My younger brother died this past February.
I should have known it was coming. As kids, we were really close, my brother and I. Spent all our time looking for toads in the backyard and chasing snakes. He was the creative type, ended up a writer. Kind of a hot-shot, too. We were still pretty close, even when the money came rolling in.
These last few months, though, things got a little different.
Phillip just sort of faded out of my life. It’s not that I didn’t try to keep in contact with him, it’s that he just shut down. He retreated into that big house he bought like a turtle crawling into its shell. He gradually stopped answering his phone, replying to my texts, replying to my emails.
I guessed it was just growing pains.
Actually, I was more than a little miffed by the whole experience. I’ve always been so proud of Phillip, you know? I was never anything special, sort of drifting through school and out of college with a useless degree and no real ambition for anything. But Phillip… he had real talent. When he put his pen to paper, stories poured out onto the page like golden honey. I always wondered how he could live with all those stories in his head. He told me once that he couldn’t, that’s why he had to let them out somehow… if he kept them locked up inside, they’d drive him crazy.
I really should have known.
I hadn’t heard from Phillip in two months when my phone lit up in the middle of the night. Through my mother’s tears I managed to gather what had happened. I jumped out of bed and drove to her side, the image of my brother swinging from his garage ceiling burned into my eyes. I was numb, thinking that was just like Phillip, to pick such a dramatic death. Funnily enough, it was a few days before I wondered why he would do it in the first place. Maybe that’s what denial really is: not denying the death itself, but denying its implications.
After Phillip died, there was the problem of his estate. He didn’t have a will, didn’t leave a note. What were we supposed to do with his belongings? More than that, what were we going to do with the house?
I say house, but it’s really more of a mansion. Phillip always had a flare for the theatric. The first time I saw the house, with its stone lions and countless empty rooms, I could imagine Phillip pacing through its halls wildly as a story struggled out of his pen, gasping for life. I knew it was exactly the place Phillip belonged.
So maybe it won’t seem strange to you that I moved into his house. Just up and moved, packed all my shit and settled down where my brother had offed himself. It seemed wrong, but it felt like home. I got a job in the town nearby and figured I’d just stay in the house until mom and I figured what we were going to do with it. No harm in that, anyway.
The first few days, I ghosted up and down the wide hallways, my hands trailing lightly along the walls, wondering if Phillip had touched them this way, too. I wandered in and out of rooms, taking note of the things Phillip had brought from our old home, the things he had bought himself, the things I had given him. I didn’t touch any of that. I knew I would have to one day, but for now, neither my mother nor I had the heart to move any of it.
I moved into a guest bedroom and left everything else perfectly in place.
Some parts of the house Phillip clearly never used. The basement, for one. For such a nice house, the basement was surprisingly bare, with its expanse of decrepit walls and discolored floors. I didn’t bother stalking through the endless hallways down there. If Phillip hadn’t been there, then there was no meaning. The attic, too, was surprisingly empty, despite being the perfect place for storage. There were a few rooms here and there that were left alone.
Phillip never really got settled in the home he loved so much.
While I lived there, it was like living in limbo. Everything seemed ready for the day that Phillip would come back…it felt like I was waiting for him, too.
But I still wasn’t prepared for it when it happened.
I came home from work one day, utterly exhausted. I hadn’t really been sleeping lately. Every time I came close to sleep, visions of my brother’s dangling body would pop into my head and I’d hear the creaking sound of the rope swinging under his weight. No good, I’d rather stay awake.