My last conversation with my brother was like... I asked him about a present for his birthday. And he replied with “Do not judge me.” And killed himself. On his own birthday.
Luckily, though I can’t say for sure, his attempt wasn’t successful. And he planned it well. He went to the coast, sat between boulders, and slashed his wrists, but a stray dog followed him. Its continuous barking and howling attracted the attention. Someone called 911. And my brother was taken to the hospital.
I’m looking at his sleeping face and... it’s like, I don’t know him at all. Never knew.
Mother’s face, she’s sitting across from me, seems to be drained of blood. She doesn’t cry, her eyes seem to be made of glass. She doesn’t even look at my brother or me. She’s not here, it’s just a crystal shell.
Father is not here.
I’ve arrived just yesterday. I was a little behind on my exams, so I came back home yesterday evening though I had planned to be here a week ago. I haven’t bought a birthday gift for my brother, that’s why we had that conversation right before bed. I thought that we would get up in the morning, go to the mall, and he would choose something... Or I thought I could put some cash in his pocket. Nah, stupid...
Although, on my 18th birthday, he gave me... a game boy?
I can’t hold back a smile. My mother doesn’t notice it.
He was 15 back then. Only three years have passed. How did it come to this?
“Mrs. Royce,” the nurse enters the room. Mom does not immediately notice her. “Mrs. Royce? Please come with me. You must sign some papers.”
I watch as mother rises from her seat absentmindedly. Her bag falls from her knees to the floor. She bends down to pick it up and drops her glasses.
“Mom, mom,” I approach her, unsuccessfully trying to catch her eye, picking up her things myself and squeezing her hands, forcing her to straighten up. “Should I go with you?”
She shakes her head imperceptibly and leaves with the nurse. I sit down in the chair again. Aiden is still asleep.
Why isn’t my father here?..
I dozed off in the chair, and when I open my eyes, I see that my mother is not here.
Something is wrong... This feeling is getting stronger, and thoughts, so vague and discombobulated, similar to silhouettes, are starting to take shape.
I leave the room to call my mother.
“Yes, Brent?” Her voice in the receiver seems flat and unnatural.
“You went home?”
“Yes, I am very tired...”
I am dumbstruck. I don’t have children of my own. I turned 21 a couple of months ago, but I don’t believe I would behave this way towards my son, who tried to commit suicide on his birthday less than 10 hours ago!
“Mom... what’s the matter?” I try not to raise my voice. “I don’t understand what’s happening to you.”
She is silent for a long time, breathing unevenly, and then replies, “Let’s talk at home.”
And she hangs up. I remain standing in the corridor with the phone pressed to my ear, listening to silence. And I can’t get a grasp on the situation.
I return to Aiden’s room. I want him to come to his senses as soon as possible. Also because maybe, he will explain to me what is happening here!
The nurse convinces me to go home, saying that nothing threatens my brother’s life. Yeah... but himself.
I stayed at the hospital for the night. Aiden is still asleep. So I decide to go home to change and bring his clothes. He won’t put on those clothes he was found in, will he?
When I come home, nothing seems to have changed here. Father, as usual, is sullen and silent, drinking coffee, hiding behind a newspaper. Mother prepares breakfast. But I hear a sound, like a ringing. Everyone pretends that everything is normal, but it’s not. And this dissonance creates tension. This is how the false silence rings.
I come into the kitchen and begin to speak without much preamble. I wish I could speak more calmly, but... what the hell?!
“What the hell is going on?! Why are you acting like your son wasn’t trying to kill himself?! Like it’s not your son is in the hospital now?”
My father looks at me over the top of the newspaper; his gaze inspires me with fear, almost like when I was a kid.
“Don’t raise your voice, Brent,” my mother’s voice is pleading, almost imploring. She has been afraid of my father all her life. And much more than me.
“Answer me, mom!” I look at her as if trying to imitate my father’s gaze. She fearfully averts her eyes. Father puts the newspaper on the table, his face hardens.
“Shut your mouth,” he says, face gradually reddening, as mother’s hands begin to tremble. My heart is pounding in my throat. I turn around and leave the kitchen. I pack my and Aiden’s belongings quickly. I hear my father leaving for work. I go downstairs and find my mother alone in the kitchen. She is, again, only a fragile shell.
“Mom,” I say demandingly. She looks up at me. “Tell me what happened.”
She is silent. I soften my voice, “Did dad and Aiden have a fight?”
She purses her lips.
“Why, mom?” I press on.
“Your brother... your brother,” she curls her lips. “...is gay,” she lowers her voice to almost a whisper as if someone might hear her.
I look at her in disbelief, “So?”
And then I understand that this is all. This is a terrible mystery, comparable to the original sin. My brother turned out to be the stigma and a curse of this family. And it seems to me that my family is stuck somewhere in the Middle Ages.
“And that’s why you left your son?”
“Your brother,” she begins again. She does not call him by name and does not say “my son” as if she is trying to disown him with all her might. Put this cross on someone else’s shoulders. “Dad found out and...”
I don’t need her to continue. I know my father. At this point, I’m already surprised that he didn’t kill him. My father is a soldier. He was in several military campaigns... he shot, killed, and saw how others were killed. Before the war and after - it’s two different men. My father was killed in the war, and what has left is a shell filled with anger like gas. One spark... and boom. All my childhood, I was afraid of him; my mother was afraid of him... We all were afraid of him.
“But they will cure him,” she says suddenly, her eyes sparkling feverishly. “He’ll be normal again.”
A feeling rushes upon me that I never knew her too...
“He is normal! For god’s sake, mom!” I exclaim and walk away.
As I’m driving, I keep trying to swallow the lump of pain, tears, and anger. And when I finally manage to control my face, I come into Aiden’s room. Nurses are scurrying around him. Aiden came to his senses, but...
I don’t see my brother in front of me... It’s some kind of epidemic. He is nothing but a shell. He doesn’t look at me or the nurses, he looks at the leaden skies.
I ask the nurses what is the matter, and one of them replies that Aiden is being transferred.
“Where?” I wonder.
“To a psychiatric hospital.”
“What?! He doesn’t need to go there!”
“Calm down. Who are you, may I ask?”
“I’m his older brother!”
“Look, your mother, Mrs. Royce, thought it would be good for him. She filled out all the forms yesterday. And she’s right. Attempted suicide is a serious matter. The boy needs help.”
It seems to me that the world has gone crazy.
“Can I... can I talk with my brother alone for just a minute? Please,” I slow my breathing down to speak more evenly.
The nurses exchange glances and leave.
“Aiden, Aiden!” I grab my brother by the shoulders and shake as if I want to wake him up, but he looks at me with empty eyes and does not answer. I sit him down in a chair prepared by the nurses and hastily roll him out into the corridor. I make a maneuver past the nurses’ station so that they would not notice me and go to the stairs.
“Aiden, come on. Please, wake up. We have to leave.” I take the clothes out of the bag. Aiden obediently pulls on a T-shirt and puts on jeans. He’s not standing firmly, but I decide to leave the chair right here. We go out to the elevators and go to the first floor. We turn our faces away from every doctor and nurse we meet and, finally, find ourselves on the street. Aiden takes the back seat. I’m starting the car.
When we are on the road, I realize that I have no idea where to go. Aiden is reflected in the rearview mirror. He stares out the window blankly. He still has not uttered a word.
I decide to just take the highway. I don’t know what’s ahead. But even if I wanted to go back, I could not. We have no place to go back.
Oklahoma fields surround us. The sun hides behind the horizon. In order not to spend the night on the curb, I turn onto a country road. Aiden is still silent. I tried to get him to talk but never got an answer. I’ll leave him alone for now. He needs to come to his senses. If it’s possible at all. I stop the car in front of a spreading tree. I literally pull Aiden out of the car. He stands where I left him while I recline the front seats in the car so we could sleep on them. I take candy bars and a bottle of water from my bag - I bought it at a gas station on our way here. I spread the seat cover under the tree and make Aiden sit down. I hand him our simple meal, but he does not touch anything. His gaze freezes again at some distant point.
“Aiden,” I say seriously and take him by the shoulder. “Talk to me, please.”
But he doesn’t react. He seemed to become a part of this place. Light breeze, foliage noise, cicadas chirping, and Aiden. Silent, calm, and indifferent.
We go to sleep in the car, and I feel anxious.
What if I wake up and Aiden isn’t here? Or worse... what if he completes the attempt right here, next to the tree, and, in the morning, not a stray dog, but I’ll find him.
This anxiety keeps me awake even when I see Aiden sound asleep. And only when I flinched at a loud knock, I realized that I had dozed off after all.