Authors: Cynthia Hand
Because this is the only way I know to reach for you.
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Help your brother's boat across,
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and your own will reach the shore.
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First I'd like to state for the record that the whole notion of writing this down was not my idea. It was Dave's. My therapist's. He thinks I'm having trouble expressing my feelings, which is why he suggested I write in a journalâto get it out, he said, like in the old days when physicians used to bleed their patients in order to drain the mysterious poisons. Which almost always ended up killing them in spite of the doctors' good intentions, I might point out.
Our conversation went something like this:
He wanted me to start taking antidepressants.
I told him to stick it where the sun don't shine.
So we were at a bit of an impasse.
“Let's take a new approach,” he said finally, and reached behind him and produced a small black book. He held it out to me. I took it, thumbed it open, then looked up at him, confused.
The book was blank.
“I thought you might try writing, as an alternative,” he said.
“That's a moleskin notebook,” he elaborated when all I did was stare at him. “Hemingway used to write in those.”
“An alternative to what?” I asked. “To Xanax?”
“I want you to try it for a week,” he said. “Writing, I mean.”
I tried to hand the journal back to him. “I'm not a writer.”
“I've found that you can be quite eloquent, Alexis, when you choose to be.”
“Why? What's the point?”
“You need an outlet,” he said. “You're keeping everything inside, and it's not good for you.”
Nice, I thought. Next he'd be telling me to eat my vegetables and take my vitamins and be sure to get 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep every night.
“Right. And you would be reading it?” I asked, because there's not even a remote possibility that I'm going to be doing that. Talking about my unexpectedly tragic life for an hour every week is bad enough. No way I'm going to pour my thoughts out into a book so that he can take it home and scrutinize my grammar.
“No,” Dave answered. “But hopefully you might feel comfortable enough someday to talk with me about what you've written.”
Not likely, I thought, but what I said was, “Okay. But don't expect Hemingway.”
I don't know why I agreed to it. I try to be a good little patient, I guess.
Dave looked supremely pleased with himself. “I don't want you to be Hemingway. Hemingway was an ass. I want you to write whatever
strikes you. Your daily life. Your thoughts. Your feelings.”
I don't have feelings, I wanted to tell him, but instead I nodded, because he seemed so expectant, like the status of my mental health entirely depended on my cooperation with writing in the stupid journal.
But then he said, “And I think for this to be truly effective, you should also write about Tyler.”
Which made all the muscles in my jaw involuntarily tighten.
“I can't,” I managed to get out from between my teeth.
“Don't write about the end,” Dave said. “Try to write about a time when he was happy. When you were happy, together.”
I shook my head. “I can't remember.” And this is true. Even after almost 7 weeks, a mere 47 days of not interacting with my brother every day, not hurling peas at him across the kitchen table, not seeing him in the halls at school and acting, as any dutiful older sister would, for the sake of appearances, like he bugged me, Ty's image has grown hazy in my mind. I can't visualize the Ty that isn't dead. My brain gravitates toward the end. The body. The coffin. The grave.
I can't even begin to pull up happy.
“Focus on the firsts and the lasts,” Dave instructed. “It will help you remember. For example: About twenty years ago I owned an '83 Mustang. I put a lot of work into that car, and I loved it more than I should probably admit, but now, all these years later, I can't fully picture it. But if I think about the firsts and the lasts with the Mustang, I could tell you about the first time I drove it, or the last time I took it on a long road trip, or the first time I spent an hour in the backseat with the woman who would become my wife, and then I see it so clearly.” He cleared his throat. “It's those key moments that burn bright in our minds.”
This is not a car, I thought. This is my brother.
Plus I thought Dave might have just been telling me about having sex with his wife. Which was the last thing I wanted to picture.
“So that's your official assignment,” he said, sitting back as if that settled it. “Write about the last time you remember Tyler being happy.”
Which brings me to now.
Writing in a journal about how I don't want to be writing in a journal.
I'm aware of the irony.
Seriously, though, I'm not a writer. I got a 720 on the writing section of the SAT, which is decent enough, but nobody ever pays any attention to that score next to my perfect 800 in math. I've never kept a diary. Dad got me one for my 13th birthday, a pink one with a horse on it. It ended up on the back of my bookshelf with a copy of the
NIV Teen Study Bible
Seventeen Ultimate Guide to Beauty
and all the other stuff that was supposed to prepare me for life from ages 13 to 19âas if I could ever be prepared for that. Which is all still there, 5 years later, gathering dust.
That's not me. I was born with numbers on the brain. I think in equations. What I would do, if I could really put this pen to paper and produce something useful, is take my memories, these fleeting, painful moments of my life, and find some way to add and subtract and divide them, insert variables and move them, try to isolate them, to discover their elusive meanings, to translate them from possibilities to certainties.
I would try to solve myself. Find out where it all went wrong. How I got here, from A to B, A being the Alexis Riggs who was so sure of herself, who was smart and solid and laughed a lot and cried occasionally
and didn't fail at the most important things.
But instead, the blank page yawns at me. The pen feels unnatural in my hand. It's so much weightier than pencil. Permanent. There are no erasers, in life.
I would cross out everything and start again.