. Apparently, my face was all blue.”
“And what? He called the police or something?”
"Not at first. I guess he tried to perform CPR on me for awhile but couldn't get me to breathe, so he called them about five or so minutes later. When I awoke, the paramedics told me I had been dead for about thirty minutes.”
Thirty minutes? I couldn't believe it. I wanted to ask him many questions all at once. How did it feel? What did you see? Did you see a light? Was there anything on the other side?
“What do you remember?”
“Nothing, really,” he said.
“Nothing!?” I was stunned. What did he mean? “What do you mean, nothing at all. You just woke up later on?”
“Yeah, it was just black, I think. I don't really remember much. I was so high nothing really made too much sense.”
“You have no idea how lucky you are,” I said. My thoughts were storming inside me. My only brother had died. His fate was left in the hands of a fifty-year-old addict and a microwave. What if my brother had taken just a bit more? What if his friend Spencer had done so much he couldn't wake up or hear the beeping of the microwave? What if the guy who invented that model of the microwave had only designed it to beep just twice? The odds were staggering.
“Yeah, I know.” He removed his hat and scratched at his buzzed haircut. “That's why I wanted to ask you something.” He revealed an orange chip from his pocket. It read: NA: One month Sobriety. “They still need to give me my second chip for two months, but they ran out.”
"Wow, James.” Was my brother actually trying to get clean? Was he really doing this on his own? I had fought my parents for years to get James into a boot camp or some kind of correctional facility, but they never wanted to pay for it. My parents tried to bring him to meetings before, only because they were free, but he'd always just hop out of the car and run off.
“I'm really proud of you. You have no idea.”
“Yeah, really.” I stepped in to give him another hug.
“Thank you,” he said.
“But, uh, what did you need to ask me?”
“Well, I wanted to see if I could maybe come stay with you for a few days.”
As I've mentioned before, my brother wasn't the easiest person to be around. If it wasn't for his weight gain, I would think he would've bought the NA chip off the internet. Could I really just throw away all the pain he's caused over the years just because of one chip? All those years of theft and fighting? I realized I could, even if it was just a chip. It still gave me hope. I thought, what if he was actually being for real this time? I wondered what would happen if I told him he couldn't stay. Would he just be disappointed and fall back into his bad habits? What if he died again, and this time he stayed that way.
He said, “You don't need to answer or anything right now. I just wanted to ask.”
“Just give me a moment, James,” I said. I looked around the park, which was only a small patch of grass and a few tiny trees along a brick wall. “Before I answer,” I said as I looked into his eyes, “I need you to promise me that you will keep going to these meetings.”
“Say, I promise.” I didn't care if he found it cheesy. I wanted to hear it from him.
“I promise,” he said.
“Okay, good. Is there anything else you want to tell me? I don't want to find something else like this when you're staying with me. Just tell me now.”
“You mean you're actually going to let me stay?” He smiled, “Hold on, let me think about this for a moment.” He put a hand to his thin, blonde-haired chin and stroked it.
“Really, think,” I said.
“Well,” he replied, after some time, “I actually overdosed again in February.”
“You can't be serious! How?”
“Well, I was doing heroin again and, well, I overdosed. I, uh, woke up in a bathtub full of ice and I was naked.”
“Ice? Did someone steal your clothes? Did anyone, you know, do anything to you?”
“No, nothing like that,” he said. “The people who I was with thought it was good idea to toss me in a tub of ice to wake me up. I eventually did wake up,” He laughed. “I crawled out of the tub and started throwing up everywhere. I got so sick that whole week I thought I was going to die.”
“Why didn't you call me?”
“I don't know.” He shrugged. He took another hit from his cigarette and then tossed it aside. “I don't have your number. My phone was broken. I honestly didn't think you cared.”
“Of course I care. You just make it--,” I paused.
“Yeah, I know.” He looked down at the ground and kicked one foot back and forth on the grass.
There was another long pause before we spoke again.
“There's just one more thing,” he said as he tucked another cigarette between his lips. “I need you to talk to Dad about this. He won't let me leave until I pay him back. I'm too afraid to be out for too long. He'll think I'm trying to run away or something.”
“So you're living with him now? How much do you owe him?”
“Around five thousand.”
“What the hell did you do!?”
“I kinda crashed his car and totaled it.”
“What? I can't believe you did that.” I folded me arms. “He's had that truck forever. What do you expect me to tell him?”
“Anything,” he said. “He'll listen to you. I just need to get away from him for awhile. He's not really helping me, and he's making me want to use again. That's why I called you.”
“Not with this,” I said. “He won't listen to me.”
“You know he'll listen to you.”
“Yeah, but what am I going to say to him?”
“Just anything Jon, seriously. Just don't mention anything about the truck.”
In all honestly, my Dad is a real pain, even to this day. Growing up, I never knew he was my step-dad. My parents kept it a secret from me. When I moved out, I wanted a new birth certificate because my old one was ripped up and wrinkled. When I got my new certificate, I noticed my father's name was different. Yes, my parents forged a fake birth certificate when I was born. To this day, I never asked them about it because it hurts knowing that they went through all that trouble just to hide me away from my actual father.
I never got along with my Dad. He only ever really cared about one thing in life, saving money. He'd hang out with me at least once a year, and most likely thought it was enough to show that he cared. He never once asked me what I found important in life and what I planned to do when I grew up. My brother obviously thought that I was the most-liked brother because I never did anything bad like drugs or theft. In a sense, he may have been right. I never did anything bad, but that doesn't mean I was the favorite. I grew up as an outcast in my own house. I don't think anyone wanted it to be like that, it just was. After meeting my real father a few years after the discovery, I could feel a difference. My father, who I reference as Father instead of Dad, and I were the same in so many ways. It made me realize that there's a force of nature in life that can't be explained. My brother may have been the least liked, but at least he got to grow up with his own father. He got to feel that force of nature since birth. What was worse is even after the discovery, my Dad and I never spoke about it. I figured he'd want to comfort me in some small way to tell me that it was going to be okay, but he never did. Those thoughts plagued me for years. Now, I was on my way to finally talk to him about something serious. I only wish that it was about me.
“Fine,” I said. “Let's go.”
Part 2: Right Where We Belong
James hadn't said a word since we left the park. I honestly didn't even know what to say to him, so we just walked in quietness. What was worse is that it wasn't even all that peaceful. There was a heaviness in my chest that made the walk almost unbearable. I knew I wasn't scared of actually talking to my dad. I was only scared of something happening and me letting my brother down.
“You go first,” said James as we approached the house.
“Alright,” I said. When I got to the front door, I thought to myself, what the hell am I going to say to him? How am I going to start this off?
I gripped the door handle and turned it. Out of habit, I kicked the bottom of the door in order to knock it open. The noise must have startled my Dad because as soon as I opened the door, he was standing right in front of me. He looked exactly like how I remembered him. He was like my brother, except he didn't have a bone-bump on his nose or any of those Las Vegas tattoos. He stood at 6'2” and was round-bellied. He wore his usual boxer-briefs and washed-worn laundry-day shirts. His face lit up when he saw me. He smiled, without showing his teeth.
“Jon,” he said. “It's good to see you!”
I smiled and gave him a one-armed hug. “Yeah, it's great to see you too.”
“Come in,” he said. “What are you doing around here?”
I looked over at James, “I, uh, was visiting James, and we were around the corner, so I wanted to come say hi.”
“Well, I'm glad you came to see me. You should come visit your Dad more often.”
“Yeah, you should come visit me too sometime,” I said.
He laughed and coughed into his hand.
“Want a beer?” James asked as he shot past me and walked down the hallway that led into the kitchen.
“Sure,” I said.
My dad turned to James and yelled, “Grab them from the freezer. I just put those ones in.” He turned to me and said: “He drank all the cold ones.”
“Oh, it's okay. I don't care,” I said. “Where's Mom?”
“She just got off of work. She should be home soon. I'm sure she'd like to say hi.”
“Yeah, sure.” I stepped past him and walked into the living room. The usual maroon color leather couches were there and the old coffee table too. The table was littered with beer bottles and cigarettes butts.
My brother came into the living room and jumped onto the couch. He had a beer clenched in each hand. “Here,” he said.
“Don't spill that on the couch, James.”
“Shut up, Dad,” said James.
“Hey, don't tell me to shut up.” My Dad coughed into his hand as he made his way into the living room. He sat down on the couch on side the opposite of James. “You should clean all this stuff up.”
“Yeah, I will,” said James.
He handed me the beer, and I sat down next to him. I took a few sips. “So, you said Mom with be home soon?”
“Yeah, she was working late. She should be home any minute now.”
James nudged me on my shoulder, “Tell him,” he whispered into my ear.
“What?” asked my Dad, “What'd he say?”
“Nothing,” said James.
Being back at the house wasn't exactly easy. My brother had already given me so much to process, and now I had this. I thought it would have been easier to talk about my brother because it wasn't about me, but it wasn't. I felt all my old feelings of being an outcast coming back.
I noticed my Dad was looking at me, staring, and I thought, What was he thinking about? Was he thinking about my actual Father? Was he scared that I was going to ask him about it? Did he want me to? I almost asked him if he knew who my father was, but I couldn't let those thoughts get the best of me. I needed to focus on James.
“I wanted to ask for a favor,” I said. I sat up from the couch and put my beer down on the table.
“I don't have any money,” he said quickly.
James chuckled and shook his head. “Off to a good start.”
“What? I'm not asking for money?”
“Then what is it?”
I looked at James and nodded at his pocket. He didn't get the gesture, so I mouthed, The Chip to him. He seemed hesitant at first to take it out, but he eventually did. I grabbed it from him and held it in my hands.
“Did he show you this?”
“Yeah, I just saw it today.”
“You should be really proud of him,” I said. “He called me today to tell me about this chip.”
“What's so special about it?”
“He's been drug free for over a month. He told me he has another chip coming too.”
“He bought that online,” said my Dad. “And, he's drinking a beer. How can you say he's drug free?”
James got to his feet and lit up a cigarette, he said “No, I didn't. I'm only drinking to help with my cravings.”
“Yeah, right,” said my Dad. He had a huge smile on his face.
“James,” I said. I examined the NA chip and ran it through my fingers. “Did you buy this?”
“No, I swear I got it from the meetings.”
“The meetings!” my Dad blurted out, “What meetings?”
“James.” I said, “What's--”
“He's lying, Jon,” my brother interrupted. “I swear. He's just mad cause he thinks I owe him money. Tell him, Jon. Tell him I'm coming to stay with you.”
“Oh, no,” my Dad said. He got to his feet. “You ain't going anywhere until I get my shit back.”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” said James.
“Don't even try that.” My Dad looked at me and said, “You want to know what your brother has been up to? He fucking broke into my safe, and he stole all your mother's jewelry. Can't have nothing good around here. He's only been here a week and stuff is already missing.”
“No, I didn't!” yelled James. “I helped you look for it all week. You even said Mom probably lost it herself.”
“Why would she lose all her jewelry at the same time?” I asked.
James shrugged. “I have no fucking idea. She's always losing stuff.”
“James, come here for a moment. Please, tell me what is going on here.”
“He's lying,” said James. “C'mon you know he is. He's all strung out on fuckin' Oxycontin. Look at him.”
I noticed my Dad's face go completely red. “You fucker!” he screamed. He ran up to my brother and shoved him. My brother, despite having gained a few pounds, could never match up with our Dad. He flew and slammed into the wall. He sunk down to the floor, his beer and cigarette were nowhere to be seen.
“What the... fuck,” groaned James. He rolled over onto his stomach and pushed himself up. White plaster covered his entire back area.
“I want you out of my house!” my Dad pointed at the door. “I can't take this shit from you anymore. Why you always gotta fuck everything up, huh?”
James didn't respond. He stood up and started to walk away.
“Where are you going?”
“I'm grabbing my shit.”
“Hurry up!” my Dad yelled. He then turned to me and said, “You're brother is such a fucking mess. He stole all your mother's stuff and sold it for drugs. I know he took it. Don't believe a thing he says.”
I didn't know what to say. I had no reason to doubt that my Dad was lying to me, but then I would have to accept the fact that everything that James had told me was a complete lie. Did my brother not really crash and total the car like he said? Did he even try to stop using Heroin? Did he even die? I was so confused. I needed to leave.
I took a step towards the door but something in me wanted to say more. Otherwise, all this would have been for nothing. Being here now, three years later made me realize that nothing ever changes.
I looked at my dad and said, “Take care of your damn kid.”
Of all the things I could have said to him, I chose something that wasn't even about me. Even now, with all the bullshit, I still couldn't bring myself up.
“Jon,” I heard James say.
I didn't want to hear it. I made my way to the front door as fast as I could.
“Jon!” yelled my Dad.
I charged out of the front door, and slammed it shut.
“Jon, come back here!” My Dad's voice was faint through the old family door.
I quickly walked down the driveway and that was when I realized I hadn't even bothered to peak through the windows leading into the garage. One simple look could solve all of this mess. If my Dad's truck was there, then my brother was lying. If it wasn't, there was a possibility that my brother was telling the truth.
I ran up to the windows and peaked into the garage window. There, I saw my father's black dodge truck, clean and unblemished from my brother's touch.
James had lied.
And for some reason, I wasn't even all that surprised. I just felt like a stupid fool. He tricked me into thinking he had changed when he was just the same person I grew up with. I was an idiot for thinking he would change.
As I walked down the street, I remembered I still had his chip. I removed it from my pocket and ran my fingers through it again.
“So much hope in such a little thing,” I mumbled. I clenched my hand around the chip and squeezed. I felt the chip snap, and then I let the pieces fall through my fingers.