Jr. on My Antonio, I just couldn't be bothered to answer the phone. And so I stared at it and let it ring and ring until at the last moment I had the impulse to answer it. My father's voice, calm but stitched with heaviness told me that he had something he needed to tell me but that I needed to be sitting down. He was awfully concerned with the placement of my body and kept repeating "Are you sitting down? Are you sitting down?" I was sitting down and the annoyance in my voice reflected my inability to register the the strangeness of our late night interaction. And then he spoke the words that made my unbroken life broken. He told me that Blake was riding his bike and he was hit by a car. My heart beat in my ears hot as I felt the entirety of my world begin to crumble around me. "Claudia, he died." In that one moment, my entire world collapsed in on itself. I thought things like that only existed in movies. Your twenty-one year old brother doesn't die in real life. That just doesn't happen. The toxic mix of shock and tragedy swirled within me and I couldn't feel any of it. I couldn't comprehend any of it. I became detached from reality. "Dad, you're joking." "Stop joking." "Stop joking." Over and over again "stop joking." I knew he wasn't joking, but the words coming out of his mouth couldn't be the truth and so they must be a lie. But what sick masochistic person would he have to be to call his daughter at two o'clock in the morning to trick her into thinking her brother was dead? I just so desperately didn't want it to be true, that I tried to create my own truth. It wasn't logic, it was panic. Then he told me that the police couldn't get a hold of my mother. Her son was dead, and she lay fast asleep ignorant to the tragedy that just took place in her life. I hung up with my Dad and immediately began calling my mom. I called her again and again but she didn't answer. Finally I called my sister, and she did pick up, much like me annoyed at the late night interruption. I told her I needed to talk to Mom and when I do, I want her to stay there. She woke her up and I told my favorite person in the world the worst news one person can ever tell another person. I told my mom that her son had died.
Eventually the heaviness of shock and sadness engulfed me and I fell asleep for a few hours. It was magic to be able to shut off my brain and pretend my new future wouldn't be waiting for me when I woke up. At 7AM I got on a Greyhound bus to Boston. In a situation of death and divorced parents it is quite uncomfortable to pick the company of one over the other, but I felt the responsibility to take care of my father's sadness and so I neglected my need to collapse into the arms of someone who would comfort my own misery. I existed in a haze of un-reality, unable to process this dramatic shift in identity from a girl with a brother to a girl with a dead brother. I cried the entire five hour long bus ride from New York City to Boston. It's as if every time the tears stopped, I would remember why I was crying in the first place and they would start all over again, loud and powerful. There, on that Greyhound bus, I felt as though I would never be happy again. He was a vital piece in the equation of my life and now it felt like part of my world was missing. This life was unappealing now because I only ever wanted to live in one that contained him. All of my light felt like it had been drained out of me. And so I cried. I cried for him and all the experiences he never got. I cried for my parents and the horrific tragedy life brought to them. I cried for me and the thought of never seeing my brother again. And I cried because sadness was the only thing I could feel. A deep, rich, suffocating sadness. A sadness that bled from my soul and my heart and my eyes and my skin. All of me, a puddle of a life I didn't want.
Late at night on September 12, 2009, Blake and his friend were riding their bikes when a car, not looking or unable to see them, hit them both. The car continued to drive. Going, going, gone. Drunken mistakes or distraction, we don't know. But they are a coward, we know that. The detectives say he snapped his neck on the car mirror. They say when the ambulance arrived he still had a pulse but he wasn't breathing. They say his organs were too damaged to donate. Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon littered the street. I later visited that street and I touched the blood stained concrete.
Shortly after arriving at my dad's house, my grief was interrupted by a collage of reporters and news outlets. My dad, unable to confront his pain, put his focus on trying to find the person who killed Blake. He allowed reporters to come to our house and interview us in the hopes that our public display of heartbreak would coerce the person who killed him to come forward. Or, because that's rather unlikely, maybe someone with any information would come forward. It was my television debut. Not nearly as glamorous as I had imagined it would be. I was so tired all I wanted to do was sleep. I wanted to shut off my brain. I just needed to escape. I didn't want to talk to anyone. But I was there. And my dad wanted this. So I did it. Over and over again I said "thank you" to empty apologies and answered the same questions asked a million different ways. "How do you feel about your brother's death?" "Bad. I feel really really bad." It was just another day in the office for them. But for me, it was the day that my entire life transformed into something unrecognizable. I thought my life was invincible to unbearable tragedies. Apparently it's not. That day my mom and my cousin followed Blake's body to Amherst, Massachusetts where the accident happened. They asked me if I wanted to see him. I said no. I didn't want the last time I saw my brother to be him un-breathing on a table at the morgue. I didn't ever want that image in my head. But I've seen him there. I've pictured it a thousand times. Pale, bruised, cold. All the things he wasn't in life. I never wanted to picture him like that, but the reality of how he was seeps into my brain from time to time. I've imagined the whole accident too. Him laying in the street, his girlfriend clutching his body. Blood. There's always lots of blood. Imagination can be a very scary thing.
Blake's friends slowly started to arrive to my mom's house in Rhode Island. They were all strangers to me. Love and sorrow was everywhere. Blake and his friends created a family-like community between them. They all lived together, or in houses near one another. They loved each other, supported each other and spent all their time with each other. Blake's death had created a hole in their makeshift family. They are a group of dirty punk kids and they are some of the most beautiful people I've ever met. I think a lot of their beauty comes from their willingness to be unapologetically themselves. They are free in their wildness, standing up for what they believe in and refusing to conform to societal norms. They had an air of confidence in all their rebellion. Blake was like this too, or so they told me in all their stories. I really didn't know. I had never gone to his house or met his friends before this. Blake was a creation of a person I invented in my head. And I judged this created version and chose not to get to know him based on who I was and what I thought I knew about the world. The tragedy is that the real him was nothing like my invented version. The more they told me about Blake the more I began to admire him. I have always felt suffocated in expectations and in my inherent need to conform to what society deems as correct. I am painfully insecure and unhealthily consumed with the fear that I won't be liked or accepted. I feel chained to other peoples' behavior towards me, letting them define who I am. Blake was not like that. He was just him, and he followed his own unique path unashamedly and confidently. He was everything I wanted to be and I had no idea. I was immediately filled with regret and shame for the way I judged Blake and his lifestyle. Regret for never being able to experience the person they all spoke so highly of. A person who I knew nothing about. I would never get to know my brother and that was the saddest thing of all. I had no more time with him. Regret is a horrible thing, especially when you can do nothing to fix it. I loved his friends immediately because they loved Blake. I wanted to absorb them so I could absorb him.
We didn't burry him, instead we held a memorial service in our town's community center and did our best to celebrate him. There was music and tears and laughter. There were no suits or black dresses, people were free to wear whatever they wanted. People took turns coming up to the microphone sharing with everyone whatever Blake related thing they wanted to talk about. With a shaky voice and a room full of tear-filled eyes on me, I spoke. "I honestly don’t know how to continue my life without you here with me. It is like I am traveling down a never-ending black tunnel, and there is no light at the end. I know we didn’t see each other a lot, or talk a lot, but I knew that you were always here for me no matter what I needed. I love you Blake so much, and I am so saddened that we will never have the close relationship I knew that we one day would. I just always figured we had more time." That's some of what I said, the rest was of memories and more sadness. I didn't cry at the service. I remember thinking I should, but not being able to. I had already forced myself to disconnect from the pain. The specificities of that day have dissolved into a collection of images and feelings. I do remember I was more concerned with making sure everyone else was okay rather then nurturing my own grief. I let the heartbreak of my parents drown out my own.
Me and my friends and all of Blake's friends slept in tents that night. We lit a fire and stayed up late smoking cigarettes and getting drunk on Pabst Blue Ribbon and stories of Blake. Every so often someone would sneak off by themselves and you would hear a distant sob or a scream break into the night. There is a comfort in being around people who share your sadness. You feel understood. You feel less alone. And you feel free to scream or cry or chain smoke cigarettes whenever the impulse hits you.
Life continues on after the funeral. That's the part I wasn't prepared for. I was nineteen when Blake died and only about a week into my Sophomore year of college. I only let myself take two weeks off from school to be with my family and then I went back to New York. The problem is, no one told me how to deal with grief. I didn't know how long it would last or how to work through it or how to let it go. And so I simply pushed it aside and demanded that I continue my life right from where I left it. I expected everything to look and feel as it always had. Unfortunately, I came to find out quite quickly, that grief doesn't work like that. My world was now covered in a veil of darkness. And in my absence I had become the girl with the dead brother and she was strikingly different then the person I was before.