Life Among the Voids
Copyright 2016 by Roman Theodore Brandt
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I’ve written a story containing subject matter that I’ve only skimmed in the past, but this is how it came to me and this is how I wrote it. I refuse to warn anyone about the content or apologize for it. If you don’t read to be moved, changed, or otherwise made uncomfortable, you’re already dead.
Roman Theodore Brandt
Table of Contents
Life Among the Voids
I remember the fireworks on the lake, the whistling right before the boom, streaking across the sky in spider webs of light, the explosions shaking the windows of all the houses in the park, the water coated in a thin film of ash and memory. The crackling reds, the sparkling whites, the burning white-hot blues danced behind my eyelids long after they faded from the sky.
I remember my brother, sitting in his hoodie on the boat dock, staring up at a night sky that was alive with the burning remains of freedom. Harvey was like those fireworks. He was crazy and alive; he was controlled chaos, destructive beauty too far away to hurt anyone but himself. He was light, he was pain, he was magic and concussive, colorful anger. And if he was the fireworks, we were the ground below, in awe and lucky to be bathed in his light and kissed by the embers he left behind.
I got a phone call from Harvey the night before I left campus. His voice was far away, echoing off the walls of our bedroom at the lake house.
“I thought you’d want to know Mom’s a mess,” he said.
“You’re a mess,” I told him, and he was quiet. I could hear him breathing on the other end. I imagined him looking out our small, rectangle window that faced the lake, looking up at the stars.
I slammed the phone down. It rang again almost immediately. I sat staring at the wall, listening to the phone ring, with the sound vibrating behind my temples. Finally, I snatched it up, sending the cradle crashing off the night stand. “What?”
“You seem a little bothered,” he whispered into my ear.
“You know how school is.”
Harvey didn’t say anything. I could almost see him on the other side of the phone line, playing with the cord and trying to think of something normal to say, something not crazy, something funny or interesting or insulting. “She wrecked her car and walked home.”
“Listen,” he said, “I just wanted to let you know it’s a goddamn circus here.”
I wanted to say something to him, but I couldn’t think of anything worth saying. I sat listening to the hum of the phone line and looking over at the dark window beside my bed.
“I don’t know what’s going on with Mom and Dad,” Harvey said, “I think they’re aliens.”
“Mom ate a whole stick of butter yesterday.” He paused for a second, and then he said, “She just sat there and ate it with a fork. Dad didn’t say anything about it, he just watched her eat a whole god damned stick of butter.”
“I have to sleep,” I told him.
He laughed a little. “Sorry,” he said.
“Go to sleep.”
“I will,” he said, and he hung up without saying goodbye as always.
Right before I had gone off to college, Harvey had got drunk and wound up at the police station in our hometown. I rode with Mom and Dad to go get him, but I stayed in the car when they went inside. It seemed like forever passed before they emerged from the building with my brother, stumbling toward the car and grinning like a dope when he saw me sitting in the backseat. Mom yanked the door open and stood there rigidly, waiting for him to get in.
“Hey, kid,” he said, slouching into the car and laughing. The air in the car smelled like alcohol.
“Get your leg in the car,” Mom said, and she slammed the door after he managed to pull his foot in.
“I was hoping you’d come,” he said, getting uncomfortably close, and then he let his head droop against my shoulder, wiping a long strand of slobber from his mouth. “Don’t tell anyone; I’m drunk.”
“I’m sure no one knows,” I told him.
“Shhh.” He patted my thigh.
“What were you thinking?” Mom asked from the driver’s seat. “I was worried sick. I’m sure your uncle is just as worried as I am.”
“Did he call?” Harvey asked her, and her mouth pursed into a single, angry line.
“He keeps to himself,” she said.
“If he were worried, don’t you think he would have called?”
“You’re drunk,” she said.
“You don’t say!”
“You ran away from home. I’m sure he’s beside himself.”
“I’m an adult,” Harvey said. “You can’t run away if you’re an adult.”
Mom shook her head as we pulled out onto the road. “No consideration for anyone.”
“Just call us next time, alright?” Dad said from the front seat.
“I didn’t hurt anybody. Fuck.” Harvey’s breath was warm on the skin of my neck. “Home, driver,” he said.
Mom laughed a little and then caught herself. “It’s not funny,” she told him.
“Looks like it’s you and me now,” he said to me. I looked up at Mom in the rearview mirror staring back at us, and then at the back of Dad’s head over the headrest. “Just you and me.”
“Shut up,” I said, and he laughed for a while, and then he just gave up trying to stay upright and collapsed against me with his head on my shoulder, his saliva soaking through the fabric of my shirt.
“Don’t leave me on that farm,” he whispered into my shirt, and then he was out.
That seemed like a million years ago. Here I was, having left home for college, and I found myself to be a piece that never quite fit into anyone else’s puzzle. I stood at parties like a statue with my new haircut, wishing I could talk to someone. I ate pizza alone in my dorm room and watched the other people at my school laugh and talk and kiss, and all I could think about was the throbbing mess in my head, the tangle of beatings and whispered secrets that I had left to die on a farm in Ohio. I didn’t deserve to be happy. I didn’t deserve friends or conversation. I kept a pocket knife in my backpack for when I wanted to feel something. I couldn’t count all the times and places I had watched my own blood swirling down a drain, like coming up for air.
Don’t leave me on that farm, he said. That was all he asked of me in the end, and here I was, drowning in my freedom.
I was brushing my teeth, staring at the void in the mirror, when the phone rang again. It was odd to get all calls from our lake house. I hadn’t been there in years. To be honest, I kind of forgot it existed. It was in a separate part of my brain, a little house on a lake in a forest at the end of the world. At first I just stared at the caller ID, and then I spit the toothpaste out into the sink. I picked up on the third ring.
“What took you so long?” Mom’s voice crackled over the line, sending birds flapping from their perches around campus.
“Mom, why are you calling from lake?”
There was silence on the other end, and then I heard her talking to my father, their voices low.
“Yeah,” she said, “Listen, Honey, why don’t you come to the lake house for the summer? When are finals?”
“I have a week left.” I looked over at the calendar, marked red from every test I’d failed. Don’t ask how I’m doing, I wanted to say; don’t tell me you’re proud of me.
“Well, you ought to come out for the summer. It’s the last year they’re doing the fireworks.” Mom coughed a little. “Your brother is already here.”
I pictured Harvey, passed out drunk on the sofa, stumbling through the woods, Mom and Dad watching him drool at the kitchen table, doped up on his medication.
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“It’ll be fun,” Mom told me.
“Yeah, I don’t think—”
“What are you gonna do, huh? Stick around an empty college town all summer feeling sorry for yourself?”
“I’ve made friends here,” I told her, which was a lie.
I looked up at my calendar again and sighed.
“Your father and I haven’t seen you all year. Will you come out to the lake?”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, “I’ll come out to the lake.”
I thought about the fireworks, the fair, swimming in the lake in the flickering home movies in my head.
“Okay,” Mom said. “Pack your toothbrush.”
“I’m not stupid.”
“Listen, just humor me and say ‘okay, Mom; thanks.’”
I looked over at my abandoned toothbrush on the counter, foamy with toothpaste. “Okay, Mom; thanks.”
She laughed, her voice echoing out across the lake, several hours down the highway from where I sat on my hard mattress, completely alone in a town full of loud music and loud conversations. “You’re welcome,” she said, and then she hung up. I sat there with the receiver in my hand until I heard the buzzing of the dial tone, then I yanked the cord out of the wall.
Harvey was a handsome gorilla of an older brother, a sturdy farm boy with buzzed hair. He smiled at me from the station platform as my bus pulled up. His eyes found me immediately and he waved a little, and my stomach filled up with acid.
“I’m here,” I said to myself, waving back.
When I got off the bus, he grabbed my suitcase out of my hand. “It’s been eight thousand years, kid,” he said. I wanted to melt into the sidewalk and be gone. I shouldn’t have come here. I followed him to Dad’s car and he heaved the suitcase into the backseat.
“You don’t know what I have in there,” I told him.
He laughed. “I didn’t hear anything break.”
On the way home, he talked about how crazy Mom was now.
“You won’t believe it,” he said, staring out at the road. His eyes were a little darker than I remembered, and a little deeper in his face. “One second she’s normal and the next she’s a damn psycho.”
“She’s always been weird.”
“We’re all weird,” he said, and then he laughed. “We’re all fucking weird.”
I thought of all the parties and social functions where I sat on the sofa holding my red solo cup, dreaming of having friends and social skills. “I’m not weird.”
“Oh yeah?” he said. “You make any friends at college, since you’re so normal now?”
I shrugged and thought about my empty dorm room. “I made plenty of friends.”
Harvey stared out at the road ahead, his face an unreadable mask of silence, and then he said, “Well good for you, kid. I was worried for a while.”
“You don’t have to worry about me. If anything, I should be worried about you.”
I immediately regretted saying that. Harvey flexed his fingers on the wheel and laughed a little. “Why’s that?”
“No, tell me why you should be worried about me. I’m all ears.”
“It’s nothing. I just worry, that’s all.”
He chuckled. “You’re worried about me, all alone on that farm with him.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
He sighed and relaxed a little. I thought of him sitting in one of the bare mattresses in one of the spare rooms in our uncle’s house, staring out at the endless gravel road leading away toward the horizon.
“How is Uncle Bill?”
His grip on the wheel tightened, the tendons in his knuckles flexing and cracking. “He’s alive so far.”
Harvey had lived in the back of my mind when I went off to college. He was huge in my memory, looming over all my childhood experiences. Something happened in his brain when he was in middle school when we went out to our uncle’s house for the summer, and the constellations in his head broke formation and reformed into pictures I would never be able to understand. My uncle’s house was in the middle of nowhere, and all I really remember about what happened was that I woke up to the sound of vomiting coming from down the hall. I found Harvey in the bathroom, throwing up into the toilet. He looked over at me with his eyes wet from crying and said, “Go away.”
The realignments of those stars eventually told him to punch me awake for the first time when I was ten and he had just turned thirteen. I woke up with my mouth a mess, gasping for air. Harvey sat on the edge of my bed with his knuckles bloody, his eyes searching mine for what I’ll never know, and then he smiled and lifted me up out of bed, still coughing and choking on my own blood, and he pulled me to him. I stained his T-shirt with my tears and my red blood cells.
In the walls of my chest, something had been growing, just an embryo at the time, a clump of life spinning in the void, waiting to be real. It grew emotions and an umbilical cord that attached somewhere inside him. Now, five years later, it was a mess across three states, blood dripping from the tissue stretched down highways and around traffic lights and freeway exits from a lonely farm in the Midwest to the room where I lived by myself on campus. It was pure, white-hot pain, liquid and seething under my skin at night, aching to snap and recoil but afraid to be disconnected and sent back into the void to suffocate. I used to watch the stars behind his eyes connect like dots into patterns but could never quite translate the message. It all became combustion, purifying and hot in the shimmering filmstrip of my memory.
Dinner the first night was the circus Harvey promised. When we came into the kitchen, Mom was already sitting at the table like an art installation, wrapped in the afghan from the back of the sofa. She smiled a little when we sat down, and then again, even broader, when Dad sat down. Dad looked like he’d aged about ten years since I last saw him. Mom watched him scoot up to the table.
“Look, David,” She said, reaching out of the afghan to pick up her coffee mug. “Look at these two.”
Dad smiled sheepishly at us. “How’s school, Henry?”
I glanced over at Harvey, and he grinned, raising an eyebrow. I wanted to get back on the bus and go back to campus. Or even better, I wanted to stretch myself across the tracks and wait for the train, rumbling in the distance, thunder in the tracks shaking far away.
They were all staring at me like a bunch of vultures, waiting for me to spill my intestines on the table. “Dad, I don’t want to talk about school.”
“Come on, Henry,” Mom said, sipping from her mug. “All good grades, I bet.”
Harvey giggled a little. “All good grades, right Henry?”
I kicked him under the table, and he flinched. I wanted to put his head through the plate of food in front of him.
“Sure, Harvey. All good grades.”
He looked from Mom to Dad and then glared at me.
“It’s nice to have the family together again,” Mom murmured to her coffee mug.
“Why are we at the lake house?” Harvey asked abruptly, and I stared at Mom, because this was the one question I couldn’t make myself ask her.
“The fireworks are better at the lake, Harvey.” Mom put her mug down on the table a little hard, the sound making Dad wince.
“Let’s just tell them,” Dad said.
A noise came out of Mom that I had never heard before. She picked up her mug again and smashed it on the table. Coffee went everywhere, soaking the afghan and spotting our clothes. Harvey laughed hysterically for a second.
“What the fuck,” I mumbled.
“I told you,” Harvey mouthed to me from across the table.
“I’m sorry,” Mom said, standing up quickly to fish the napkins from where we sat. Just as quickly, she tumbled forward, catching herself before she put her face into the meatloaf. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
Dad was already out of his seat, gripping the back of the chair. “You want me to call 911?”
“David, I fell is all.”
“Mom’s doing her own stunts,” Harvey said, and she sighed, smiling a little.
“I suppose I am,” she told us. She sat back down and flung her coffee soaked afghan around her frame again, tighter this time. She looked at Dad. “Sit down,” she said, and he sat back down.
“What did you need?” He wanted to know.
“Did you just get up for fun?”
“I got napkins to clean up the mess; didn’t you see? Are you all a bunch of idiots?” She looked around at us with her eyes all crazy, and then she looked down at her food, ruined by the coffee. “Fuck,” she said quietly. She sighed and slouched back in her chair like a child. “It’s cold in here,” she added.
“It’s too hot,” Harvey said immediately, and she shot him a look that might have been a knife if she’d had her way.
“I think we’re all on different continents in this family,” she told him after a minute, and with that, no one said anything else throughout the entire meal. We all sat and ate in weird, angry silence, with Mom presiding over the mood, clanking her fork across her plate just a little louder than everyone else, shoving forkfuls of coffee-soaked potatoes into her mouth until she finally stood up and walked away, leaving the vinyl dinette chair behind and dragging her afghan behind her all the way down the hall to the bathroom.
“She ate too much.” Harvey stuffed a chunk of dead cow into his mouth and talked around it. “She’s gonna go barf it all up now like a classy broad.”
“That’s not nice,” Dad said, getting up to follow her down the narrow hallway.
The sounds of retching from the bathroom came next. The wet, angry gurgling and intermittent crying were the only sounds as Harvey and I finished our plates.
The night, Harvey threw a shoe at me from the top bunk. He waited until we had turned the lights out and heaved it down at me, and it hit my mouth. I coughed and sat up with the taste of blood and gravel in the back of my throat. Harvey’s laughter echoed from the top bunk, and the springs of his mattress squeaked.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I yelled, and that made him laugh harder.
“I’m sorry,” he said, trying not to laugh.
“No you’re not.” I touched my lip and it was numb. I reached over and switched on the lamp. “What the fuck.”
Harvey started laughing again.
“Why did you do that?”
“I wanted someone to feel something,” Harvey said, giggling, and he heaved his other shoe at me. I picked it up and launched myself out of bed and up onto the top bunk, pinning him down. He was still laughing when I hit him across the face with his own shoe, but now his laughing was maniacal, with his teeth and gums bleeding.
“Fuck you! Are you stupid?” I yelled. He giggled a little, with blood filling his mouth, and he coughed and spit it out, choking.
“Did you feel something when you hit me?” I tossed his shoe down onto the floor, and he gurgled a little. “Hit me again,” he whispered, grinning. “Do you feel anything?”
I sat back, straddling him, and he started laughing again. “What the fuck,” I mumbled.
“I want to feel something,” he said quietly.
“Go to sleep.”
He slapped me, cackling. “I want to feel something. Hit me.”
“I want to sleep.”
“Hit me,” he said, and he punched my shoulder. “Hit me so I can feel it like you do.”
“Don’t say that to me,” I told him, with my stomach turning into a pit of ice.
“Make me bleed so I feel like a human,” he said, and something inside me snapped. I drew my fist back and punched him right in the mouth, sending the blood he was about to swallow across his pillow and up my arm, staining everything red. “Fuck me up! Make me feel something!” he screamed, and he spit blood at me. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to choke him out until he was a corpse in the top bunk so that I could sleep. I balled up my fist, ready to hit him again.
The door burst open, and I looked over to see Dad staring at us from the hall. “What are you boys doing?”
Harvey freaked out when the doctor tried to start the stiches, so they gave him something in an IV that turned him into a calm, soft-spoken pile of muscles. While the doctor worked, Harvey claimed to be Anne Hathaway’s body double and said he had bought and sold Minnesota with Monopoly money. Mom glared at him from the bedside chair, occasionally looking over to glare at me while Dad sat like a mannequin in the plastic chair against the far wall, waiting for it all to be over.
“I think we’ve all had enough fun for one night,” she said.
“I want a kitten,” Harvey mumbled around the doctor’s fingers.
“Don’t talk while he’s working; you’re making it hard to fix your face.” Mom sighed and fished around in her purse. “I lost my car keys.”
“What do you need your car keys for? You drove it into a wall,” Harvey said.
“They’re coming to pick it up soon, and I need to find the keys.”
“They’re still in it,” Dad said from the other side of the room.
Mom stopped fishing around in her purse to look up at him with her mouth gaping, the bones of her face sharper and clearer than before. “Fuck. I locked it.”
I rolled my eyes and slouched down in the chair, putting my head in my hands. “Oh my god.”
The ride home from the ER was silent for a long time, and then Mom said from the passenger seat, “I don’t know what you two were thinking.”
“I feel butchered,” Harvey said around the cotton in his mouth.
“Shut up,” I said.
“You two little assholes,” Mom mumbled. She stared out the window, refusing to look at us. “I’m so tired. I just wanted to sleep through the night.”
“Fuck off,” Harvey said, and he laughed a little.
“I wish you would shut up,” I told him, and he looked over at me, smiling like an idiot with his cheek full of cotton.
“You could have killed each other,” Mom yelled, and the car was quiet again. The air was tense and thick, and she switched the radio on, filling the car with the banter of midnight talk radio hosts.
“I have stitches; I feel like a quilt,” he told me.
“God, you’re stupid,” I said.
“I’m stupid?” Harvey put his head back against the headrest. “You’re stupid. You’re a fucking moron.”
“You’re going to lose that cotton,” Dad said, his voice stern. He glared back at us in the rear view mirror. “Don’t talk so much.”
“You’re a fancy fucking college dick now,” Harvey announced, straining at his seat belt. “You left me on that farm, just like Mom and Dad did.”
“Oh my god,” Mom said loudly from the front of the car. She slumped down in her seat, becoming smaller to take up less space. “I think I want to walk home.”
“Look at me, I’m Henry and I’m smarter than my whole family now!” Harvey yelled. “I can’t come visit because I have my dick in a book.”
“Just stop it,” I mumbled.
“We’ll get some ice cream when we get home,” Mom said, looking at him over the seat back and smiling. “What kind do you want?”
“I don’t want fucking ice cream, Mom.” Harvey said, burying his face in his hands.
“Well what do you want, then?” She asked.
And right then, Harvey started to scream.
Mom’s arm shot back and she grabbed his wrist, her knuckles white from the grip she had on him. He looked at her like a terrified animal, silent and scared beside me.
“If you scream like that again, I will break your fucking arm,” she said quietly, glaring at him from around the headrest. She shook his wrist, and he yelped. “Loud noise sets off my headaches, and I can’t take that kind of screaming. Do you understand me?”
“Let go!” He yelled, trying to pull away, but she yanked him forward, nearly out of his seat belt.
“Hey, is that necessary?” Dad said, and the car swerved a little as he tried to grab Mom’s arm.
“I am not fucking around,” she said.
“Let me go!”
She let go of him and her arm zipped back up to the front seat.
Harvey looked over at me. “This is the baby section, back here. You and me.”
Mom sighed. “Stop the car, David.”
“What?” Dad said.
“Stop the car. I can’t take this. I need some air.”
“You’re going to walk?”
She unbuckled her seat belt and it snapped back against the seat behind her. She looked over at him as he slowed down. I watched her pop the door open and slide down off the seat.
“Mom, don’t do this.”
“Henry, I’ll see you at home.”
“Get back in the car,” Dad said, his voice stern, and the two of them stared at each other, Dad gripping the steering wheel and Mom wrapped in a blanket outside the car.
She leaned into the vehicle and said, loudly, “Do I look like a child to you?” Then, whipping the end of her blanket around dramatically, she slammed the door shut with what strength she had. We followed her in the car for over a mile, with Dad yelling out the window for her to get in.
Finally, Dad said, “Have it your way,” and sped away, kicking up gravel behind us. We left Mom by the side of the road. Harvey panicked, staring out the back window and watching her disappear. “Go back, go back!” he cried, and he strained in his seat belt to see her long after she was out of sight. He let out a whimper that became a scream. He screamed all the way home, and then I had to listen to him crying above me in the top bunk until he fell asleep.
Dad went out to find Mom that night and brought her home. I heard them come in. “I just want to sit down,” she said.
“I can’t believe I was so stupid.”
“Listen,” she said, and then she sighed on the other side of the door, exasperated. “I don’t have time to be angry anymore, so let’s justr forget that it happened.”
I woke up to Harvey crawling into bed with me. He didn’t say anything, and neither did I. I felt his hand searching for mine under the covers, and I found it and pulled it to my chest.
“Is the door locked?” I asked him.
“I don’t care anymore,” he said.
The next day, he left early and we spent the whole day trying to find him. Dad dropped Mom off at home when she got tired, and he and I went back out, driving down backroads with our headlights washing over forests and fields, expecting to see Harvey come darting out from between the corn stalks. Eventually, we headed back to the lake house with Dad glaring out at the road ahead.
“I don’t know what’s in his head sometimes,” Dad said, and I looked out at the trees passing outside the car, imagining the silent ghosts in all the clearings, waiting to be discovered.
At home I sat between Mom and Dad on the couch in the glow of the TV, bathed in reruns and trying not to think about all the things that could have happened to him.
“He’s an adult,” Mom told me when I said we ought to look for him again. The darkness outside the house closed like water, deep and empty and heavy. The world was a void, and we were living inside it, with nothing left but us and the house, and Harvey trapped out there somewhere forever.
He came back in the small hours of the morning without saying a word and plopped down between me and Dad on the couch.
Mom changed the channel. “No consideration for anyone,” she said to him, and I remembered him passed out in the car, drooling on my shirt.
“Shit happens,” he told her.
“Your brother was worried sick.”
“I was not,” I said.
Harvey put his arm around me and laughed. “We can share a bunk tonight if you want.”
“Shut up,” I told him.
Harvey stared at me, his eyes flickering in the light of the TV from the shadows of his face.
“We’re going to the fireworks as a family next week,” Mom said from her chair, and I looked up at the cracks in the ceiling, down at the TV, over at the window with Harvey’s eyes on me.
“What do you want?” I asked him.
“Henry, just let it go,” Dad said, but Harvey watched me the whole time. His eyes followed me when I got up to go to the bathroom, and they drilled through the walls between us until I returned.
“I wish you’d stop staring at me,” I said, sitting down.
“I bet you do,” he mumbled.
“I want you boys to behave tonight,” Dad told us.
Harvey looked away then for a minute or two, staring at the TV.
“How is Bill, anyway?” Mom asked, trying to change the subject.
Harvey laughed a little. “Who cares?” Then he looked over at me again, and this time his eyes were softer. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
Mom looked over at Dad from under her afghan heap.
“I know, too,” Harvey said, and his tone said that he knew everything. Things I kept to myself, especially from him.
I thought of my room, high up in a dorm tower, a cinder block prison where I auditioned boys to replace him. I thought of those sad, stupid college boys who would show up ready to slap me around and make some money when what I really wanted them to do was to beat me into a gasping, aching lump of blood and bruises on the carpet. Those dreamy-eyed kids who came to my room for a little money and fun and left wild-eyed with gored knuckles. None of them made me feel anything but dead.
“You don’t know anything,” I said quietly.
He smacked his hand down onto my thigh, his smile getting bigger. “Whatever you say, kid.”
I looked down at his big hand, his chewed fingernails, and I said, “Are you off your meds?”
Dad slammed his hand down on the arm of the couch. “Henry, come on, let’s not do this.”
Harvey’s grip on my thigh tightened.
“Let go of me,” I said quietly. With a little laugh, he shrugged and let go.
“Are you still taking your meds?” Mom wanted to know.
Harvey sighed. “Mom, let’s not talk about meds. It’s depressing.”
“You need to take your meds,” I told him.
I looked over to see him staring right at me again, secret Zodiac signs dancing in his pupils, shifting and settling. A smile crossed his face, stretching his mouth to ugly proportions. “You need to fuck off,” he whispered.
After one particular med change when he was fifteen, he turned back into the Harvey I remember the most. The constellations reformed again and he woke me up and took me out to the garage. Mom and Dad saw me in the morning when I came to breakfast, and Harvey sat next to me smiling with his hand wrapped in a bloody T-shirt.
I stared at my corn flakes drowning in the milk.
When they sent Harvey to live on the farm with our uncle after that incident, I was haunted by our room full of his things. I went out to visit him in October of my senior year. The highway became a county road, which became a gravel road that ended in a big white house in the middle of a vast, ugly corn field desert. Harvey had transitioned awkwardly into the shit-covered hoodies and jeans of farm life. He stared at me as my taxi drove past him, his eyes following the car, not blinking.
Uncle Bill insisted that we prayed before dinner, but Harvey just sat there staring at the food on his plate until it was over.
“Amen,” said Uncle Bill.
“A lot of good that did, I’m sure,” Harvey said quietly.
“I’ll beat your ass, boy,” said Uncle Bill.
I looked over at my uncle, a menacing smile stretching across his face, and then I glanced over at Harvey, who was looking at anything but Uncle Bill. He shrugged. “Don’t look at me,” Harvey said quietly.
“What’s it like out here?” I asked him, and Harvey looked up, his eyes empty and grey.
“For fuck sake, Henry.”
“Language,” Uncle Bill said around a mouthful of chicken.
I asked Harvey again that night, standing on the edge of what was once a corn field.
“What’s it like out here?”
He sighed, staring out at the empty, rolling hills I knew stretched out invisibly toward the dark horizon. The sky was so clear out here, I could see the milky way. “You ever want to run away, Henry?”
“I don’t suppose so,” I said.
He was quiet for a minute, and then he said, “Must be nice.”
“You don’t want to know what happens out here,” he said. “You don’t want to know what he’s done.”
My heart was lead at that point, no longer beating, buried under the fields for some future archeologist to dig up and mislabel.
“Listen, I’ll talk to Mom and Dad when I get back.”
“Maybe,” he said, and he stopped, thinking for a minute, and then he continued, “Maybe one day when I run into the fields there’ll be a combine waiting to meet me.”
My stomach got really cold and I nearly died imagining it. “Harvey, no.”
I took his hand, and for once, he didn’t pull away. We stood there, watching the corn move in the buzzing glow of the safety light from the barn.
Back home, I sat in the blue living room, drowning in the laughter of the TV audience.
“Uncle Bill is hurting him,” I said finally, and Mom and Dad were quiet.
“Did he say that?” Mom wanted to know after a few minutes.
They looked at each other.
“Maybe we should bring him back home,” Dad said.
Mom sat back in her chair, crossing her arms in front of her. “You do what you want, David. You’re better at these things than I am. I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
He never moved back home. Harvey had become a ghost, showing up for holidays with his eyes a little more dead every time, trailing Uncle Bill like he was on a leash. He developed a weird half-country accent that gave his words more gravity when we talked.
“You ever cut yourself before?” he asked me on one of his visits, sitting on his bedroom floor.
“Well,” he said, “you should try it. It’s like coming up for air.”
“What, like with scissors?”
“Don’t be stupid,” he said, looking up at me. The constellations were back.
“Okay, like with a knife or something.”
He shrugged and looked down at the carpet. “I can’t feel anything unless I do it.”
“Harvey, don’t talk like that.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said, his voice a little sharper. “You ought to try it.”
That was the first and last time I ever truly understood Harvey. He lived in the back of my mind, a voice that told me to lure boys into the restroom for fights and let them beat the fuck out of me. He was the reason I let one of them smash my head against the tile wall and had to ride in an ambulance to the hospital with Mom glaring at me saying things like “I wish you’d straighten up already. You’re about to go to college, Henry.”
When Harvey shook me awake at two in the morning the third day at the lake house, his face was just inches from mine. “Get up,” he said, and he pulled me out of bed. I struggled to stay on my feet, stumbling the dresser. “Get some clothes on, okay?”
“Harvey,” I slurred, and I inhaled when he turned the light on, flooding the room with a harsh, florescent glow. “Harvey, what do you want?”
“Don’t be stupid. Get dressed.”
I stood grasping the post of the bunk bed. “Jesus, Harvey, what time is it?”
“Time for you to get dressed,” he said, pulling his pants on. “We’re going on an adventure.”
“I want to sleep,” I mumbled, climbing back into bed. “Turn the fucking light off, Harvey.”
He laughed and followed me into my bed, curling up behind me.
“Stop touching me,” I groaned against my pillow. “I’m not even awake.”
“Listen,” he said, with his body against mine. “We’re going on an adventure, Henry, so you’ll have to get up eventually.”
My brain was a misfiring clump of neurons. “I don’t want to go on an adventure.”
He sighed again, a little sharper than before. “Fuck off; you do too.” He put his arm around me slowly, like an anaconda tightening. He was bigger than me, and he was in one of his moods. “You know you always do.”
“I just want to go to sleep.”
“No you don’t,” he whispered, and I could hear the smile in his voice. His grip tightened, and I was struggling to breathe now. His breathing quickened, and he laughed a little. “You want to go on an adventure, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Well don’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“We’re going out to the island, Henry.”
“Okay.” My voice was small, because there was no getting out of it, and if there was no getting out of it, it was okay to feel the blood rushing to my head and want to cry.
“I’ll get dressed,” I said quietly.
Out on the island, Harvey took me into the trees where it was dark, so dark no one could ever see us. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. Not even the stars could see us, there. Harvey took me into the dark and flooded my brain with sound and color. The trees hid everything else.
Harvey was like those trees, dark and deep and empty, with his big frame standing over me as I bled from my mouth.
His voice was as thick as syrup. “What do you feel?”
I spat out blood and coughed, collapsing on the ground, drooling invisible blood in the dark. “I feel everything,” I murmured.
A few days later, Mom called us into the living room, where the TV was blasting talk shows. Harvey had finally started taking his meds again, and his eyes were glassy and distant, his lips curled into a vague, dopey smile when I came into the room.
“Turn that down, David,” Mom said to Dad, and the voices from the TV stopped, leaving only the video.
Mom sat huddled under the afghan on the couch beside him, looking around at the rest of us with her big, wet eyes. “My boys,” she said, her voice cracking.
Dad handed her the box of tissues, and she sat there holding it in her hands like it was a relic of some previous life.
“I’ve been trying to figure this all out in my head,” she said. “I mean, you know by now that things aren’t okay. I’m not okay.”
“None of us are okay,” Harvey said agreeably, his eyes fixed on the TV, silent paternity tests reflected on his corneas. Mom switched the TV off. Harvey blinked and looked at her. “Sorry.”
She ran her hand through his hair, messing it up. “Shh.”
I stood in the doorway, waiting. “What is it, Mom?”
Mom took a shaky breath. “Listen, I’m sick.”
“With what?” Harvey asked.
“We found out a few months ago,” she said, her voice thick with medication.
“We sold the house,” Dad said.
“God damn it; I’m getting to that.”
“Sorry,” Dad said.
“You tell it, David; you’re better at it,” Mom said, yanking tissues out of the box in her hand and tossing it back onto the side table.
He looked away, out the window, at some faraway place. “Sorry.”
“No, no,” she said, angry and weak and sad. “You tell it; you do all the voices better than I do.” They both laughed a little, and then Dad sighed. Mom wiped her nose. “I’m an asshole anyway,” she muttered, and what smile Dad had left was gone.
“Mom, why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
Harvey laughed a little. “Listen to him, like he was the only one.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, the truth is,” Mom said, picking up her can of ensure and addressing the straw. “The truth is that we didn’t want you kids to worry.”
“We didn’t do treatment,” Dad said, and the ensure can stopped halfway to Mom’s mouth. She closed her eyes.
Harvey and I glanced at each other.
“God damn it,” she whispered. “I was getting to that, too.”
We all sat in silence around her, waiting for her to take a breath or say something or prove she was still alive.
“Before anyone makes a big deal of it, I’m too far gone,” Mom said. She took a sip of her ensure and coughed a few times, wiping spittle from her mouth. “God damn it,” she whispered. “So we went a few places your father and I had always wanted to go.”
“I just don’t get it,” Harvey said.
“It’s not for you to get,” Mom said, her voice razor sharp.
“You’re just letting yourself die.”
“Letting myself die,” Mom said, and she chuckled a little. She looked over at Dad, and then she put her head back against the chair, exhausted and unable to correct him. “Sure, I’m just letting myself die.”
“We went to Paris,” Dad said, trying to change the subject.
“That sounds nice, at least,” I said, and Mom smiled for the first time, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Yeah, it was,” she said.
“What happened to the stuff in my room?” Harvey asked.
“That’s what you care about,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Harvey just sat there, looking down at his hands, and then he looked up at me, his blue eyes full of thoughts I’d never know. “I care about Mom. I just want to know what happened to my stuff.”
“It’s in a storage unit,” Mom told him, having obviously been expecting him to ask. She took another sip from her straw. “You know, this stuff isn’t bad.”
“It’s your life juice,” Harvey laughed. “Keep drinking Ensure.”
I smiled, because it was so stupid.
Mom reached a hand out and messed up Harvey’s hair. “Alright, sure,” she said.
“It keeps you alive.”
I rolled my eyes. “It just supplies her with nutrients when she can’t hold food down.”
“I know that. You’re such a trauma bomb.” Harvey didn’t look at any of us for a minute, and then he looked over at Mom again as she retracted her hand back under the afghan. “Just keep drinking it, that’s all I’m saying.”
Mom sighed and put the container down. “I think that’s all for now.”
“We might go out on the lake after you leave,” Dad said.
“We might,” Mom said.
“We’ve talked about it already,” Dad said.
“David, I don’t want to upset them.”
“They need to know, so they don’t just find out through the newspapers.”
Mom sighed. “Look,” she said, “Don’t worry. We’re just going to go out on the boat and it’ll all be okay.”
“Mom, what are you talking about?” Harvey asked.
“Harvey, shut up,” I said.
“We’ll be out on the lake, you and me,” She said, looking over at Dad dreamily.
“Mom, I don’t want you to die,” Harvey said.
“It’s not death; it’s being born again.”
“Born again on the lake,” I said.
“I think I’ll take my pills when we’re out there,” she said.
Dad smiled sadly. “Listen, we didn’t want to upset you boys.”
“This is nuts,” I said. “How could you even think about doing this?”
The TV buzzed in the background, the crowd hissing at the results of a paternity test.
“Why do we watch this trash?” Mom asked. “Let’s go outside. The fireworks will be starting soon.” She started to get up, and then said, “The insurance people are coming soon to get my car. We ought to get the keys out of it.”
Carnage is always more colorful and shocking in the morning, so when Dad rolled the door of the garage open to reveal Mom’s destroyed car, I laughed a little. The dead headlights stared at each other, and the rest of the front end was mostly gone, revealing an ugly mechanical brain. The air in the garage smelled like deployed airbags and overheated circuits.
I blinked at the mess, trying to imagine my skeleton of a mother wrenching the door open to climb out and stare up at the milky way. “I don’t know how she’s still alive.”
“Yeah, I know; she’s immortal or something,” Harvey said.
Dad stood staring at the car with his hands on his hips, and then he stretched. “She was a little shaken up, obviously. Can you boys get me my lockout tools?”
The rest of the summer went by quickly. Too quickly, I thought. On the last night at the lake, Harvey and I sat out on boat dock and looked out at the water, which had become cold and dark and unknowable.
“You should take me back to school with you,” Harvey said.
I laughed. “What? Where would you live?”
“I could stay with you.”
We were quiet for a while, and then I said, “You could be my roommate. You could go to school too.”
“I’m no good at school, kid,” he said softly, and then he said, “Anyway, I was kidding. I’ll be alright.”
“You could hit him. You could defend yourself. No one would know.”
“I know. I could do a lot of things.”
“Are you scared to go back?”
Harvey sat there for a minute, looking out at the water. Finally, he said, “I guess so.”
“I’d be shitting my pants.”
“Here,” he said, grabbing my hand. He laughed. “Feel my heart.”
I tried to pull my hand back, but he stuck it up under his hoodie, and my skin cells against his chest were electric, sending currents back to my brain, misfiring in my skull.
“Feel it,” he said.
“You’re so weird,” I told him, feeling the panicked beating of his heart, trying to break out of his ribcage. He smiled over at me with his eyes shining in the moonlight.
“That’s how I feel about going back,” he said.
He was still holding my hand in place, but I was done trying to pull away. I felt his heart pounding and I thought of all the nights I slept with my head on his chest with my lip busted or my eye swollen shut, the sick muscle in my chest pumping saline memories through my arteries into his veins, my red blood cells dissolving in his capillaries. He let go of my wrist, and I leaned over and pulled his hoodie up over his head and tossed it behind us. He laughed and looked out at the water, sitting there in just his pajama pants, and he said, “Aren’t you tired of hiding?”
The lake was silent around us, lapping at the pier, rolling below us.
I looked up at the sky, trying to make out the constellations. “It’s not that easy.”
He shrugged, his muscled body tense. “Maybe we can go away.”
“I’ll think of something,” I told him, and he looked away with his heart still pounding. I watched the vein in his neck pulse, and I said, “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“Sometimes I feel so alone out there I think I’ll never see another human again.”
“There’s Uncle Bill,” I said, and then I regretted saying it.
Harvey smiled and didn’t look at me. “For now,” he said. “Anyway, you know what I mean.”
We sat suffocating in the thickness of everything we still couldn’t say out loud, even in private.
“Yeah,” I said finally. “I know.”
Harvey and I packed and walked to the bus stop together the next morning after the tow truck took Mom’s car away, neither of us saying anything. I was shaky and angry and scared, and Harvey bit his lip so hard it drew blood. We stood at the bus stop, waiting to be collected and taken back to where we came from: me, to a campus and a dorm room filled with textbooks and empty space, and Harvey to a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere. We were children again, but orphans this time, waiting to be sent away.
“I don’t know what to do with myself, knowing what’s happening out on that lake,” I told him, and he didn’t look at me.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said quietly, and he took a ragged breath, looking up at the sign for the park office, squinting at the cheerful lettering.
I shut my eyes, trying not to think about anything, not the bus stop or the bus coming to take us away, and definitely not the two middle-aged figures floating out toward the center of the lake in a row boat.
All the way home, I squeezed my eyes shut against the image of my mother asleep in the boat, the medicine circulating in the highways of her arteries, making the beating of her heart heavier with each second. Those sleeping veins below her skin pulsing slow and steady, pumping poison into every limb, suspecting nothing. Back in my dorm, I shut the door behind me and sat on the bed, staring out at the impossibly green trees, the disgustingly bright sky. I listened to all the idiots and assholes going about their day, completely unaware that it was all over.
Somewhere on the lake, far down the highway, a gunshot echoed across the water. Birds took off from the trees, their fluttering silhouettes dark against the sunset, and then both my parents were gone. I was completely alone in this world, with no one to shield me from the oncoming voids of death and old age.
Harvey called me in the middle of the night a few days later, and he was a mess.
“Will you come with me to the storage unit?”
“What?” I peered into the darkness of my dorm room, trying to see anything.
“I can’t do it alone,” he said, and then he started sobbing. My heart started pounding, a salty, angry pain for him, the umbilical connection dripping red down the freeways between us. “I can’t do it, Henry. I have the stupid key and I can’t do it.”
“I can’t just come down there like that,” I said quietly.
He sniffed, and then he said, “I have the stupid key. Please don’t make me open it by myself.”
So I called a taxi and I went. The roads between campus and the farm were dotted with dimly lit farmhouse windows, shining empty into the night. When I pulled into the long, dirt driveway, he came stumbling toward the car in his boxers and a hoodie, his face wet with tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said, letting himself drop into the backseat beside me.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s okay.”
He sighed and put his head back against the seat. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
On the way to our hometown, he fell asleep, only waking up when we pulled up to the storage facility, the long, low cinder block buildings that our mother had chosen for Harvey’s things. We parked in front of the unit, and the driver said “This is the place.”
“This is surreal,” Harvey said. “She was the last person to touch this key.”
We got out and popped the padlock open and rolled up the flimsy, metal door to reveal Harvey’s old bedroom, reconfigured in the harsh beams of the headlights into stacks of forgotten boxes and dressers and a bed propped up sideways against the wall, ancient playsets collecting dust, stuffed animals rotting in the corner.
“It looks so weird like this,” he said.
I looked over at him, his eyes scanning the contents to make sure that it was all there. “You want to go inside?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not yet,” he whispered.
I took his hand, and he gripped mine, his fingers cold and wet. I thought of mom packing all this into here, carefully arranging the boxes for the best use of space.
“Not yet,” he said again, staring at the stacks and the disembodied furniture in the darkness. We stood there staring for a long time before either of us moved.
Harvey showed up on campus a few months later, dirty and confused and lost, and wandered into the administration building. I got the phone call after breakfast. When I got there, he looked like a little boy, sad and hunched over in the wooden chair in the hallway, watching me force the heavy door open.
“Hey, kid,” he said. “I thought I’d visit.”
I took him back to my dorm and he fell asleep on my bed, curled up into a fetal position, and I left him there when I went to class. He slept the whole day, and then that night when he woke up, I said, “You were tired.”
“I’m always tired,” he told me, and he laughed a little. He was a stranger, calm and polite and humble. He looked back over his shoulder everywhere we went. I took him with me to the bathroom at the end of the hall and he stood there in the next shower, letting the water run down his naked body and swirl the farm dirt and sweat down the drain at his feet. I watched him close his eyes and I thought of the endless, dirty fields and the big, red barn against the sunrise and the sunset, the sun rising and falling in my mind on fast forward, and I thought about how funny it was that whatever had happened to him over the years had never kept the sun from crossing the sky, but it had deepened the holes inside my brother to festering wounds.
I took him to the coffee shop on campus after that, and I bought him a latte. He sat down across from me with his clear plastic cup of coffee and sighed.
“How long are you staying?” I asked him.
“Already trying to get rid of me,” he mumbled, stirring his coffee with the straw.
“No, I just meant…” I looked into his eyes, looking for the shifting stars, the constellations, but in their place, I saw dark, empty retinas and pupils with no connection to the void outside the atmosphere. They were a new void, dark and complete, the last stage of the death of a star system.
“When are you done with school?”
“I just started last year.”
He smiled and let go of the straw, letting it swirl crazily through the coffee whirlpool he’d created.
“I can’t just drop out,” I told him.
“No, I know.”
I watched him lean back in the booth, stretching, and my own muscles suddenly felt tense and stiff.
“We could run away. You ever think about that?” He asked me, smiling.
“I don’t have anything to run away from.”
“We could just go. We could get a little house and it could just be you and me. No one would ever know.”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” I said, a little colder than I meant to, thinking of the strange boys and their strange fists and all the blood I swallowed that meant nothing in the end.
Harvey wasn’t looking at me anymore, he was stirring his coffee. “I can’t stay on that fucking farm another second.”
“It’s not the worst way to end up,” I told him, and he laughed, the old laugh I remembered.
“I can’t believe you,” he said. “Did you know that Mom and Dad knew about you and me?”
“Stop.” I looked around to make sure no one was listening to us. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“That’s how it is, then?” He asked. “Like it never even happened?”
I looked him right in the eye and said, “Maybe it was all in your head.”
He grabbed his coffee and slammed it into the wall across from the table, sending latte spatters everywhere and he struggled to get out of the booth, his eyes filling with tears. “I suppose I’ll go back to the middle of nowhere, in that case. I’m sorry I bothered you,” he said, his voice cracking at the back of his throat. The other people in the café were all staring at us, and I sat there with my coffee-stained hoodie as he stood up, towering over me, dark against the sunlit street through the glass behind him. “After all,” he added. “It’s not the worst way to end up, right?” And he stormed out of the building, leaving me to clean up the mess with a lump in my throat.
I learned to drive and bought a car after that so I could visit Harvey on the farm.
“I’m suffocating out here,” he said on one of my visits. “I don’t even feel like I’m alive anymore.” We were walking down the gravel road that stretched forever to the end of the earth like a lonely, white ribbon.
“You’re fine,” I said finally. “If I can be fine, so can you.” I shoved my hands into my hoodie pockets, wanting to ask him what happened all those nights I had spent worrying about him, watching him turn into a ghost. We walked in silence, with the trees whispering on the horizon.
“Look at you and your college sweatshirt,” he told me with a half-grin, and he reached around and flipped my hood up over my eyes. “I don’t even know what I’m doing out here,” he added quietly.
I shrugged. “I can’t feel anything anymore.”
He started to laugh, and it echoed out across the empty sky, bouncing back to me and stinging my ears. “Yeah, well,” he said. “Now you get it.”
I watched my uncle interact with him, and puzzle pieces assembled in my brain to replicate the patterns the stars used to make in Harvey’s eyes. His voice was lower when he talked to Harvey, and his knuckles were always bruised. This was all wrong, and the black, empty, dark hole where Harvey had been in my life opened up wide, threatening to consume everything.
Harvey and I left in my car when Uncle Bill was sleeping, and I snuck him back to the dorms until he got a job as a dishwasher and could afford a motel room.
One night, Harvey showed up unannounced and we went back to the lonely farm in the corn field desert and set the house on fire. Those same flames that consumed the house where my uncle slept also danced in Harvey’s eyes as we watched from the road.
“You don’t want to know what he did,” he said to me.
I still think of the fire, sometimes, and of Harvey’s wild, flickering eyes staring out from the deep holes of his eye sockets that night. I learned a lot of things about my brother from watching the skeleton of that house crumble into a flaming mess of death. I think of him watching the fire dancing behind all the windows and singeing all the wallpaper to black curls, and I wonder if Uncle Bill had ever looked up at the stars and wondered what made him do those things to Harvey. After college, he and I got a little house in a patch of woods, far from any town, where no one would ask any questions. I don’t answer questions because I don’t like explaining things. It just makes my head hurt.
Sometimes, when I don’t recognize the ghost looking back at me in the mirror, I think of the fireworks on the lake. I think of the whistling right before the explosion, spider webs of light streaking across the sky, the water coated in a thin film of ash and memory. I think of my brother in his hoodie, staring up a night sky that was alive with the burning remains of freedom. He was the fireworks, and I was the ground: bathed in his light, in awe, lucky to be burned by his embers.
I think of the ghosts I always assumed were waiting in the woods to haunt someone, too, and I realize that I can relate to them. I haunt the trees around our house, the furniture in our bedroom, the dishes in our kitchen. I stand on the back steps and stare at the trees, and I’m no longer a human, not quite a memory, but somewhere in between, some limbo that I share with Harvey and all his flaws. He’s a gas giant, glowing red and hot in the emptiness, and I am the cold, rocky world that can’t quite escape his gravity. I’m happy here. I’m okay with falling slowly toward the surface, the fiery death of a satellite.
I’ve thought about going back to the lake, but after that year, there were no more fireworks. Eventually, the whole park closed and everyone went home and never came back. All that’s left are the stars overhead, the distant band of the milky way, explosions of white hot heat so far away now that we’ll never know them again.
About the Author
I was born in the wastelands of the American Midwest, and I still live there, much to everyone’s regret. I started writing as a teenager as a side effect of what psychologists refer to as the “personal fable.” I believed that I was unique, that my personal life story impacted the world, and that the world revolves around me. In my mid-twenties, I picked up writing again because I was sick of reading slosh and tired of having to go back fifty years to find books I actually want to read. I was especially over the only gay literature available in 2008 being soft core porn romance bullshit with jacked, oiled-up porn stars on the covers. I decided that if I wanted to read something that wasn’t 500 pages of comma abuse and boners, I’d have to write it myself.
And so I did. It may not be the best, but it’s what I want to read. Thank you for the support, and I hope my writing means something to you as well.
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This story is dedicated to my partners in writing, a very select group of people who are also writers. They are all extremely talented and they write things that I look forward to reading (a rare thing these days because, in my opinion, there’s a lot of literary slosh in the world right now) and they have all at one point or another helped me shape one of my typo-riddled landmines into a finished book. Without the guidance of these awesome folks, I wouldn’t have the courage to publish anything I’ve written. I’d like to say that I do everything myself, but without the help of these people and being constantly inspired by their ability to keep writing and creating new works, I’d have given up long ago. I am inspired almost every day by you guys, even by things so mundane and inconsequential as status updates on social media, so thank you.
If I forgot anyone, I’m sorry. I blame my advanced age.
I want to extend a very special thank you to all of my readers for your support and encouragement during my career. I’d like to extend it like the neck of a giraffe, but alas. I have no god-like abilities. You’ll have to accept some kind of mechanized extension.
Sometimes, when I don’t recognize the ghost looking back at me in the mirror, I think of the fireworks on the lake. I think of the whistling right before the explosion, spider webs of light streaking across the sky, the water coated in a thin film of ash and memory. I think of my brother in his hoodie, staring up a night sky that was alive with the burning remains of freedom. He was the fireworks, and I was the ground: bathed in his light, in awe, lucky to be burned by his embers. I think of the ghosts I always assumed were waiting in the woods to haunt someone, too, and I realize that I can relate to them. I haunt the trees around our house, the furniture in our bedroom, the dishes in our kitchen. I stand on the back steps and stare at the trees, and I’m no longer a human, not quite a memory, but somewhere in between, some limbo that I share with Harvey and all his flaws. He’s a gas giant, glowing red and hot in the emptiness, and I am the cold, rocky world that can’t quite escape his gravity. I’m happy here. I’m okay with falling slowly toward the surface, the fiery death of a satellite. I've thought about going back to the lake, but after that year, there were no more fireworks. Eventually, the whole park closed and everyone went home and never came back. All that’s left are the stars overhead, the distant band of the milky way, explosions of white hot heat so far away now that we’ll never know them again.