In April of 1995 I was attending the Journalism program at the University of Rhode Island. As an assignment I was asked to write a first person narrative. I struggled with the topic briefly until a night at the movies made it clear.
My article was submitted to the state-wide newspaper by my professor and accepted for publication. I refused publication at the time due to the subject matter but accepted the A+ for my words!
It has been more than fourteen years since I wrote those words and almost twenty years to the day that the events I wrote about took place. I stumbled across the article while cleaning my closet. It was in a stack of things I’d written before the advent of home computing.
I sat and read the words written by the long-ago-Lisa and immediately wished I had possessed the mental strength to publish them back when I was in school. Maybe my words could have helped someone if they had been given the chance to read them.
Since I am no longer in the field of journalism I only have this blog as a sharing tool. I decided that in honor of the 20th anniversary of the event I wrote about that I would share my words.
Here they are:
My brother loaded only one cartridge into the black powder revolver, a replica of the kind used in the Civil War. Our parents had given it to him as a high school graduation present.
He chose a secluded spot in the woods of West Greenwich, RI to park his grey sports car. He locked the doors and left his seat belt on. He stubbed out his last Marlboro cigarette. He was 23-years-old and he had decided to die that night.
He picked up the silver revolver in his left hand and put it to his temple. He squeezed the trigger.
I was 16-years-old when my brother put a bullet in his brain.
Society told me how to mourn. I would feel sad, but it would get better. It was the “time heals all wounds” phenomenon.
Friends and family showed me how to act. They didn’t talk about my brother, so neither did I. We were using the “forgive and forget” grieving process.
A year after my brother died I found an article in “Newsweek” called “Trying to Live With Suicide”. It was a first-hand account of a woman’s life after her husband committed suicide.
It was the first time I had seen anything about suicide that told the truth.
I’ve carried that story in my wallet for years now. It used to be a crutch. I would take it out and read it over and over. I never told anyone. It reassured me that someone knew what I was feeling.
I still have it. It’s yellowed and creased, but it’s still there. Some people carry a rabbit’s foot or a cross, I take solace in a suicide article.
I learned a lot from it – I’m not the only one who flinches when someone pretends to shoot themselves as a joke. I have never read anything about the hatred for the person who commits suicide though.
I have, from time to time, hated my brother with a white hot passion. It burns a deep hole in me for many years. I hate him because he was a coward.
There are other times when I hate him less. It is a sweet hatred. I hate him because he’s not here and because there are no more memories. I love him fiercely, too.
A friend and I recently saw the movie “Legends of the Fall.” The movie, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, explored what happened after one of Hopkin’s boys was killed during Word War I.
Pitt’s character Tristan touched me deeply. His portrayal of a grieving sibling was moving.
I sat there in awe of Tristan’s ability to grieve. I found myself jealous of a celluloid character.
One part of the movie was particularly moving. On the screen was a high hill on a Montana mountainside. A single granite gravestone stands tall in the wilderness. Tristan sits alone beside his brother’s grave. He openly weeps.
There are no explanations. He is not embarrassed. He doesn’t say a word, but his pain is evident. He simply grieves.
It was so different than my grief when I hid in the funeral home bathroom so no one would see my tears during my brother’s funeral.
As Tristan cried on screen, I held my breath, fighting to stay in control. I couldn’t. I did, in a dark room full of strangers, what I hadn’t been able to do before. I cried.
I enjoyed myself.
I missed my brother tremendously, My heart ached and my eyes were puffy, but I was smiling when I left the theater.
I knew that another part of my heart had healed.
I wonder sometimes how long it will take to repair what took my brother only seconds to destroy.
My words were written many years ago and a lot has changed about how I feel about my brother. The feelings of hatred and blackness abated over the years as my maturity and wisdom increased. My brother, Christopher, did the best he could and that is good enough for me.
For many years I remained the girl whose emotional development was broken by the circumstances of her brother’s death. I was terrified that, like my brother, I wouldn’t be strong enough to survive life and love. I kept everyone at arm’s length from my heart.
Thankfully those things have changed over the yea
rs. But some things have not changed – suicide still affects people all around us, I still love and miss my brother fiercely and I still have that article. But I haven’t looked at the tattered page in almost a decade.
When I loaded up my new wallet in September the article remained in my old one.
The vain streak in my nature hopes that my words written here tonight could help someone the way the Newsweek Widow’s words helped me. I never said I wasn’t conceited.
Oh, and long-ago Lisa’s answer to her question? The one about how long it will take to repair what happened? I think I have learned the answer.
Tammy, Chris and Lisa
Big Brother and Little Sisters
I tried to understand the best that I can.
I forgive you.
Chris, I hope you can forgive me too.
That’s what families do when they love each other.