A letter to my brother

Hello Carlton,

I was thinking about you this morning, and decided to drop you a quick note to catch you up on things. I know you’re not great at keeping in touch; I don’t take it personally, it’s just how you are.

Things are a bit frenetic this week. I’m moving to Oakland over the weekend, and plan to stay there for a few months. I’m selling the condo in the City; its so far under water it’s at the bottom of the ocean! It doesn’t feel like home anymore. This new place is the perfect transition; it’s an odd little apartment, which is an apt reflection of the times. I’m totally OK with it. The job market in California is beyond awful, and I am in the same boat many of my peers are. It’s not our fault, and we’re slogging through, and better days are surely ahead.

I make decisions, I stick to them, and I live with the results. It’s not always the perfect decision with the perfect outcome, but I don’t like standing still. I will never be a victim of paralysis by analysis. It’s in my nature to keep walking, keep looking for the best result. That layoff I went through is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, it really is. It has forced me to recalibrate, rethink, reset and pull the trigger. What will happen? I’m not sure, but I have some control over this. I will accomplish as much as I wish to, I will achieve all that I aspire to, if I really believe I can. I will celebrate my return to work and the resumption of my completely wacky and unpredictable existence with all my friends. I will get fairly hammered, and everyone will understand.

I remember when we were kids, you were always the quiet, reserved one. I was the drama queen, the extrovert. About the only thing we had in common was our complexion, and some brutal sunburns. I know I picked on you and teased you a bit. Now that we’re adults, I hope you know I didn’t really mean you harm. Siblings fight, and we used to have some whoppers, didn’t we? You were bookish, I was a player. You rode a moped, I started a few rock bands. We were just vastly different people then. I was a low-level wiseguy, a dumb thug in the middle of an Iowa cornfield in that small town where we grew up. You never got in trouble for anything. If you wanted to be mischievous, you absolutely could get away with it. The folks never worried about you in that way.

Did you know I still have all of your vinyl? I’m not a fan of all of your bands, but I do clearly recall a lot of Steely Dan and Elton John blasting from your bedroom. I preferred the Jam, The Clash and XTC. A self-styled mod I was, a teenage hooligan, an outcast in a town that you’d agree was culturally closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd than Velvet Underground. You loved “Island Girl” by Elton John. You played that record over and over again. Do you still like that song?
I was at my storage space in the East Bay yesterday, and there on a shelf, is your boombox. Funny that those things are cool again. I will never get rid of it.

I’m curious what you do to occupy your time these days. Have you made a lot of friends there? I know I’ll be visiting you at some point, I’ll try to give you a heads up when I’m headed that way. You’re probably pretty busy, your boss being who he is. Tell him I said hello the next time you see him. We aren’t the kind of brothers that talk much, but it’s important for you to know that you are in my thoughts often.

I forgot to mention I was in Cedar Rapids not too long ago, and I stopped by, but you weren’t there. Did you get the note I left?

Your anniversary is unforgettable, of course. You know I always remember. Your anniversary is on the same day that my divorce was finalized. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that. CJ and I have to date retained a special relationship that I cherish, but opening that letter from the court that day was official notice that I was free to walk on. It brought relief, and a bit of obvious sadness. But I have marked your anniversary many, many more times.

It was on that day more than two decades ago that you committed suicide, Carlton. A day that brought you relief from a pain we can not foretell or imagine.

I was in my living room with my girlfriend, in LaCrosse. The phone rang. It was Roland. He found you in that apartment you rented, an apartment empty except for you and that shotgun. I fell apart that day, broken into a million little pieces. Mom was inconsolable.You really have done a number on her, you need to know that. I try not to mention you to her much, for it brings tears to her eyes, and it pains me to watch her suffer. I will breezily say something like ” Carl and I used to play with this truck…” and quickly move on.

You, my brother, have been gone so very long, but I still miss you so much. Our side of the family produced no children, and with you being where you are, I sometimes have this overwhelming feeling of alone-ness. Mom and Dad are rock stars, of course, and my stepsiblings are hardly worthy of that designation after all these years. I have nieces and nephews and friends by the truckload. But I wish you and I could watch the Bears on Sundays this fall. I wish we could go camping and sit by the fire and break balls, to the delight of the assembled. I wish we could talk about the things that bug us, and the things that bring us joy. I wish I could have your back. I wish you could have mine.

I’m not mad at you anymore. The anger is long gone. I do know that what you did had a profound effect on our family and your friends. People that take their own lives are committing an act of grandiose selfishness. What they leave behind is a wound that never completely heals. I’ll never know why you left me, dude.

I’m getting a little low on words, so I’ll sign off now. Good lookin’ out up there, tell Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Dada and Nanny and, well, you know. Tell ’em I said what’s up.

I’d appreciate it if you’d check in once in a while. There’s a way you can, and perhaps you’ve tried. I’ll try to be a bit more aware. I know you’re right here.

J

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