What I didn't know about grief is that it's so much like rage. In the days after my little brother Mark's death, I developed an elaborate fantasy that some guy on the street would say something like "Smile, baby" and I'd whip around to seethingly ask, "What did you just say?" He'd repeat it, and then I'd tear into him: "My brother just committed suicide, so thanks, but no thanks, I'm not gonna smile today, and if I ever hear of you saying that to another woman, I will track you down and carve a smile into your face." Given the chance, I honestly think I would have offered this deranged sermon, but as soon as Mark died, men stopped bothering me on the street.
I want everyone in the world to know Mark is dead. I want the whole city of New York to go into mourning; I want sirens and wailing, people sobbing for days on end, gigantic memorials erected, and every big brain directed toward understanding what took him. Without that, I'm willing to trade a bunch of other people's siblings for Mark. I cultivate a list of brothers I know or know of, ever ready for the swap.
"Please be kind to each other," Mark wrote once in a letter to us all, but that's hard to do. I do not feel big loving feelings for humanity. Instead I feel malicious, mean. I'm mad at the doctors, mad at myself, mad at Mark (sometimes), and mad at the strangers who laugh on the subway as if Mark isn't dead.
For days after Mark's death, I wandered around the house in his clothes, pawed repeatedly through his keepsakes, and slept in his bed. If you didn't want me to be going through all your stuff, then you shouldn't have died, I think defensively before keeling over into a pile of his shirts, weeping.
I didn't realize I was looking for a note just for me until, reaching into the pocket of a hardly worn jacket and feeling paper, my breath caught. It wasn't a note from Mark, but it was the flyer from the fashion show I watched him walk in. Does this count? I wondered, but I wanted more.
A few weeks later, lying with his childhood stuffed bear and trying to sleep, I noticed it had a hole by the seam. I felt fluttery, delighted. Finally, I thought to myself. But there was just stuffing inside, no note hidden with the prescience that I'd be the one to keep Beary close.
Without him here, I treasure the things that speak to the humble and tragic hope that his life would go on — the tin of lip balm with a thumbprint in the middle, a half-used MetroCard, the Mallomars in the cabinet next to the tea he'd special-ordered. They're painful but precious reminders of his aliveness, even if he wouldn't find them all too meaningful. I know Mark would be embarrassed by my sentimentality, would say, "Al, it's just crap, toss it," but I can't.
On special occasions, I allow myself a small swipe of lip balm, careful to go around the rim and not touch the indentation made by his finger. Every so often, I take out his beach shirt, which hasn't been washed enough since the summer he was alive to have lost its sunscreen-y smell. I hold it close to my face and breathe that in. His deodorant, I've found, is useless. It doesn't smell the same when it's not cut by skin and sweat.
I have so many things of his, but it doesn't feel like enough. So I continue to hunt; I call the detective who took Mark away and ask for details, and I get scammed out of $300 trying to gain access to his locked phone in order to see the photos he took during his final days.