For the first week after my brother died, I drank a bottle of wine a day. Typically I’d have a coffee at 7:00 a.m., followed by a glass of wine and peanut butter on toast. I’d go back to bed and continue the marathon of TV crime drama from last night. The second I finished the first glass of wine, I’d have a second. Followed by another coffee, and a hit off a joint. I’d be good until around 4:30/5:00 p.m. And then I’d repeat the whole process. Except at night I’d add .25 or .50 milligrams of Ativan.
The third week after my brother died, I pulled a muscle in my rib cage in updog. This was fucking painful. On the 4 train in the morning, headed to the Bronx, I wanted to rip off my bra, and sometimes I did, I’d reach back and unhook it. Breathe. Heating pad, hot baths, Ibuprofen, and nothing worked. I went back to yoga, and it got better. I imagined my root chakra as a red pinwheel, a child’s toy, and I blew on it, sent it spinning. I followed with the sacral chakra, and up the color wheel I would go, until I hit the third eye and stopped– because that wheel was always spinning, spinning. It was blue violet.
This is not to say that I still didn’t spend a day or two drinking a bottle of wine in the fourth week after my brother died– in the middle of the day. Sometimes followed by designer gelato from the corner store that sells roast chickens for $15.00, and miniature home-baked key lime pies for $7.00. I can’t imagine what I must’ve looked like at 3:00 in the afternoon. Of course I never took off my sunglasses. I just considered it my god-given natural right to be drunk and eating ice cream in the middle of the work week.
Mondays were the worst. The panic was visceral. My class in critical thinking started at 7:00 p.m., but the recovery process took 12 hours of hard work. Just getting out of bed took two, sometimes three hours, followed by 37 minutes of yoga, two or three different meditations. Shower, coffee. At my desk by noon. What did I need for tonight? What had to be graded?
Five weeks after my brother died, I brought in an essay by Brittney Cooper on Salon about how she had no love for Iggy Azelea. I had to keep my students talking, because I couldn’t lecture. I drew up questions, put them into groups, and had them prepare presentations. They loved it. I survived. The days were getting darker. In the first weeks of the semester, I was able to see the giant Keith Haring sculpture outside the classroom window, but now the sun was setting.
I also had several rituals which I’ve since discarded. On the window sill, in the living room, facing west, I built an altar for my brother; pictures, amulets, and multi-colored Venetian glass. I always had four yahrzeit candles. I’d light them and recite a portion of the Bhagavad Gita. When I finished I said, I hope at the moment of your death, you saw the genius of your existence. And when I got back into bed, sometimes as early as 2:00 in the afternoon, I’d light a single candle in the bedroom window. This big window has, by far, the best view in the apartment; outside is the sky above the tree line and rooftops. One large branch from an ailanthus tree bisects the sloping roof of the white Colonial across the street, and the faux Georgian townhouse. And beyond, in the background, a bank of six rectangular windows in an eight-story limestone townhouse. There are trees in the foreground. Trees in the background.
Three months after my brother has died, I’m out of bed and packing. On my kitchen table is a cardboard box filled with pots and pans. I may throw them out or I may keep them. The dresser is completely empty. I’ve cleaned out the cabinets beneath the sink. Last Sunday night I dismantled the hard drive in three busted laptops, and brought them out to the trash along with a flat screen TV and a printer that lasted from 2006 to 2015. Nine years of being put to use–I couldn’t really complain when it finally crashed.
Every book I have in this house is leaving with me. I am taking Joan Didion, Joseph Campbell, a book on Grail Legends, Robert Graves, Virginia Woolf, Jose Saramago, and a battered forty-year-old anthology of modern poetry. I would never, ever leave this book behind. Never. This is where I read T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden and Wallace Stevens for the first time–on my own. Because at the time I was a college dropout, and emerged transformed, for better or worse–I cannot really say. And of course I am also taking the books I’ve written.
On Groundhog Day, I read that the movie, Groundhog Day, is considered a Buddhist meditation. My brother talked about it in the weeks before he died. He liked watching it, and liked comparing himself to the hero. He’d text me: Oh, shit, another morning, and I’m still dying. Nothing has changed, I’m just waiting to die. And then sometimes, he would add, I’m being strong, but then I wonder, strong for what?
I’m sure he knows the answer now. And so do I. Quoted in The New York Times article by Alex Kuczynski, Dr. Angelo Zito of NYU, says that Groundhog Day, “perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape.”
Sometimes, we do.
Yesterday the realtor was here. She told me the apartment is going to rent for 1K more than I am now paying. The wheel has turned, I said to myself, life has moved on and you haven’t. But you are now. You are moving. Today, for the first time in six months, I didn’t open my eyes, and say, Oh, shit. I’m awake. It’s a new day. I woke up, and said Yes, it’s a new day.