Monday, April 10, 2006

Hurt real bad

April 10, 1994

I wake not feeling right. Don't feel right. Not right. I call in sick to work. "Just not feeling right," I tell my boss. "Sorry, but I'm not right. Can't put my finger on it." Confusion and bewilderment shroud the entire day. I stay in bed, but cannot get warm. My husband Eric comes home from work. "I'm just not right," I tell him.

"Something's wrong," I say over a half eaten bowl of soup. "I'm cold. I'm going back to bed." Sleep is fitful.

April 11, 1994

The phone rings at seven minutes after midnight.


"Dad?" I say.

"John's gone."

"What?" I say, the terrible truth blooming in the space between my heart and my head.

"A gun," he says. "With a gun. John. He's gone."

"What?" I say.

"He's gone."

"Where?" I say. "Where was he?"

"In his apartment," says Dad. "Yesterday sometime. Maybe the afternoon."


"Tomorrow," I say, a word flickering with hope.

"Yes," says Dad, an endorsement.

The rest of our lives begin.

I sit up and swing my legs over the edge of the bed.

"Erin?" says my husband from behind.

"John shot himself," I say to the air. "John's dead."

I rise from the bed and step into the bathroom. Bright light floods the room. I study my face in the mirror.

"Impossible," I say to myself. I retch in the toilet.

That unearthly cold spreads from the tips of my fingers and toes upward and inward.

I retrieve my copy of Leaving Las Vegas from a pressboard bookshelf that is next to a sagging couch in the living room. I open it to the otherwise blank cover page.

He never signed it. You never asked him to sign it.

John had sent me a purposeful, handwritten letter years before. I pull it from the cubbyhole of a green upright desk that once belonged to my maternal grandmother.

There are three more books to collect. I carry the letter and Leaving Las Vegas with me, close to my chest as I gather them: A Fan's Notes, American Pyscho and The Sportswriter, Christmas gifts from a brother to a sister.

I place the books on my nightstand and stare into the night. A dull deep pain that will remain for more than three weeks settles into my stomach. My hands and feet are ice. I stare at the spines of the books. I hold the pages of the letter in my hands.

Where is my brother's body? Has someone covered his body? Are his brains splattered against an otherwise white wall? Who will clean it up? How can I transport myself from Cleveland, Ohio to Beverly Hills, California in an instant and make sure the evidence of my brother's violent end is cleaned up?

He put the barrel of a gun in his mouth and he pulled the trigger.

Someone has to clean up my brother's brains because they are no longer residing in his head where they are supposed to be, connected in their enigmatic nuero-order.

What does his face look like? In it's death mask?

I reach out my hand to the empty space above me. My husband Eric lies next to me, helpless, his enormous hand on my waist.


The digital numerals on my bedside clock plod through their predictable cycles, one green line segment giving way to another. I rise from the bed at some point between darkness and light.

With the books and letter in the crook of my arm, I retrieve a bottle of liquor and pour a few fingers into a glass. The burning taste in my mouth.

I go back up the stairs, books in tow.

Rain falls indifferently upon the night that is simultaneously endless and instantaneous. I survive it somehow. I lie next to Eric until the blackness disintegrates into dawn. I rise, dress and step out into the gray rain. I walk the streets of my otherwise ridiculously picture perfect development. I walk. My stomach hurts. Freezing cold.

Evidence of life.

* * *

John had emerged from the delirium tremors once, he'd told us. In the last moment before he surfaced from the hell and demons, everything stopped and John heard a voice. He described it as a woman's voice. Singing. Crystal clear singing, he'd said.

"We've lost you," lilted the voice. "but we'll get you back." Then John awakened to the shaking sweating aftermath.

* * *

As the rain falls upon me on the morning after John's suicide, I wonder if my brother has finally succumbed to the singing woman, or if he has just escaped her.

I have carried that question with me for twelve years.

John O'Brien

May 21, 1960 - April 10, 1994


This is an excerpt from my memoir, on which I am currently at work.

I am closing public comments on this post for personal reasons. However, anyone may contact me off-list at

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