Today is 5 months on the Julian calendar since Alex’s death.
When I learned that he had died, I was on the pretty quad of a campus, taking a study break and checking my voicemails, getting increasingly concerned by the odd voicemail that was my first inkling of something wrong. I remember dropping to the ground and screaming, I remember trying unsuccessfully to call my partner, but the first encounter with another person I can recall is the man on his smoking break who stopped to ask if I was ok and knelt on the ground with me. I told him to punch me so I could know if this was real. He declined.
Five months later I still sometimes want to be punched. I function better — I am a fucking marvel of function, someone should study me — but I don’t feel better. This doesn’t feel more real; if anything, Alex’s death is becoming more surreal. I can still pretend I have a brother, and some days, I do. His pictures sits on my desk at work, and I talk to it. Other days I just forget about everything outside of my immediate existence; friendless and drama-less in a new place, it’s not too hard. Partner, cat, food, work, sleep, repeat.
My inimitably smooth appearance and numb mind have recently been betrayed by my body. A few weeks ago, while working out, I began having heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, pain in my arms. My brother died of a heart attack, or something of that ilk; at the age of 29 an in otherwise good health, those symptoms are usually non-threatening indicators of something else, a panic attack, asthma attack, strained muscles. My brother, when he began experiencing those symptoms, did not want to cause a scene. I understand completely. When my heart began racing at the gym, I calmly walked to the desk and asked for an aspirin. I showered, walked to the pharmacy where I had a conversation with the pharmacist about why aspirin is not helpful for a heart attack or a panic attack, fixed my hair, and went to a 2 hour meeting where I apparently made insightful contributions. The next day, when the same thing happened, I finished up my work, explained to my coworkers what was going on, and left work a few hours early to walk home. The panic attacks fascinate me — it is amazing that my body could emulate the symptoms that killed my brother, concern me — like my brother, I know I would talk myself down before causing a scene, and annoy me — they are cheap distractions, seemingly unrelated to my brother himself or his death, creating their own forces of terror and loss of control. I want to either be able to function or grieve, and yet instead, I am having to worry about my own death. For now, though, going through the motions to address my own health — not working out alone, seeing a doctor — provide further distractions and things to do while time passes.
Until the next crash, when I am suddenly drowning in grief and hysteria again, I will continue on my dull path, wearing a necklace with his initials, talking to his picture every day, and proceeding as though my brother’s absence is simply a normal fact of us living in different states. But even through the surreality, I know it’s not.