It is hot. During the day, the sun scorches my skin. At night the heat hangs on the breeze, thick enough to cut with a dull razor. I sit on the porch, staring into the field across from your house. The air is calm, serene, like one’s body after a good cry. But I can’t cry. I still feel you here surrounding me.
Tampa is a snarl of young and old, of redneck and redeye, lacking sanctimony, so unashamed. I don’t belong here. It’s so flat, so spacious. I long for the guilt of tall buildings, I miss the congestion you could never stand — crowded sidewalks, sewage gushing into streets sinking under rush-hour traffic, insult clashing mid-air with come-on, silence framed in empty corridors. Manhattan has no fields, no open spaces. Only concrete dreams, buried horizons.
Crickets sing in that field. Chameleons dance on the cement steps inches from where I sit. Frogs gossip with bugs and tadpoles. Fireflies startle my eyes. Out here it’s nature’s little party, just where I’d expect to find you.
Inside the house, it’s gloomy. The family mourns your sudden death. Mom, Dad, and Amanda are all in bed, divided from me by the roll of the electric fan in the window. Through it all, I hear Amanda’s sobs, spurting out like blood from an arterial wound. It’s sad. Her heart’s devastated over your death. Broken in a way mine can’t be.
Because we were detached, you and I. You never came to me, I stopped going to you. You never cared to feel the splendid madness of New York, although I know you would have enjoyed it. And I hated the open spaces you loved.
Your death spoke for you. Wide, open highway. Pulsing your engine, extended forks gleaming, you wanted to jump the gun on the Green. To be faster than Go. To impress your friend in the car ahead of you. Everything you’d taught him would shine. Waiting? What a waste! You blew it out the exhaust. Fast, faster, cool, cooler. You beat the light, but Death was too swift. Did you try and throw yourself to safety once you saw it coming? It caught you and you gave in, like a Giant Nebula coming apart.
Your friends gather at the beach. They spill your ashes into the widest open space of all, the ocean. Some ask, “Will Amanda get over it?” Just before a vast hole of silence devours their spirit, someone answers. “Eventually. Time heals all, you know? She’s young.”
Yet Amanda won’t get off easy. She’ll sleep with other men for comfort at first. But then she’ll begin to feel the loss, her body writhing at night between the covers, unable to find resolution in anybody’s arms. Oh, the cruelness of you, the deceptive gentility. It haunts her, it’s still alive.
Amanda and I have searched to make sense of it. You organized your files during that last month. Why? You wrote a poem about uniting with the universe and you put it in a folder with your and Amanda’s picture. We ask each other if, subconsciously, you’d pre-figured this Kamikaze Act, this leaping from your skin at the sight of that truck about to hit the bike, leaping forever into the air, then watching, soul smirking, the commotion of the accident below, your shredded body, the angular cries of the living, until it was a mere speck of activity in your vast, solo flight. Funny to imagine you weary of the physical world. I remember you so differently. I remember you as the boy who tended to my girlish sensations. You, My Lost Adolescence.
It was That Age, and we went through it together; the change from boy to man, from girl to woman. Etched in memory is the trauma of my first period. You knew it had happened, and you snuck into my room when I wasn’t there, checking out the size of my newly-acquired bra, examining those aberrant stains in my underwear. Were you memorizing the rich, brownish-red color and the starchlike feel in the material so you could impress your girlfriends with your vast knowledge of females? You had a fascination for the changes I was going through and you knew things about me even I didn’t yet understand. But I wanted to understand.
I snuck into your room, too. I studied the things you kept in your drawers: Letters, addresses, a badly-written porn novel or two, yo-yo, sling-shot, mislaid coins from your collection, marbles. Nothing overtly seductive. Overall, rather boyish and innocent yet harboring a deeper thread, an inextinguishable power over me from that moment on.
I was always on the alert whenever I rifled through your things, knowing that you might come bounding up the stairs at any moment. Many was the time I escaped just before you reached the top. Except on that one day you plotted to catch me. Having planted yourself at the bottom of the stairs until you heard my rustling, you tiptoed up, then went into a fit of anger, blind rage, Italian passion. I can still feel your fist pounding on my backbone, your palm slapping my ears until the outside world was a dull roar. I can still picture the marks of your fingers, like rope burns, on my neck. Stinky pants, blood drawers, your cry humiliated and embarrassed the budding woman in me. “Who said you could come in here!”
I developed a headache. I vomited. I wrapped myself around my pillow for the rest of the night in my frilly little room, feeling baited, and hated my own adolescent curiosity more than your strength and cunning. And although I hated it, I remained locked into my own body’s changes, drawn to your dark and knowing charisma.
Sometimes in the privacy of my own room, I’d stuff my bra and pretend to flirt with you in my mirror. Or I’d sneak a peek at your bed sheets when you’d thrown them in the hamper. Sometimes I’d stand outside your closed door in the middle of the night and listen to the thumping of your hand against yourself, the two or three hot gasps, and then, finally, the spiderlike quiet as you dropped off to sleep.
Once I even slipped under your bed deliberately as I heard you coming, to gain back the upper hand. You came in and changed clothes unaware while I lay breathlessly watching your white rear, your reddish, hair-decked hole, as you bent over the drawers whose contents I’d been through seconds before.
I remember, too, with utter restlessness, the nights I wanted to be with you when you weren’t home. By age 14 you were always with girls, lots of them. So unafraid to flirt, to openly inviting yourself to their friendship, their laughter, their bodies, while I stayed home watching “THE INVADERS” or “THE FUGITIVE or playing with my Gilberts Chemistry Set. For at age twelve, I was awkward and self-conscious. Breastless, sexless, clueless as to how to look at a boy I liked without darting my eyes away in shame. Driven and hungry to understand your confidence, I tracked your movements, wondering where you were, what you were doing. Such a ladies’ man. Were you making out? Feeling up? Frenching? Petting? Something even more daring? Could I be a witness? A pal? Something? Together, wouldn’t we be unconquerable?
But even when I found you — at the custard stand, or in the park — you wouldn’t acknowledge me. You were entrenched in a process I could only watch. All I knew was that you’d rather flirt with them than to talk to me. And I wondered whether I’d ever hold the same allure for you — my older brother — as they seemed to.
I remember my embarrassed awkwardness at your 15th birthday party, too. Me. Thirteen years old and never been kissed. I stood in a corner of the Park pavilion behind the buffet table in my new cranberry and navy blue dress (our favorite colors) like a starched flag. My nerves flapped involuntarily each time someone spooned out punch in front of me and didn’t look up to ask me to dance the frug or the jerk.
But you looked up. You knew it. I suspect you rather even enjoyed my awkwardness with boys. It gave you power over me. It gave you authority. It gave you an even stronger sense of sexuality.
‘Having fun?’ you snickered as you helped yourself to the cold cuts, cookies, and a Coke.
As I got a little older and a little more developed, I did little things to assert my presence: Stole a rare nickel from your coin collection, scratched a Stone’s album with my fingernails, played the Beatles — whom you despised — at full blast, ‘accidentally’ ripped and defaced one of your MAD Magazines. Yet my antics never provided enough thrust to break free from your charismatic pull. You continued to awe me. Only You could kill a rabbit with a rubber-tipped target arrow; only You could hurtle a B.B. through a window without shooting off the gun. Everything You touched was so completely in your command. And how it lasted, even after we parted. Even to this day.
But I’d not realized, until this moment, how many things we’d never settled. How many little torments and cruel teases of growing up had passed by unforgiven.
Amanda will come to visit me now in New York. We will huddle in my apartment. She will cry. “He was so gentle,” she will tell me. “He would never do anything to hurt me. Never.” Yet she’ll suffer from a mind tortured by a raging soul that wouldn’t be won. Couldn’t be touched. Stood beside no one.
How can I reach you to say what I must say? To ask you to give me, in death, what you couldn’t in life. You’re strong now, stronger than us all. You’re on a new journey now, you can visit the whole universe, and we can see it too, if you help us pull together the parts you’ve left us scattered everywhere. You died before I got to know you and love you, you died leaving me the pain of having only pieces. Don’t you know I wanted your love and approval like a tongue wants wetness, like arms need a body? I always have. It’s painful irony that I, as an infant, would toddle and toddle after you when you called my name, and never catch my “bruh-bruh”. You kept yourself at arms length even then. Yet I can’t stop chasing you, not even now, not until you put your arms around me and hold the sister you so deeply teased — that taunting still an unnerving reminder of my stunted rite of passage.
Until you come and whisper into my ear the deep, dark feelings you hoarded to yourself all your life, until all of the chapters of our adolescence — bows, bras, B,B.’s, books — are bound, stacked, and make sense against my wall. Until we’re united, body and soul, in peace.
Until I can accept you, just once, as someone whom I loved and who loved me. Until your black and blue arrogance is not my main keepsake. Until you haven’t died in vain; until my heart can break for your passing. Until life can speak for me, as death did for you. Until I’m out of this prison, no longer a spectator. Until your death unifies us, and those tears and those words never spoken between us are coming, arriving at last.
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