Eleven o’clock draws near, on one of my last nights in this house.
I’ve spent an hour browsing yet another box of photographs. My heart clenches and melts in turns. I’ve shed tears and burst out laughing. And I’ve remembered.
Many of us can say where we first heard the news of Kennedy’s death, the moon landing, 9/11, or the start of war. But I most clearly remember the moment when I found out my brother Stephen had killed himself.
Nick Corley, my nephew, had safely arrived in Kansas City for his summer’s visit. Standing in my kitchen, here in this house, I telephoned my sister-in-law to let her know. Through sobs, she gasped, “Call Mark,” referring to Nick’s father. I snapped, “Kevin or Steve?” She sobbed through the phone. “Just call Mark.”
Vicky McKeever had found his body under a tree on their land in St. Charles County. Just there: leaning, where he had done the deed nearly a week before her visit to pick columbine. Thus began my twenty-year lament: Stevie Pat, Stevie Pat, I failed you — I am sorry! Please forgive me. Please don’t leave me.
A haunting passage from “Girl, Interrupted” gives me pause to reconsider my cries. After the main character’s suicide, her friend wails her own sorrow to the group therapist. He gently reminds her that the girl’s death is not about the survivor but about the pain which led to the final act of despair. I’ve told myself that same thing for two decades.
As I cull out another few inches of treasured photographs, I lay my brother’s image aside to scan. He did not see the lens pointed toward him. He looked as he always did — composed, confident, calm. Funny, how appearance can deceive.
It’s nearly midnight, on the fifth day of the forty-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. I’m feeling the turn of the season and the impending departure which I embrace, though not without a tinge of the bittersweet. Life continues.