American Culture

WordsDay: When It Happens

By Ann Ivins

In your everyday, rational mind, the predominant fear will be that he has a gun again. You will check the street name and house number as you drive up, in case the door is locked, in case there will have to be phone calls and a need for accuracy. You are not here very often.

When your brother finally answers you from inside the bathroom, slurred and droning, you will recognize the tone and think, relieved, “Pills – he’s overdosed. But he’s conscious.” He will claim he can’t get up; his mother-in-law, who lives with them and will have been in her bedroom only two closed doors away, oblivious, not answering the house phone, will scurry to find a skeleton key.

You will learn in the next few minutes that a well-rehearsed nightmare may form an arc of hypnotic deja vú over a completely unique experience; that portents are not always wrong; that the picture in your subconscious, rational or not, may be the one that comes true. When at last the paramedics and police have gone, taking with them that white and massive lump of flesh, you will realize with every eyeblink that the devil of memory is truly in the details your dreams can never supply.

Your brother will take the methadone overdose with a drink from Whataburger. The orange and white striped cup will lie innocuously on its side on the toilet cover, next to the bottle and the blade and a blue box of Cottonelle wipes.

Like any other large pool of liquid, blood dries from the outside in. Though you might have imagined it as sticky, it will be much, much more slippery than water, and finding a dry place to brace your feet will be a matter of necessity, not distaste.

You may know a great deal about many things, but recognizing the physical signs of fatal blood loss is the province of experts. You will be unable to estimate the volume of the translucent alizarin lake across the floor. Your own ignorance and incompetence will become suddenly, vitally shameful.

You will not allow yourself to wonder how much longer you can bear his slumping bulk.

When you pick up the towels which lay beneath him and feel their weight, mentally adding that heaviness to the largely-untouched pool at your feet, you will remember that the cuts, in the seconds before you got them wrapped up and started pressing, were deep and pink and no longer bleeding.

For some reason, the clotted edges you must scrape loose to remove will slightly nauseate you, though the dried spatters and liquid will not.

The grout will be stained much brighter than you might have expected.

You will wait for your mother and stepfather to arrive; it will be late. You will have no idea what will happen next and no desire to predict tomorrow or the next day or whatever is left of your brother’s life.

You will try very hard not to close your eyes.

You will wait.

Categories: American Culture

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5 replies »

  1. Wow, that is some moving stuff. I am a recovering addict and remember when this situation was something that was simply an inevitable outcome of my existence. I didn’t judge it, it just was. The feeling these words leave me with bring me right back there. Well done.

  2. Was wondering this week if what little time had passed brought any surcease from the pain. If only by reading this post we could take some of the pain. Thank you for your courage in sharing this, ES.

  3. My brother just tried to kill himself a couple of weeks ago–he used a gun.

    We’re still in shock.

    I can’t imagine writing about it with your level of depth and vulnerability…very well done, E, as always.

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