This past November, my parents hosted a bunch of close family friends, including several children, over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was playing tea with a girl of about six when she stopped suddenly, miniature sugar bowl in hand.
“Why are there so many pictures of your sister all over the place?” she asked.
A fair question, but I was stunned nonetheless. Should I be forthright, or sugarcoat the reality that my sister was overrepresented because she had passed?
“I don’t really know,” I lied.
“Maybe it’s because she’s dead,” she said.
“A solid point,” I replied. “My sister was really sick. She died a few years back.”
A reflective pause. Then, “At least your brother’s not dead!”
Only a child could have made such a wonderfully obvious observation.
On April 5th, 2009, my brother and I lost our older sister Céline to cirrhosis. She was 30. I was 27. He was 24. Today, I am truly grateful for my little brother’s ongoing existence. I am also grateful that, in losing Céline together, he and I shared an experience specific to being siblings that will forever shape our bond.
Though neither of us is the type to sit and discuss our emotions at length, we both write. A few weeks after Céline died, my brother shared something with me that he had drafted about our older sister. His ability to articulate exactly how he felt impressed me; it also made me feel a fuckload less alone. To this day, I revisit his words whenever I crave the comfort of knowing that someone else gets it.
The piece, transcribed with permission below, alludes to a wordless song entitled “Avril 14” by Richard D. James as Aphex Twin off the 2001 album, drukQs.
Musicians and filmmakers from Kanye West and John Legend to Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze have used it to set a plaintive mood. My brother first encountered the tune in his office cubicle a few months before Céline’s passing.
Avril 5, by Mélanie’s brother (who’s a bit too shy for a byline)
This was supposed to be about a lot of things. This was supposed to be a kind of humorous take on tragedy. This was supposed to be some kind of philosophical treatise on my sister’s death, in which I’d expound upon certain eternal truths I’ve learned over the course of the past month—since she passed. This was supposed to be about a lot of things, but all I can make it about is a song.
I’ve listened to it hundreds of times since November, before she died, and even then it served as a kind of exit music to her life. As a kind of meditation on my sister’s possible, if not imminent, if not now all too definite, death. Over and over, again and again, I’ve listened to it—on my way to work, at work, sitting on my couch drunk at 3p.m. on a random Thursday I decided to take off from work.
Because we’d known for years that April 5, 2009 could—indeed, would—come, I think I prepared myself for its arrival by losing myself in fantasy worlds, the kind made by your favorite books, movies, and music. The song I’m talking about is “Avril 14” by Aphex Twin (a.k.a Richard David James), and so far it’s the only thing I’ve found that can encapsulate so fully the devastating beauty of what happened to Céline.
In French its title simply means “April 14,” and though rooted as it likely is in some fixed date in James’s personal history, for me it speaks of Aprils. Its power rests in its timelessness and in its continual ability to take me to a beautiful place where time is always racing on its last legs.
Part of this is likely due to its brevity, so that you begin the song already sad that it’s about to end. Another part of this rests in the song’s startling simplicity—I say startling because of its progression out of James’s otherwise synthetic, electronic catalogue—and its ability to entrance, leaving you to wonder where your 2:01 went.
The song is a mere piano solo, like the month from which it takes its name light and sweet, but its keys are struck slowly, plaintively, its tune joyous, in a way, but also somber and tinged with elegy, expressive of something lost forever, perhaps, but almost present once more in your longing for it.
When I hear it I like to imagine myself sitting on a porch in Vermont. This is a summerhouse of some sort. It’s white and smallish but comfortable, quaint. It has shudders and is at the end of a dirt lane lined by scraggly weeds and plants turned dry in the summer heat. The sun has already set, and the day is sinking from gradually darkening shades of blue into black. The fireflies have begun to burst.
A book is in my lap, but I’m not reading. Instead, I’m looking around and wondering what will come with night. Will I be lonely? Will I be bored? How much wine will I need to drink to get through it? I’m trying to squeeze as much out of this last bit of half-light as I can.
I squint, searching for something in the shadows of the weeds at the edge of the yard. I wait for a signal, something like a breeze to tell me that this place is infused with a gentle kind of spirit that will be with me in the approaching dark. The sign never comes. Still, something tells me that it will and that when it does, dusk will never end.
This is my Avril 5.