I lost my little brother three years ago today. Even now I find it hard to talk about. I always find comfort in reminiscing on our past and who he was, but I’ve never been able to talk about how this has affected me and how it continues to hurt me. Even when I went to therapy I could never actually discuss him and how the loss was manifesting itself in my body, but I could talk about how it made me act. So this is my attempt, despite how much this hurts and how terrified I am to be this honest, to open up and stop harboring this pain.

The last words we exchanged were “I love you,” but it’s the words before that haunt me. Guilt is a hard thing to explain, but it is most certainly what I feel when it feels like my chest is going to burst and the nausea kicks in. It’s the realization that I had been cruel to him without realizing it. I was so focused on wanting him to get better grades that I never stopped to ask him why he was suddenly failing. Sudden or unexplained declines in school or work performance are an indication of a problem. I know this now because in the months following his death I sought out answers with the hope of finding closure and instead unlocked such a life-rattling revelation that it shook me to the core and changed me entirely. There were signs and I wasn’t paying attention. [Enter Guilt from stage left. Self-loathing soon follows.]

I still remember what I said to him vividly because I was so concerned about him being successful because that is what I thought happiness was back then. I pushed too hard. After dinner we joked around about why I would go upstairs to use the bathroom and before I left we hugged and said our “I love you’s.” It was because we ended on a good note that I didn’t think I had done anything wrong.
The next day I left work and went south to stay with a friend. It was a Monday. When I heard the news that he was in the hospital one of my best friends thought clearly for me when I could not. She drove my car for me to take me home and a part of me, though scared, still felt some sense of calm because I couldn’t grasp that I could lose him and therefore I couldn’t. We were okay. I still had over an hour before I’d be with him. He’d make it. When I got the second call to tell me that he didn’t make it I couldn’t even process the feeling. This was the first time I experienced sensory overload. I went on autopilot and began making phone calls and I’m still not certain why I did that. When the lull passed I was hit with so much emotion all at once that it felt like a giant wave crashed into my soul, stealing my breath. It’s the best way to explain what that moment felt like. It took months before I could drive out of the city because I was terrified someone else I loved would die and I would be trapped and helpless in a car again. I still have to pull over when I leave the city sometimes because I get overwhelmed with fear that it’s going to happen. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel okay driving again.

That night my family and Patrick slept together on my parents’ living room floor. When I think back on it I don’t remember if I felt anything. I don’t remember feeling uncomfortable or sad or if I cried. I remember holding on to the rosary Killian was given at his confirmation the week prior that he had left in my car. I remember falling asleep thinking about singing with him and making jokes about how he was “saved” now. I remembered all the times he would sit in my backseat laughing about videos he had watched online recently, video bloggers he liked, music he was listening to, and the funny voices he would give people. I fell asleep thinking about how I’d never look in the rearview and see him making faces at me again. My car is the last thing I currently have that he has touched and I can’t bring myself to trade it in until it no longer runs.

When I moved into my house I was ecstatic to be able to call somewhere home, but as soon as I showed up on my new property my first thought was about him and how he will never know this place. He will only know the small apartment I had with the swimming pool he would splash around in with Patrick. He will never know my home. I felt the same when I graduated with my first bachelor’s. I wasn’t sure I would graduate because I was slipping. I kept his death a secret from my classmates and professors because I wanted one portion of my life to remain the same and a safe space to walk in where no one looked at me with pity or walked on eggshells, but that ended when I was forced to explain my absences and incomplete assignments. So when I graduated I was not happy or excited or proud. I was relieved to not have to go back and sad that I had to take a step forward without him there to witness it. When Patrick and I announced our engagement I drove to his grave to tell him. It was wet and I crouched to the ground and told him “Buddy, it’s happening. We’re getting married. And you won’t be there to see it. You won’t fucking be there.” I was so filled with anger and hate, but none of it was for him. My life was moving forward and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The car is the only thing left that is a part of my old life.

For the better part of that first year I would wake up from terrible nightmares about him that would cause immediate attacks leaving me breathless, sobbing, and gasping for air. Sometimes it was so bad that I would choke and temporarily pass out while Patrick would try to help me breath and calm me down. I can only recall the details of one dream that shook me so badly that when I woke up I thought I was still dreaming and screamed for help, even though I lived alone at the time and no one would come. It was of his decaying body crucified on a cross and he was laughing; a watery, shrill caterwaul. I’ve never had the dream again, but I drew the image over and over hoping to get the image out of my head and letting it numb me so that I’d never experience that fear again.

I have trouble remembering things. My once prized memory of useless details has vanished and has left me questioning those around me. I’ve lost a lot of trust in people because I’m not sure if they’re lying to me. Now whenever someone recounts an event that I was apparently a part of I question its authenticity because I can’t remember it. I then question myself and my authenticity. I’ve recently come to terms that I don’t remember my childhood. I don’t remember major events, only memories of others telling me about them. I’m not sure what’s real and what I’ve constructed from others’ perceptions. When I try to think of who I was only a few memories come to mind from elementary and middle school. The rest is a blur. Sometimes I struggle believing that I ever existed outside on my current mentality. What was little Keely like? What did she think and dream about? Was she happy? I can’t remember.

I suppose I must have felt happier before all of this because I know I feel a huge weight and that must mean there was a time I felt lighter. When I try to find the words to describe what this feels like I can only bring up an image of a suit of armor. I am a hollow, heavy shell. There was a time when there was something in there, but it’s gone and the shell is all that’s left. That and the overwhelming feelings of sadness and guilt.

I used to take him to IHOP every year for his birthday, just me and him, to get food and drink coffee. I always loved those moments with him because I felt like a good sister and I could tell he was happy. He would tell me about everything he found funny and we would swear we’d never tell mom I let him drink coffee. I can’t remember anymore if he used sugar. That memory is slowly slipping away because I didn’t pay enough attention. Later I became to wrapped up in my own life and job that I missed our date and didn’t even notice until almost a full year later when he asked me if we could go. I would tell him we definitely would when I had free time. A few weeks before he died he had asked me again and I told him the same thing. Now I’m left wondering if he had wanted to talk to me about something that was bothering him. I’ll never know, but I still can’t shake the guilt that I never made the time and I didn’t pay enough attention.

Sometimes I catch myself wondering if he was ever real because now he feels more like a story I once read than someone who was in my life for a brief fourteen years. I can’t remember his voice. Not even a little. When I think of his laugh I’m not sure if it’s true or if I’ve altered it. He feels more fabricated as time goes on because my memories of him are growing dimmer. I can only remember his face because some mornings I cry because I can still see some of those features when I look in the mirror. I try to hold on to the resemblance as long as I can, but it inevitably disappears with a slight movement and I can’t find it again. It is both a comfort and curse to see him in my face because all I can do is wonder “Is this what he’d look like at 25? 26? 27?” Would he age the way I’m aging? Would he have kept some of his youthful features or would his become sharper and more defined like Keenan? Sometimes I look in the mirror and choke on the words “Who would you be right now? Would you finally feel comfortable with who you were? Who would you be at 26? Would you be a chef and a father like you had dreamed? Who would you be?”

There are days at work where I lock the door and sob in a corner where no one can see me because thoughts of who he’d be sneak up on me. It started when I started working for the middle school he attended and I had to hope I didn’t teach any of his friends. I would spend my day filled with anxiety that someone would recognize me and mention his name and I wouldn’t be able to remain composed. I stopped calling myself Miss Doyle and went by Miss K so no one could find me and realize I’m their dead friend’s sister. Now I feel a different sadness when I’m teaching at what would have been his high school because I get to see his friends all grown up, getting their licenses, going to prom, taking their SATs, finding out where they’ll be running off to for college. I never thought I’d watch them grow up, but not him. I never thought I would teach their classes, but not his. Now when those students laugh with me and play their jokes I wonder if he would have joined in. Would he have bragged about me or would he have been embarrassed that I was one of his teachers and tried to keep his distance? It hurts walking those halls and knowing he never did.

I have a deep fear of having children because I’m afraid I’ll have two sons and my family is cursed to only be allowed one. My father’s brother died at a young age leaving him the only one and now my little brother is gone, leaving only one. I’m terrified that the same will happen to me and I’d rather never have them than risk losing one of them. I’m genuinely terrified to ever lose another child that I love with all my heart. I also don’t know how I could ever bare to look at another little face that looks like mine because there may be a chance it inherits the very traits he shared with me and I’m not sure if I would feel joy or sadness. There are many reasons I get angry when anyone tries discussing how I should have children, but it is mainly because they don’t know how terrified I am to see any of him in someone else. They don’t understand the fear and guilt and sorrow I am constantly feeling despite painted on smiles and the most genuine laughs I can muster.

But mostly I feel like a suit of armor. Hollow and heavy with guilt and curses etched under my skin. A tanzanite honeybee engraving as my body’s new coat of arms.

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Girl, why are you always daydreaming?

Maybe it’s because I want to astral project
Myself into space to not be here
Because when I’m here I hurt.
If I go deep enough into my own head
Maybe I will finally fall out and escape
The church bells ringing in the desert
When I was too coward to answer the call.
My skin crawled at the thought of being
Dragged along and left alone
But I answered a call from a safe zone
And I’m mostly alone except for a trail I can pick up.
It’s funny how the life you avoided
Is the life you ultimately lead.
That’s irony, right?

Like how it’s ironic that I used to joke about how I could fight a man
But when his hands were around my throat I cried.
It’s ironic like my feminist male friends
Who suddenly change the subject when rape is brought up —
Who only speak up when it’s about their sisters —
Who told you you did it to yourself when you got hurt —
Who don’t invite you to hang out anymore
Because you’re not the cool girl anymore
Because you don’t find their brand of misogyny funny anymore.

But they don’t understand how your flesh burns
At the thought of church steeples
And how your mind jolts when a man stands up too fast —
Or when your husband raises his voice in excitement —
Or when the stranger grabs your shoulder —
Because you dropped your wallet
And he’s just trying to be nice.

My body became a war zone for asses
And large masses of know-it-alls
And my brain hosts the riots
That none of them want to attend.
My body feels like a church congregation
Full of dreams and hope and pining
Over the ideal man who no one has ever actually seen.
I’d like to think he exists because
that has been forced upon me every day since birth
But now I’m thinking that woman is ideal and real
and so I pray

“Mother Mary, Full of Grace
Save Me From Thine Son.”

A Man made men in His image
And women from clay or bone
But I am a daughter of Lilith
Condemned for being my own.

Girl, why do you daydream so often?

It’s because nowhere here is home.
Nowhere here is safe zone.
And there’s nowhere else I can be left alone.

My dog always wants to share my chocolate
But he can not have it
Because I know what he does not understand.
I was told as a child
that I could not play the bass
Because I was too small.
So a violin was placed in my hands
And I played my heart on those four strings.
But the chords never conveyed my song
Like I thought a deep rumble would.
I could hear myself in a pitch that did not paint my feelings.
My words cried when they should have bellowed.
And my songs became somber in my desperation to connect.
I am older now and I still do not understand.
I have not touched that violin in ten years
Because it is too small to hold the massiveness that is me.

Some may say it’s when it lays a hand on you that bruises,
That the damage has to be seen to be abusive.

But there’s nothing like crying next to someone who is so engrossed in their phone or show to realize it,
and that perfectly describes the isolation you feel in your life.

Or how it doesn’t keep up with your written words
because they are as important as your spoken,
which is not at all
and you’re not the priority.

Sometimes you rotate eating rice with lettuce for every meal
of every day
because you don’t have money,
but it has the budget for beer and cigarettes and meals someone else makes.

It rarely finishes a plate of what you made
and never touches leftovers and all you hear in its excuses are

you’re not good enough.”

Every so often it shows itself in the form of false promises to make you stop crying
and you both know that’s just not true.
He’s just tired of you being tired
and it’s the quickest way to politely say

Be quiet.”

It once screamed “fuck you, bitch”
and you locked yourself away in a closet for three hours —
where you listened to a story about the boy who lived in one too
before it decided it was time to make sure you were still breathing.

When it’s around you’re not allowed to listen to the music that makes you happy
because you have really poor taste
and your happiness is as important as you aren’t.

It tells your friends half truths
and now you’re no longer the fun friend,
but the nagging woman they’ve all feared to befriend.

You’re mad
you’re bad
you nag.

But really you’re just sad
and there are very few left to listen
and you’re crying next to it
and it doesn’t even notice
which is perfect representation
of the lack of recognition
and why you’re so desperate for love.

And the best you can do right now is whisper
I’ll leave you
To the sound of a slamming door,
But at least he locked it before leaving you behind
So no one else could get to you.

Growing Pains pt 2

You’re always trying to escape. You’ve been like this since we met.

My husband’s words hurt, but not because he shot them at me with malicious accusation, but because they were solemn and true. Escape artist. That’s what I used to call myself in my adolescence, but it was a playful way to describe my ability to evade the messy situations and emotions my friends all seemed to endure. I guess I never realized I carried that with me in life. Escape artist. There is always a Plan B with anything I have ever wanted and I have realized that, too, is a form of escapism. It’s hard to fail when you constantly evade it.

I daydream daily about what I think I want. A small home tucked away in the woods far from the chaos of city life. A library with large windows that is left undisturbed unless I am hiding within its walls. A quiet life where I can be left alone. This has remained the same despite its constant relocation. Will I live in Oregon or Colorado or Texas or Maine? Germany or Japan? The point is that it’s always somewhere else and somewhere far away. What is it exactly that I am trying to escape from?

No matter how much I do or what pace I take my life feels stagnant. I completed a degree while working 50-60 hour work weeks despite my baby brother’s untimely death. That’s something to be proud of. It wasn’t enough for me. I quit that job to have the time to travel because I thought that would give me perspective, but instead discovered that I allowed people in my life to heavily influence my decisions. I escaped to those mountains with hopes of learning how to escape my life and came out instead with more frustration than when I entered them. I bought a house because I thought having a home I knew I couldn’t be suddenly and unexpectedly uprooted from would make me happy. Instead I feel trapped because I wasn’t aware how desperately I clung to fire escapes. To elude the fear of entering graduate school I started a second bachelor’s to avoid the disappointed tones and judgment because I’m “too smart for this to be it.” That sentence haunts me as well because it placed on me the heavy burden of expectation for what others wanted from my life. I know this caused me to lose passion in the few things that brought me happiness throughout my life.

What happened to my paintbrushes and turpentine? When did I drop my lense? Where’s my violin? When did my voracious appetite for literature leave behind piles of unread books? Where did I misplace the ink for my pen? Will I find them again when I somehow arrive to this unknown destination I’m seeking? Will I finally be able to move beyond the constant stream of self-conducted interviews?

What do you want? I don’t know.

Who are you? I don’t know.

What makes you happy? I don’t know.

Who do you want to be? Someone better.

How do you do that? I don’t know.

Why did you do this? I thought I’d be happy.

Why aren’t you? I don’t know.

What’s your problem? I don’t know.

You’re too smart for this to be it. Leave me alone.

the mom friend

I don’t want to be the mom friend anymore.
I was always wired for empathy
and I opened my heart to many.
I took them in
and sheltered them
and unknowingly whispered
“use me.”

I can tell a lot about my friends
because they never thank me
and if I’m the mom friend
then they certainly don’t appreciate the womb I’m emulating.

I don’t want to be the mom friend anymore.

I never realized that offering my home once meant forever
or giving them my advice meant for always. Despite whether it was good for me.
My time was no longer mine
and I could be reached at the touch of a button.
My time was was no longer mine
because I offered it once
and that meant eternity.

I don’t want to be the mom friend anymore.
I don’t want to be leaned on,
but never shown the same support.
I didn’t realize that the phone only worked one way.
I began to understand that my time was less valuable than yours
Because when you’re the mom friend
your sole purpose is for those you loved
and you’re a bad mother if don’t answer the call.
I didn’t realize that I had to cement myself to stand strong.
That I had to push the tide of emotions and troubles down to make room to nurture others.
I’m sorry your brother died,
but my girlfriend is a bitch.
I’m sorry you’re crying every day,
but work is draining me.
I’m sorry you feel like dying sometimes,
but I’m low on money and wanted to know…
do you want to get food?

I don’t want to be the mom friend anymore
Because the thought of being a real mother makes me nauseous
Because I want to live my life alone
Because I want to be left alone
Because I want to be called “my friend”
Because I don’t even want to take care of myself anymore
Because I don’t want my anger to be dismissed as “mama bear mode”
Because I don’t want to carry the burden I never asked for to begin with
Because I want to go out without having an eagle eye
Because I want to worry about me.

I don’t want to be the mom friend anymore
Because being a woman is hard enough.