I got a call on Tuesday morning that changed my life.
Don’t ask me why I was awake at 4:45 AM, but I heard my phone vibrating. It was my dad.
I knew that could only mean one thing: something happened to mom or my brother. I let the phone roll over to voicemail as a way of bracing myself for the conversation I knew was about to happen. I listened to the voicemail. It sounded grave. I quickly called my dad back.
“Courtney, it’s your father. Your brother is dead.”
I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t know what to say. My father is a jokester and has played tricks on me before, so I asked, “Are you serious?”
He was serious.
The rest of the week was a haze. I felt numb.
I had been on holiday in New York City when it happened. When the holiday was up, instead of heading to my home in Virginia, I boarded a plane to Florida where my family resided. I then sat through one of the hardest experiences of my life- my brother’s funeral.
My brother, my blood, my very first friend.
I didn’t know it would be this hard.
But what makes it even worse, is the mixed feelings raging inside of me.
My brother died of a heroin overdose. He had every chance to get well. He went to rehabs, he was helped by family and friends- both near and far- he was given chance after chance after chance. And he squandered his chances.
He just couldn’t stay strong.
My brother had been clean for one year. This time last year he went to a rehab. He dedicated his life to God and even got baptized! This summer, he moved out and rented a room in Jacksonville, Florida. He was working. He was seeing his daughter on the weekends. He was attending church. He was slowly putting the pieces of his life back together.
Then Hurricane Irma hit. The place where he was staying got flooded. He had to move. So he moved in with my aunt and uncle. He got a new job. He was doing okay.
A few months ago, my mother warned that if he went back to drugs after being clean for this long, he could easily overdose and die. I remember thinking to myself, given his current track record, he’s probably going to die.
And he did.
He couldn’t withstand the temptation. He was weak. He made a mistake. He got drugs, he got high, and died of an overdose. On my aunt and uncle’s guest bed.
Now my niece is left without a father, his girlfriend is left without the love of her life, and my parents are a wreck.
Our family of six is now a family five.
So, now I’m back in Virginia. The funeral is done. My sister is back at college. And my oldest brother’s baby is due any day.
It’s weird, grieving for someone who dug their own grave.
I feel sad because I know my brother didn’t want this. The brother I knew wanted to be a military man. He wanted to have 10 kids and carry them around in a mail truck. He wanted to be an outdoorsman who went camping, hiking, and fishing. He wanted to stay clean.
But the drugs took over. Intellectually. Socially. Morally. Ultimately, they took his life.
The brother who died wasn’t the same brother who played steal the bacon with me in the backyard. It wasn’t the same brother who made nutcracker plays with me and performed them for my mom every Christmas. It wasn’t the same brother who played make-believe village with me every day after school. It wasn’t the same brother who picked blackberries for our neighbor, Ms. Suffin, who caught fireflies in the summer, who planted gardens in the spring, who had bonfires in the winter, who raked leaves with me in the fall. It wasn’t the brother who bounced me so high on the trampoline I flipped in the air. It wasn’t the same brother who danced with me when school was out and we belted out at the top of our lungs “School’s out for the summer!!!!” It wasn’t the same brother who rode bikes with me to the local airport, who roller skated around our block, who called himself “The Turtle Hunter” and filmed his own tv show. It wasn’t the same brother who rode me around on the dirt bike, the go-cart, the four-wheeler, who taught me how to get my hands dirty, how to be tough, how to live life and not look back for a second.
That brother died long ago.
And now that his life is over, I’m left feeling sad.
I try to conjure up my feelings, to come up with a better word than sad, but there’s really no other word I can think of that adequately expresses how I feel.