November 16th, 2007
The funeral home is a solitary one, built in the middle of Crimson Graves next to a pond populated by protective ducks. People rarely visit because it’s referred to as the Criminal Graves. Most unloved criminal bodies are dumped onto the doorstep of the funeral home to be buried without a service. Yet, as the fog covers the park like thick glasses, there are many people present for the funeral of my brother Daniel Snapper.
My family and I sit in the first row of chairs, the places reserved for immediate family. Dan’s girlfriend Tawny insisted she sit with us and bawl harder than anyone. I don’t like Tawny. She just adds to the mix of unfamiliar faces, taking up room where we should be, the image of a young woman yearning for attention.
The preacher speaks loud enough to be heard over all the sobs. Everyone cries louder than my family and I. Usually I would be mad that strangers are crying so, but this time there’s an excuse.
“I believe Dan’s brother asked to say a few words.” The preacher hands the spotlight over to me.
I stand to climb onto the platform but Mom grabs my arm. “You don’t have to,” she whispers. I let my hand slide out of hers as I step up to the podium. Nothing stops. The soft crying, racking sobs, and quiet side conversations continue. Like I don’t even exist. Dan’s friends piss me off.
“You know guys,” my shouting is a big hook that catches everyone by the mouth and lifts them out of their watered-down reality. “I don’t know any of you. I wish I did, but I don’t. I do know Dan. I don’t know how well, but I do.” I turn around to the open casket. A tuxedo. Dan would never wear that. Brown hair combed. Dan would never comb his hair. A rose tucked into the collar. Dan was allergic to roses. Skin cloudy grey. Dan would never grow old enough to see his skin such a tone. I lean down and kiss his lips, this stranger’s lips. I hope he’s still the same brother up in heaven. His lips are chapped to cracking. Dan never bothered to maintain his lips. Dan had a hard time getting to know me, but I didn’t have a hard time getting to know him.
“Dan may have been ashamed of that kiss,” I say, returning to the audience. “He was ashamed of a lot of things...” my breath comes short, trying to get past the ball of swords that lodges in the back of your throat when you can’t cry properly, “I miss him. I hope he’s never ashamed of that.”
I don’t feel triumphant as I walk back to my seat in between my older sister Lucy and Mom. Neither of them look at me, but Lucy’s eyes are red and her face is tracked wet; she hasn’t cried all day.
I watch Dan be lowered into the ground. Dan would hate being buried. He’d be ashamed because he’d take up too much space. If it were up to me--this is one of the few things Mom wouldn’t let me help plan--he would be cremated. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he would have loved to stay in the dirt next to Bill Van Carp and Mary Jordan Jared Jersey.
November 26th, 2007
I’ve been informed that “Dan’s death was hard on all of us” and that since I don’t talk about it, I have to keep a journal. Mom thinks I’m repressing my feelings. I would’ve thought that she would be happy that I’m not wallowing like Lucy, whose emotional stability is nonexistent.
On top of the funeral, when I returned to school three days after the funeral and a week before Thanksgiving break, every teacher treated me with extra kindness or gave me a card with notes from every student in ninth grade. The same thing happened in the grade above to Lucy only she loved the gifts. I didn’t. Two people die every second. Who’s to say that the person who died alongside Dan fought in an epic battle with him to get to heaven and the loser must rot in hell for all eternity? That’s why God made hell, for the losers. I’m not supposed to believe this because I’m Catholic.
Which brings me to church. Church was worse than school, and I knew it would be. Although we’re not very devoted, every Catholic at church manages to find out about our personal lives eventually. My mother had us attend Mass yesterday and we were greeted with the largest supply of kisses, hugs, warm words, and gifts. I came close to a panic attack, but escaped to the bathroom and hid there until Mass started. The same thing happened when Mass ended. I retreated to the bathroom for an hour until Dad came looking for me.
It’s not that I hate Dan. I really do miss my role model until seventh grade. I just don’t feel the need for so much attention. There are just so many people. Imagine if everyone in the world found out about Dan’s death and showed up at my doorstep to smother me; all seven billion of them.
November 29th, 2007
The last Thursday of November. I love thanksgiving. The food, the family, the smells… I helped Mom plan the dinner and called my grandparents and my aunt and uncle and their kid Sammy, who’s only two years older than me.
“Do we have cranberry sauce this year?” I asked Mom while she calculated the budget.
“Did we have it last year?”
She contemplated it, chewing on the end of her glasses. “I think last time we served cranberry sauce Sammy had an allergic reaction.”
I inhaled agreeably. “That’s right. The Flabby Sam of ’05.”
She chuckled and subtracted cranberry sauce from the budget.
“I wish we’d done this earlier than the day of,” I sighed.
Mom smacked her lips. “I do too, Tim, but we haven’t had the time.”
“We might have if Dan hadn’t died.”
Mom ripped her glasses off the bridge of her nose. “What?”
“I mean, it would’ve made a difference if he hadn’t died.”
Her head tilted back and she squinted, either for lack of glasses or because she was trying to analyze my cold statement. “Yeah, it would have. But that’s no reason to blame him for our late start.”
“If we weren’t busy with the funeral we would’ve already had the turkey cooking. You think he’ll show up this year?”
Her neck cranes farther backwards and her eyes pull open wide. “Excuse me?”
“Well, he never showed up to the dinner when he was alive, maybe he will when he’s dead.”
“First off,” she shoves her pointer finger in my face, “dead people can’t eat. Second,” her bird goes up, “that’s disrespectful. Third,” the diamond in her wedding ring flashes as the last finger extends, “yes it would have made a difference not only with the dinner but with your sister, who would be happier if he were alive.”
“Lucy doesn’t matter in this conversation.”
I’m sure that comment would have been overlooked if Lucy weren’t walking by the kitchen at the most ironic moment. She exploded into a mess of mascara and whimpers and fled to the strong grasp of her bedroom.
“Tim!” Mom whisper-shouted. “Do you ever think before you say?”
“No, never,” it’s fun to watch how the air of my sarcasm blows into her next words.
“Don’t play sarcasm with me. Lucy’s not like the rest of us. She’s on an emotional roller coaster right now and hearing that she doesn’t matter to her little brother is only going to make it worse.”
“I didn’t say she doesn’t matter to me.”
I obeyed and walked to the end of the hallway where Lucy’s pink bedroom is. Even if it’s absurdly girly, I still like the atmosphere she keeps in there. The Christmas lights pinned at the tops of the walls and the clean floor is inviting. I enjoy reading in there and, because of my long visits, Lucy and mine’s relationship is robust.
Lucy laid in the floor with a hat covering her face and a stuffed rabbit in her hands pressed to her flat chest.
The door frame that dug into my shoulder reminded me how pointless this was. “Listen, I know what you heard in the kitchen sounded like I don’t think you matter, but that’s not what I meant. I wanted Mom to say something else and it just…came out wrong.”
She didn’t move.
“Why did you say what you said at the funeral?”
“Because it’s true.”
“You think Dan was ashamed of us?”
“I know for a fact he wasn’t ashamed of you.”
November 29th, 2007
I couldn’t stop thinking about him. All through dinner--that lovely dinner that Mom and I served an hour late--I hardly spoke. No one else but Mom noticed.
The topic at the table steered clear of Dan. It made me a little mad. What’s wrong with sharing a few fond memories? I imagine if we did, I would share the memory of Dan playing piano. He bled his heart out on the one in our living room. Sometimes when I run my fingers across the keys, traces of his heart stick to my skin. It was his way of emotion. When he was mad or upset, he slammed on the keys with fingers that jumped like tarantulas on a stove. When he was cheery or untroubled, his fingers landed on each key like a flower was blooming out of them.
Dan wasn’t even mentioned, but I knew we were all thinking about him.
Mom pulled me into the empty hallway when dessert ended.
“Are you okay?” She asked, looking me up and down.
I shrugged. “Yeah I’m fine.”
“You’re usually very chatty during Thanksgiving.”
“I guess. Does it matter?”
“Yes it does. Is this about Dan?”
“Mom it’s not a big deal,” a hint of whine bordered my tone. “I’m not in the mood for talking.”
“Tim if you’re sad about Dan…”
“We should be getting back.”
“It’s okay to talk about him...”
“Fine! I’ll talk to people!” I ran away from her and struck up a conversation with Lucy and Aunt May. As I tried talking, seeing Mom stare at me in disbelief in my peripheral vision, all the energy I’d saved for my favorite holiday slithered away, using the last bit of adrenaline that came with my outburst to mask its departure.
November 30th, 2007
Sleep has hung out of reach for so many hours. It’s three A.M. I can’t pull my mind away from Dan and his big tarantula fingers that hang on to me. He’s looking down at me and he’s mad when I stare back. It sounds faux as I write this, but I can feel him shaming me. He doesn’t have a piano to take his anger out on. I have to get rid of him.
December 27th, 2007
The doctors have decided that my mental state is stable enough to log the events of the morning after Thanksgiving at three A.M:
I was so tired. So weary. But Dan wouldn’t let me sleep. His spirit remained restless. I couldn’t bare it. Something had to be done.
Mom’s car was in the shop. Dad’s keys were inaccessible. Lucy’s keys were sitting in her car in the garage. There was no way Lucy would drive me, but maybe my friend would.
Sammy slept on the couch in the living room. Although he’s sixteen and lives a couple thousand miles away from me, we’re still good friends. He’s the crazy, immature pothead and I’m the serene, mature chocoholic. He hardly ever questions me…unless it involves waking up at three in the morning.
“What the f-“
“I need a ride.”
Sammy rubbed his sleep-crusted eyes and rolled over onto the floor, exerting a thump and tiny yelp of surprise. I shushed him and scanned the hallway to assure no one woke up. Groaning came from Lucy’s room. The floor creaked unevenly as she approached her door. I acted quickly, throwing a blanket over Sammy and diving behind the couch. After a minute of silence, Sammy’s head popped up over the back of the couch.
“She’s gone,” he whispered.
I stood up and started toward the stairs, carefully picking past the creaking parts of the floor. Sammy followed, trying to imitate my steps. When we successfully made it to the ground floor, the questions fired up.
“What’s going on?” Sammy demanded.
“I need you to drive me somewhere.”
“Where? Your girlfriend’s house?”
I rolled my eyes. “Far from it.”
The garage door whined as it opened. Even the house was mad that I’d gotten up at three. It squealed and shook the whole house. I knew that someone would be up.
“Get in the car,” I ordered. “The keys are in the seat.”
We both slipped inside and Sammy resurrected the engine. The old van jerked into motion and sped out of the driveway.
“Where are we going?” he asked when we reached the main road.
Directions were spoken and nothing else. When the van rolled up to the entrance, I climbed in the backseat and retrieved a shovel.
“Dude, why’s there a shovel in the car?”
“Lucy has a bat, a box of matches, one shovel, and three knives. She’s kind of paranoid.”
I shoved the box of matches in my pocket as Sammy came up beside the graveyard. We both got out of the car. The air, as cold as my speech at the funeral, pinched my skin. I made Sammy give me a boost over the gate that kept the dead inside and the alive outside, shovel in hand.
“Where are you going? Should I go?” he asked when I’d reached the other side.
“I’m taking care of something. Sit tight.”
Dan’s grave was right next to the lake, lucky for me. I came upon it and began digging. It’s hard to believe that the only thing standing between me and my brother was a car ride and dirt. It’s a fine line between the dead and the living, though it stretches out into almost an hour while shoveling. It’s like the gate at the entrance; practically nothing to rescue your loved one. But would it be the same if you did? Such a simple task producing such a big result; is it even worth it, seeing someone whose time came and went and they left you behind? It is when their time hasn’t come and they haven’t left.
The shovel hit Dan’s casket. I stooped down and brushed the remaining dirt away. It’s plausible to say that nobody opens a criminal’s casket, that’s why there wasn’t a lock. Yet it felt heavy enough to be locked from the inside. Maybe Dan’s arms were positioned to hold the lid closed. I still got it open and found the pale face of my dead brother staring at me. I fumbled around to get the matches, but my trembling hands dropped the box. I reached down for them. Just before my hands reached the box, Dan’s voice finally broke the barrier between whispers in the back of my head to screams right in my face; I felt his breath hitting me.
“Liar!” he screamed, startling me onto my knees. “Thief!”
My clumsy fingers grabbed a match.
Where’s the box, where… The shadows of the grass lengthen.
A flashlight couldn’t have cut through the dark shadow. The ground is wet because… I’m crying. The matchbox is wet too. Grab it, swipe it…Go, go, go; I’m a big failure…
Fire! It’s so small in my hands, but it glides across the tuxedo and bakes the skin into an orchestra of sizzles. It will be what comes in between…
Smoke blistered my eyes and tore through Dan’s lifeless body. His screams stopped. He was gone. Was it triumph I felt? Or was it just his music leaving my body? I basically murdered his soul. I got rid of it. Only because he haunted me. That’s not an excuse. Because he yelled in my face and he’s never done that before. We’ve never fought. If only he’d been buried with a piano.
The phone rang, music I don’t want to hear. I don’t want to hear any music anymore so I answer it quickly: “Tim where are you!? Where’s the car, where’s Sammy!?” Lucy yelled into the phone, the voice of adults faint in the background.
She didn’t get a reply.
“Are you alone?”
She pauses. The voices in the background cease. “I am now.”
“Tim, what is going on?”
“You’re lying!” I shouted.
“Tim…” there was a sniffle, “there’s no one here.”
“No! No, I know he’s there. Dan is there with you!”
She started bawling. “Dan i-is dead…”
“How can he be when he’s right next to you!?”
“Just come home please.”
“You give him this message-“
“JUST TELL HIM THIS!”
Her silence came suddenly and quickly. I couldn’t hear her crying but I could see the tracks in her wet face that ran deeper and deeper until they were black lines that cut into the skin.
“Tell Dan that it’s over. And he…he can know that I killed him.” A smile crucified my frown, hung it with the nails Dan screamed into my face. “He didn’t commit suicide. I killed him. I killed his body, I killed his soul…” his music is the only thing I want to listen to, the only thing I want my eardrums to vibrate to. “And I’m not ashamed of it.”