Finding the After
A Short Fiction Seeking What’s Next After Suicide
My sister’s child, my nephew, he gets in moods for days where everything is terrible. He says that he hates all the food you offer to him. He hates his favorite movie. His bed is too small, or too big. Those windows are too open and he is too hot, or too cold. It is impossible to convince him of the possible merit of anything. My sister says she feels like that, now. She tells me this on the phone. We are five minutes away from one another and talk on the phone every night. That part is new.
“I simply feel restless.” I tell her. “But it’s not the sort restlessness that causes me to buy plane tickets or throw away half my boxes in storage. It’s not the restlessness that gets piles of years of photos sorted or CDs alphabetized. I find myself a half hour into multiple movies, half way through multiple books. My kitchen table is covered in enrollment papers never sent in, fully filled out, but never sent in; cooking classes, yoga, wine tasting, dog training classes, and I don’t even have a dog.”
“Oh, you’re getting a dog?” she says. “I hear that is suppose to be therapeutic.”
“I read something like that too.”
I cook grand dinners for myself because it is something to do and I barely eat any, yet there is still never enough time in a day. There is always the next five minutes that are far more important than right now, yet never quite happen. The future tense is tough.
I dusted twice this week, everything in the house.
My sister says she wants to come over more but cannot get herself to leave the house. “Not that I can stand it any longer inside,” she tells me. But she never leaves.
“Not even for shopping,” she says.
“Yeah. Retail therapy.” I say, not knowing what I mean.
We make lots of non-committal plans, a lot of sometime-next-weeks, but always have the phone to our ears. I have her programmed on my speed dial, number two, after our mother’s old number that is now out of service, but I never use the speed dial.
The radio says that one candidate called the other a boar, or his wife, or his running mate. I did not quite hear. The one candidate said he did not and the other said that it is a disgrace. I sure wish I could vote for both. They are both just so appealing.
I wonder what the press would say if they cared when I flip out, like last night. I went chalking words in my street, needing someone to know. Cars drove over it all the next day rubbing it away. It rained the day after. First, teenage was lost, thensuicide, Now, all that is left is the word stop and still now no one listens.
“There are better places than pavement to get involved,” my sister says into the phone. “Get your message heard,” she says.
“I’m thinking bumper stickers,” I say.
They asked me if I wanted to be there the day they announced it on the intercom at his school. I had to wait at the front desk because of increased security, “with all the shootings and all,” the school secretary said. After that, I did not make it to the main office in time. I saw latecomers rushing to class when the announcement was made. Some stopped. Most did not. “That sucks,” one said, “that totally sucks.”
The headlines that day in the town paper were that a train derailed, 15 dead, a storm hit the Texas coast, one million flee, and the boar comment. “Teen taken too soon,” page 15a.
Days before, over dinner, my brother asked me if I was depressed.
“Not depressed,” I said, “just restless.”
“Yeah. I’m not depressed, either,” he said, “just melancholic.”
“That’s good though, I guess,” I said.
“Yeah. I’m not depressed,” he asserted.
Realizing he wanted more, “melancholy is good,” I said. “The questioning of one’s self and the world, searching for answers to the grander questions…”
“Smart people are dumb,” my brother said.
“Smart people are sad,” I corrected.
My brother was really smart.
I drank coffee every morning and now I drink none. I do not know how to make it. That was his job. He made it before he went to school but never drank any, left the pot for me.
When I would wake up early enough, I took the subway with him. He told me of how he sometimes would miss his stop. “Slept right through it,” he would say. I never understood that. He would fall asleep too, when I was there with him. I have to look at the sign at every stop to see where the train is, and then look at the map near the ceiling to see how many stops are left. I need to repeat this at every stop, even if this is the route I take everyday. I inherently know that there are five stops left yet I still check. My brother, he slept through stops. Napping was his way of living in the moment.
I saw a commercial for a motivation speaker who gives big conferences on how to enhance your life. In the commercial, over slowly intensifying music, a man in the audience admits to wanting to commit suicide. The speaker from the stage, with eyes blazing says, “NO. I won’t let you. I won’t let you be that selfish.”
“Do happy people do this thing I do with laundry?” my sister asks.
“What do you do with laundry?”
“I try on outfits, the ones that don’t work, I put in a pile. When I do laundry, If I do laundry,” she corrects herself, “I put all the discarded outfits in with the dirty stuff. I somehow believe in that moment that balling it all up with the rest of my shirts and pants, lugging them down the street, paying money to wash them, wait for them, dry them, wait for them and then haul them home, fold them, and put them away, all that, all that takes less energy than simply folding them and putting them away. Do happy people do that too?”
“You’re not depressed,” I say.
“Yeah. I know. I’m not depressed.”
“And I do the same thing with dishes. Like for my grand dinners, if I don’t use the fork, or the spoon, or the knife that I set, and I rarely do, I still wash all three of them.”
“Are you happy though?” she asks.
The boats on the river go slowly and I watch them from the bridge and I wonder if I would survive a jump onto the top of one of the tourist boats as it goes under me. I realize that when I thought survive just then, I did not mean live. I meant not break any limbs, get caught by the police, end up in the river. Now, survival seems to mean more.
I watched a movie about 12th century knights sent to present day by a sorcerer. They ended up in New York City and were afraid of everything and everything of them. I wondered what my brother would do if he had a blunt ax in Times Square because I am sure he would wonder the same thing.
Would have. He would have wondered the same thing. The past tense is tough.
“The first few days of every season are my favorite season. Why is it always sunny when seasons change?” my sister says on the phone.
“Hot air. Cold air. The changing does something. I don’t know.” My phone is beeping, running out of batteries.
“The change somehow makes it sunny,” she says.
“Sure,” I say.
My sister always said that my brother saw colors that the rest of us did not, that sight for him was just more vivid and lively. He would get caught up in subtle sights and turned off by loud ones, like a dog who howls at police sirens, the pitch being too intense. That is how neon lighting was for him. She said he felt things deeper than we did and always knew when her mood would change, even from a room away.
“Maybe he just needed less,” she says.
“Not more?” I say. “Don’t they usually say that they need more?”
“Not him though,” she says. “I think he needed less.”
The week before he died, I took my brother to his favorite restaurant. He fell asleep on the subway, on my shoulder. His hair smelled like product and his head was heavy and I almost missed the stop. I went back to that restaurant tonight. His favorite there was hot chocolate and it was good and I liked it too. It is thick and dark, bitter and far from a child’s drink. He loved it, he told me, though he could never finish it. I always finished mine. “It’s so good,” he told me, “I just can’t finish it. It’s too much.” I never understood that, nor anyone else that leaves chocolate cake left, or the last little piece of meat on their plate. If it is so good, you finish it.
I tell my sister about this.
“Maybe everything was like that for him,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“Like life, maybe it was just so good, rich, for him, that he couldn’t finish it.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Maybe.”
Tonight, when we hang up the phone. I try to see colors that others cannot. I try to have the taste of hot chocolate linger on my tongue and I try to have it be too much. I try to feel textures more with my hand, on the couch, the smoothness of a mirror, and see if candles hide the artificial extremeness of a house fully lit at night. I try to cry at a book and not be able to watch a film because it is too violent. I try to have the cars passing and people talking in the street below be too noisy that I cannot sleep. I try to tune in to what we tune out. I try to understand. I am left with not too much but little more than a focus on the background, losing the now, not embracing it. Time, like music passing, I try to grab the notes a measure back, two beats too late. I grab at time, feeling each footstep of each passerby in the street below. I see their rubber soled shoes, laces undone. I try to understand.