The radio blares a commentary on pain as I start a new routine. I’ve gotten soft around the belly and my knees no longer hold my weight. I recognize that I’m not fat; but the extra pounds spell certain doom for me. If I break a hip or tumble in front of a fast-moving truck on Brannan Island Road, my dream of going off-grid will become a lost memory in the minds of my mourners. So I start over, and I take my inspiration where I find it.
I disdain the 7-minute work-out, the miracle of “Life Tang”, and the plethora of before-and-after pictures of seventy-year-old models. I stand and begin the bend-and-stretch that starts my gentle push towards whatever semblance of healthy I can muster. I click off KQED Live and focus on my breathing as I reach towards the eleven-foot ceiling.
Through the railing, in the space over the unmade daybed, a face winks at me. I should have known. Your Friend And Mine, Stevie Pat. It’s twenty-one years since Vickie McKeever crested a hill on the isolated stretch of property and saw my brother’s car parked in a clearing. Twenty-one years since she brought her mother to harvest columbine and instead instructed her to stay in the car while Vickie picked her way through the forest and found my brother’s body where it had, no doubt, been leaning for a week. The woods had reclaimed him. I can only imagine Vickie’s anguish.
I push my body outward, then down. I lift my head far enough to meet my brother’s eyes. We do not know his exact day of death. We know when someone last saw or heard from him: Sunday, 08 June 1997. We know when Vickie found him: Saturday, 14 June 1997. We know that he had been dead for about a week.
Twenty-one years ago my baby brother ended his pain with a gun’s sure blast and left the rest of us to figure out how to deal with the loss of him.
My arms ache, my neck creaks, my legs shiver but I keep moving. All the while, Steve gazes over this small space, the house which now holds more than enough, enough that I already feel compelled to edit. The space on the floor in which I push myself to the point of panting still allows me to spread the yoga mat and do my thing. I’ve got to get moving. My friend Pat Reynolds and I will head north soon, towards Novato and lunch with Sharon Alberts and her daughter Ellen Cox.
The sun streams bright through my ten windows. A healing breeze wafts through one of those windows. I breathe in, out, and lift my hands. I shake my wrists. I lunge. I feel the delicious glow of life crackling along my demylenated nerves. On many days, the pain of this routine would overwhelm me. Today I push aside all thought of that pain and keep moving.
It’s the tenth day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
FOR STEPHEN PATRICK CORLEY, whom neither time nor I have forgotten.