Everything comes together by the end of the night. Little footnotes in formal cursive, in readerly flow, in kissed cheeks, in laughter that lingers like post-pop concert mist. It all has a home at the end of the night, in a big breath that whispers a phrase I never say out loud, out of fear of sounding ungrateful:
I wish he was here.
For a moment, he was. We lived together until we didn’t and then we did again. We crossed paths when we both needed mom and dad most, and we crossed paths when he needed me, too. I never realized how much I needed him until he was gone. And that’s not to say I didn’t love him; in many, many ways, I loved him so deeply that it redefined how I loved anyone thereafter. There was no shortage of love. It was the needing at the end of the night that caught me off-guard.
Nobody believes in me in the way my brother did. He rarely said it, but he spent so much energy on not saying it — and fumbled so nervously through scripted mentionings of it — that it was clear he thought about it often. He did the same thing with departures, the same nervous kiss on his fingertips and then quick tap to my forehead before shuffling out the door. It was strange and it was sweet and it is the thing I miss most.
When I say he believed, I mean he believed in it all, and he encouraged me to do it all because he was certain I could. When I sold garden hose lemonade, he let me keep the change. When I sang “Songbird” on wonky guitar, he said I should start a band. One time, I told jokes for my high school talent show, and, hours later, in the middle of the night, he emailed me an article about how performers prepare for hiring season at Saturday Night Live. I was 17. He thought the rules could be made for breaking.
I wrote more and he read more. We saw incredible highs and lows. We drifted closer and farther apart, and somewhere in-between, he watched me pull a heavy stack of paper out of a brown bag, and flip through the sublime weight of it all. I asked him if he wanted to see it, this strange animal of a manuscript of stories I’d pieced together in fiction workshops. He said no for the first time in my whole life.
“I’ll read it when it’s published.”
At the time, it was another rich dose of delusional certainty — or perhaps a way to politely decline — but in hindsight, it takes the shape of a desperate promise, a rule to govern his own quiet chaos. Sadly, he was right. Some rules are made for breaking. Three months later, he was gone, and three years later, I’m here, holding a new brown bag with a book inside, wondering what he’d say by not saying anything at all.
I think about it on the way to every reading until I start to feel myself well up. That’s when I know it’s time to reign it in. I practice my pacing to settle down. I take a sip. I tell a joke. I hum an old Stevie Nicks song.
Everything comes together by the end of the night. Final drafts get bound and dedications do what they can to convey some slice of where loving and needing collide. There are tiny breaths between one sentence and the next, groupings of people who have known me or know me, before or after or both. Everything is present and joyful and distant and longing.
It’s all things, because it can be.