John, You’re . . . Right Here

Dear John,

Yesterday, your wife Melinda told me that we lost you. Those were her own words: “We lost John at 3:20 pm,” she said.

Inwardly, I fumbled as I searched for some sense of equilibrium, for some sense of any kind, however mysterious, mystical, religious or just plain reasonable.

But of course, such deep loss owns no sense of reason, no purpose recognizable to those of us who are yet to be lost.

Relief was apparent in your wife’s voice as she spoke. As I squinted my eyes against no one in the room with me, although perhaps against the urge to cry out loud, I let her think that I was listening to her. I am a good, careful listener to those friends who know me, in spite of my habitual verbosity; but my silence on the line had nothing to do with listening, and everything to do with survival and with tenderness.

Yes, I heard her communion with relief, and for her release from all the pain that you and she shared over the course of many years I felt glad. Glad that finally we lost you.

I understood long ago, however, that even should I try to lose you, brother John, I could never succeed in so shielding myself from the heartbreaking pain. You are not lost, John. I cannot believe in religion — and never in the wistful myth of an afterlife beyond oblivion — but so too can I never escape contact with my soul. You are here today, touching me where it hurts the most.

Last night I spoke with brother Chris. In many ways he is the most vulnerable of the three of us who remain still attached to this planet. He, as always, is the first and the last to weep to those heavens that he imagines exist. Chris wanted to ask me questions, questions he’d never before put to me about my reflections and weak conclusions regarding our childhood familiarity with ugliness and with the hand-holding bond that such ugliness creates without intention. We talked into the deepest part of night, and I believe I helped him for at least one bitter slice of time.

After our telephone conversation, I braced myself with the knowledge that where brother Christopher is warm, I am a cold-hearted man. So it is, and there remains no use in denying the obvious.

A few hours before speaking with Chris, our brother Wayne had called me. “I called to ask if you’re all right,” he said.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I lied.

“Just want you to know that if you need to talk, I’m here,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said; and then I changed the subject fast.

This morning I awoke inside what is to an old man an unfamiliar frame of mind. Much like the young man who awakens to realize and remember that yes, he actually did it. He made love with a woman and survived.

I tried out all the war-torn, tired phrases. John is lost. John passed away. John passed on. John left us. John is in a better . . . no, that one will not work for me.

John is dead.

John, you’re dead.

John, I knew you were about to die. I thought I felt ready for the final news broadcast, but why then do I want to cry? Where is my cold heart when I need her most?

John, dear brother, where have you gone? You were younger than I. Not fair, my friend. Life isn’t meant to be fair, isn’t meant to be anything at all; I understand all of this, but please, I need some sense of fairness now, some sense of right and wrong.

In order to calm myself down, I moved toward memories, and not just the good ones. I know, I’m supposed this moment to remember only the sweetest times; but down the road toward sweetness lies more tears.

So I tried my best to recount the unjust sins each of us committed against the other, the resentments, the envy, the competition between two superior intellects who by nature of their superiority understood too well their flaws.

Yet, behind this narrative of betrayals, attacks and raging vanity, plays an insistent melody made of harmonies that only you and I could have composed.

My denials, coupled with a search for my cold heart, are of no use this morning.

John, my gentle brother, you are dead; and yes, cliche owns its proper place, because a part of me died with you, friend.

You are gone, you passed on, you left us, you left me, you son-of-a-mother-I-never-managed-to-love.

But, John you are not lost. John, you are right here inside of me.

I love you, John.

These photographs remind me of our childhood years; Wayne was yet to be born:

John, Chris, Anthony
John, Chris, Anthony
Anthony, John, Mother, Chris
Chris, Anthony, John
Anthony, Chris, John

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