A Degree of Honesty

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about the first time I was at grief counseling, and the woman leading group asked me why I was there. I am thinking about how I couldn’t say Murphy’s name out loud, so I bolted from the room in tears, only to apologize and feel guilty later because it wasn’t my sister who passed away; it wasn’t my name to choke on. I am thinking about how nobody but the poor souls in that room even knew I went to counseling because I was so afraid people would think I was broken.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about that time up north when that boy tried teaching me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em, and I went all in on my second turn because I didn’t understand the game but I wanted to appear confident anyway. I am thinking about how I should have told that boy, No thanks. I don’t play card games because that was the beginning of something I couldn’t finish.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about how I’ll get up for work tomorrow morning, arrive at the station, and be able to breathe for the first time since I left the station last Sunday. I am thinking about how I’ll walk into the living room, with this very thought in my head, and none of my colleagues will notice because they think I am so strong. Or they don’t think about me at all.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about how I want to get completely wasted at least one time before I die, at least one time before it’s too late to break the law. I am thinking about how, if I actually did this, I would probably need a lot of Ibuprofen because I’ve read that hangovers hurt. I am thinking about how my colleagues enjoy alcohol, as adults do, and chemicals probably work better on traumatic memories than cartoons and chemistry equations.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking, What a good girl you are for not texting The Most Intriguing Eyes I Have Ever Seen on a Living Person because if you text him, he will know you’ve fallen for him. I am thinking about how I always fall in love with ideas, but how this time, I fell in love with a person. I am thinking about how his laugh is a catalyst, and if I could hear him laughing, it would be enough to break up the solid chunk of ice in my chest; it would be enough to make it melt.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about how I never had sleep paralysis until I helped Don and Orland roll a man, stiff with rigor mortis, into a black body bag. I am thinking about that man and how it has almost been a year since he was killed; it has almost been a year since I buried a piece of myself in the memory of those firefighters doing compressions on his broken chest, in the memory of that golden cross next to his curled fingers, in the memory of Don staring at a billboard for steak and chicken and saying, “I’m really hungry.”

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about how, when he was younger, we were the best of friends and that, somewhere between Kindergarten and first grade, little boys change for something close to the worst. I am thinking about how little boys are always so sweet until, one day, they aren’t anymore and it makes you wonder when you stopped being so sweet yourself, and if you broke your mother and father’s heart in the process.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about the day I turned ten, how my family and my two friends each gave me books. I am thinking about how they were brand new, straight spines and crisp pages, and how, that same night, my mom drove me to Barnes & Noble, where I bought a Nook because I loved reading so much, I was running out of bookshelf space. I am thinking about how not much has changed, yet everything must have or I would still be a mind full of fantasy and The Things They Carried wouldn’t make so much sense to me.

It is my brother’s tenth birthday and I am thinking about all the times my dad came into my room and said, “Why don’t you put the book down and have a friend over instead,” and the way he said it wasn’t a question. I am thinking about how not much has changed, yet everything must have: he presents a different statement these days, in the way he clears his throat or furrows his brows or stands in my doorway while I write, and these things say, “Why don’t you put the stories away and make me proud instead.” And it still isn’t a question.

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