It was 11:15 at night, fifteen minutes past visiting hours, but the guard at the front desk let me in anyway. I’d been on the road for three and a half hour. In half an hour I would be over the Bourne Bridge and home back on Cape Cod. But I stopped just before the bridge in a small town called Middleborough. The same town consequently, where my brother and I used to the dentist when we were kids. In the stasis of Upstate New York in the springtime, Lake George, and the nestled conifers I’d been able to ignore what my family had been going through.
He was dressed in L.L. Bean PJs when the nurse went and fetched him from his room down the hall. She’d let me in when I knocked on the tempered glass of the thick door that separated off the adolescent ward from the adult one. As he approached I could see there was a slight smile on his face, but it was quiet. Not the shit eating grin I’d known my little brother to always be wearing when we were younger. We’d always fought as kids, and he’d always had this beaming look when he got his way. As the younger sibling he was pretty good at that. Beneath straight bright blonde hair and through blue eyes he’d been young and selfish. But he was taller than me now. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas. His hair was cut short, his walk confidant, and yet- when he hugged me, when I asked him how he was doing- he stood there for a moment as if embarrassed. I could see cracks in him, the twitch of his face and the focus of his eyes that seemed to go beyond me and peer into the adjacent drywall. We ran out of things to say in a few minutes. It was passed visiting hours, the nurse told me. They needed to lock up for the night. The ward was quiet except for our conversation at the far end of the hall.“Take care of yourself Cooper” I said as I held him one more time. After a second I felt him try and push away but I didn’t let go of him for a few seconds longer. He chuckled awkwardly at that gesture, but I didn’t say anything. I peered through the small glass of the door until he was out of sight down the hallway. That was the first time I saw my brother after he’d attempted to kill himself.
Sometime long ago, when my father still wore glasses, and we lived in a little house up a long road called Naushon North, I had fought with my brother with fists, and I think I made him cry. I can remember my father’s prickly face from when he forgot to shave. His hair was black back then, but its grey now. I only know these things because I have seen photographs and old VHS home movies which being with my mother saying cheerily “welcome to Ryan and Cooper’s world”. That time in my life feels like some strange dream through a VCR. The place and the scenes and the light are all colored by static and sound pitchy as though my young ears were the condenser microphone on a cheap Sony Camcorder. I remember it because my parents let me use it to recorded my younger brother’s school plays. I was in Elementary school. Cooper had just started, being three years younger. I don’t remember much, but out of that dream come words from my father that I still recite from time to time to Cooper. “You two shouldn’t fight” He began. “There will be a day when you two will only have each other. You’re brothers, you’re all each other will always have”.
I didn’t listen to him for the better part of a decade, and the memory faded into that dream along with countless days growing up with my brother and playing with the neighborhood kids on the beach. It only came back to me later. As I drove into the dark toward the Borne Bridge I yelled as loud as I could till my throat hurt. I screamed murder and cursed everything holy thing I could think of. “You’ll only have each other”, over and over again that young man my father used to be kept saying the words quietly to a redheaded child who was furious with his brother. Over and over in the nameless and shapeless dark of the highway, for the first time in my life I realized that I had almost been completely alone on the earth. I knew something of brotherhood then. At the latter day, Cooper and I will only have each other. And I cried and screamed in my car and snot ran down my face and into my mouth and I choked on it and the indescribable joy of knowing that he was still alive.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth,
and that He shall walk at the latter
day upon the earth.”