The Suitcase - Sun, June 22 By Jennifer Green
The one-year mark of my younger brother’s death arrives this week. The day lying ahead of me like a monster waiting for its prey. A slow, smothering panic overtaking me as the date approaches.
Over the past year life has continued to go on around me and I participate in the play acting out my part to the best of my ability, but just under the layer of smiles and presumed normalcy I hide an internal torture of unbearable pain, anger, regret and responsibility.
The corner of my garage stores the meager belongings retrieved from his apartment just days after his death. Every time I go in there, they mock me; a constant reminder of what is lost. The air so heavy and constricting I can barley breathe. Two old wicker chairs, a futon mattress, bedding, a couple bags of miscellaneous items, a pair of DC shoes . . . and an old green suitcase.
He used the suitcase just weeks prior to his death, spending some time in a community mental facility trying to get his meds on track. He had been on a slow path to improvement, or so we thought, but in actuality he was living in a world of mental torture. A torture that would overtake his sobriety and suddenly in one instant – one quick moment of weakness - he lay dead on the floor of a drug dealer’s home.
I sit now on the floor of my living room with the suitcase in front of me. Too afraid of the pain, I’ve never gone through it before . . . but today I have to . . . the longing to be near him is far too great. I’m aware it’s a sick, sort of self-mutilation of the soul; but I can’t walk away.
I slowly press the buttons to release the latches. In the silence of the room, the soft clicks sound more like cymbals crashing together. My heart beats rapidly, my throat is tight, dry, and the pain . . . the pain is building. My hands tremble as they hover over the edge of the slightly opened top pausing just a moment before I close my eyes and slowly lift it open.
The smell of my brother radiates out of the suitcase, his cells permeating me. I throw open my eyes as I gasp for air. The searing pain in my chest is almost too much to bear. I uncontrollably pound my fists into the contents over and over again and I hear someone sobbing and screaming - I hate you! I hate you! – I realize the screams are coming from me. I hate my brother right now for leaving me and I hate myself for not protecting him. I hate the dealers that sold him the drugs and I hate his disease for making him unable to resist.
Suddenly I’m incredibly weak and tired. I pull my aching fists into my lap and I sit and weep.
Minutes seem like hours and the hatred subsides only to be replaced by desolation. I wipe away the tears from my stinging eyes, clearly revealing once again the suitcase and its contents in front of me. I tenderly pick up each item of clothing and gently bring it to my face rubbing my cheek against it and breathing in the smell, knowing that he was the last one to touch them. Six shirts, 2 pair of pants, some shorts, his favorite Lions baseball cap, socks, a folded up list of AA contacts and an empty pill envelope from the hospital; all otherwise meaningless objects in life – but to me, the most precious of treasures.
One by one, I carefully put the contents back into the suitcase not wanting them to be in the air too long for fear of losing my brother’s scent forever. I lovingly lay my hands over his clothing one last time and close the lid. Completely drained, I slowly stand, pick up the suitcase and carefully tuck it away until next time . . . wondering if it will ever get any easier.