How He Did It
These days it’s sorta like Choose Your Own Adventure, this game I play when I’m lying in bed trying to sleep. It’s been twenty-five years since my big brother killed himself, and I still don’t know how. I’ve been told. I’ve never asked.
So scenario one is always the old standby. Ray taking one of the old man’s hunting rifles, sticking the barrel under the soft fleshy part of his jaw, and sitting at the foot of his bed.
Sometimes he uses the big toe. It is a tricky maneuver to pull off if you think about it. Sometimes it’s only the jagged edge of his right toenail, barely even a hangnail at most—to pull the trigger ever so gently and just that simply: Ka-blammo! A big mess of tongue, teeth, tonsils, and brain stem splattered all over the wall behind him like one of those Rorschach tests that my old shrink used to make me take to prove I wasn’t a threat to kill myself or others. As in, not like Ray.
This Rorschach, a big amorphous puddle of blood soaking into the shag carpeting underneath Ray’s bed. A wiry pale naked chest and arms splayed out across the quilt atop his mattress.
This image of my dead brother sometimes the only way I can pass out long enough to stop playing these painful games.
The problem with option one? I would’ve woken up. Wouldn’t I? The blast of a hunting rifle, the thump thump of a limp body hitting the floor. And me sleeping ten feet away in the next room.
So sometimes I’ll try to forget all about my brother splattering his brains across the wall and choose another option. Maybe Ray taking the boxcutter out of his bedroom toolbox. Click, click, click! Then start carving out a big bloody Z for Zorro up and down and criss and cross his radial and ulnar arteries at the base of his wrist.
Why Z for Zorro? Because I’ve always imagined the Bat symbol would’ve been a bit too much blood and cutting. Even for somebody like Ray. For somebody like me to find, in real life or in my messed-up fantasies.
So instead I’d imagine a swift, quick one-two-three on each wrist and then Ray holding up his hands in victory to let the blood drain more fluidly. Listen, I know it doesn’t work that way. I know that real wrist-slitting takes more care and time.
What I wonder sometimes, Were you were supposed to hold them down at your sides and make a fist to die more quickly? And would Ray’ve wanted quickly, or maybe to draw it out? So many questions I can only imagine the answers to.
There are other scenarios of course.
Like the one out on the roof of our house. High atop the highest point, which just happened to be right up above my bedroom window. Obviously I think I’d remember if he’d jumped from outside my window, but these years later I’m of a mind that I could probably forget just about anything if I try hard enough.
Like maybe Ray up there having stripped off all his clothes, the stance of an Olympic diver straddling the vee of the roof peaking just ten feet or so over the bed where I’m lying asleep safe and sound.
Me probably dreaming my little-kid dreams about G. I. Joe and all the Cobra guys shooting their little laser guns and all the G. I. Joes shooting their little laser guns back. Every soldier just letting loose with all their uzis and bazookas and M-16s and every other kind of big badassed gun they could bring to bear.
Everybody just raining down laser bullets on everybody else and the whole while no soldiers actually getting shot or even wounded, nobody actually getting blown up by enemy or friendly fire, or even dying any hideous bullet-ridden deaths at their own hands or the hands of the enemy.
And Ray meanwhile pointing his hands up above his head towards the skies, arching his back, getting one last good look at everything out there in the dark. Maybe saying one last little prayer for forgiveness. Maybe cursing all of us for letting him down.
Or maybe just getting his body aimed right, limbering up his legs and arms. Readying himself to both push off and let go.
Probably I’m in the middle of dreaming that I’ve saved the whole world again from imminent nuclear holocaust at the hands of Cobra and earning for my gallantry a big smooch on the cheek from his pick of the hottest G. I. Joe chicks around—Scarlet, of course. Scarlet planting a big wet one right on my heroic lips, maybe even slipping the tongue in there too.
The two of us playing major tonsil-hockey in front of the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and all the other G. I. Joes, the full hero’s treatment.
Me dreaming about my nightly missions all the while Ray’d be perched naked to the night skies and ready to fly out into the darkness past my window.
And maybe I’d’ve been able to stop him. If only I’d woken up. If only I’d for real been out on one of my nightly missions, not dreaming away the nightly emissions. Ha! Get it?
I’d only later get the joke. Understand the difference between saving lives and wet dreams.
Ray probably shouting something all badassed like Geronimo! or Timberrrrr! at the last second. The next two or three seconds it’d take to cover four stories. Would’ve I woken up in the process? Would I’ve heard the big splat-thump-thud right there in the middle of the concrete basketball court?
The basketball court where little pudgy ten-year-old me sometimes liked to take a break from my G. I. Joe missions just long enough to shoot a couple buckets, or until Ray’d make fun of me for always being such a fruity twink and for always playing such useless fruity twink games.
Hey Crusty, Ray’d always say. You gonna pull on your short-shorts and prance around with your bouncy balls?
Hey Crusty, Ray’d sometimes say after that. Check out my long-range game, and then see how far he could punt the basketball out into the woods behind their garage.
There are scenarios where there aren’t any splattered brains or blood or chunks of hair and skin and internal organs to clean up off anything. One being just Ray, naked again, and this time having shaved his head.
Ray dangling some ten feet or so down from the roof of our old hayloft, the lasso looped up around the end of the hay elevator, the same lasso that a couple weeks before he’d done it, he’d used as a pulley system to hang that spotlight for me to be able to shoot buckets at night.
Ray’s last gift to me. A big halogen lamp to light up that big empty hayloft at night. For me to shoot and shoot and shoot and try to forget about my being such a useless crybaby playing a fruity little game in the first place.
And Ray having gone and hung that lamp up there for me anyway, because he probably knew that whole time that he was gonna do it, and he wanted to give me some way to stop being such a pudgy little crybaby about everything and get up off my ass, out of the house, and toughen up a little bit.
Ha! I imagine Ray shouting down at me.
I imagine Ray dangling there naked in the middle of the hayloft with his freshly shaved head. You gonna catch me, Crusty? Smirking that shittyassed smirk of his up above where the noose was cinched around his neck.
Hey Chicken Little, I imagine him taunting me. The sky is falling, the sky is falling.
Ray’s pale wiry puppet body suddenly come back to life to mock me.
The sky is falling, Crusty! I’d imagine Ray mocking me in his highest pitched crybaby-voice. The sky is falling. Save me, Crusty. Save me.
Then waving his arms and legs around in the air, the squeak and clank of the hay elevator straining under Ray’s weight as he swings from one side of the barn to the other.
Catch me, Crusty, I imagine Ray saying as I stab at the air for something to grab. Catch me, I’m dying here.
Ray’s eyes bugging out and then rolling back in his head, his voice growing even more strained as he’d shout, I’m gagging, Crusty, I’m choking! Can’t you see that, you little crybaby? Can’t you catch me? Can’t you come to my rescue, Crusty? Can’t you save me with all those G. I. Joe dolls you’re always playing with? Can’t you, for godsakes get me down before I choke, Crusty?
Ah Christ, I imagine Ray saying eventually, Are you crying again, Crusty? Is whittle crybaby Crusty gonna run and tell Mommy that big bad Ray was being mean to him again?
And then I imagine Ray’s body going limp and just hanging there once again in my mind. Naked except for the noose around his neck.
Not that any of these dreams are true. These dreams that aren’t even dreams. They’re the masochistic scenarios that run through my mind while I’m trying to get to the dreams. And to the sleep.
Twenty-five years, and I’m still running scenarios through my head of how my brother killed himself less than ten feet away from where I would’ve been sleeping in the next room.
The only option I can truly remember is the one where I remember nothing until long afterward. The one where I’m talking to a female cop later that night, all the questions she’d asked.
Did you hear anything? the cop’d asked.
Had you talked to your brother much over the last couple days? the cop’d asked.
Had he said anything or done anything odd? the cop’d asked.
Odd? I want to ask her. What’s odd at this point? And how would I know the difference?
The TV’d been playing in the background with the sound turned down, that’s what I remember. Some infomercial for that ThighMaster thing where you stuck this rat-trap-looking contraption between your legs and smiled at everybody while you squeezed your knees shut.
Had I noticed anything different about Ray’s behavior over the last few weeks? This cop with her gut—sometimes I remember her pregnant, other times just fat—how it’d blocked my view of all those chicks squeezing their knees together and smiling their big shiny smiles at me.
Odd behavior? I often still think to myself. Was it odd to watch beautiful women work their ThighMasters only hours after your brother had killed himself?
Or what about that last week when Ray’d put up a light in the barn so I could shoot baskets at night? How much Ray’d hated basketball and teased me about basketball and still he’d put it up for me?
Was that odd?
Or how about afterward when Ray’d just hung there upside down with his knees over the hay elevator? How about when Ray’d kept on asking if I was gonna catch him if he fell?
Was that odd behavior? I want to go back and ask that cop. Or was it just typical big brother stuff? Boys will be boys and such.
The thing is, I don’t remember any answers I gave or could’ve given. I remember only the questions and the things I could’ve said but didn’t, or maybe just the things I want now to’ve said in my own ten-year-old defense.
Because that’s the thing with time and memories, the more you play them out in your head, the more time goes by, the more you start to play what-if and Choose Your Own Adventure. The more they start to take on a narrative of their own.
Maybe I told that lady cop all about the light in the barn and Ray hanging by his feet. Maybe I told that lady cop about the way that Ray’d sometimes pounce on me when we were younger. Pin me down and pound on my nuts trying to make a man of me.
Stop crying, he’d always say as he’d pin me down. Stop crying, Crusty, or I’ll give you something to cry about.
Maybe I told that lady cop about all my G.I. Joe dreams and my nightly missions to save the day. My nightly emissions. Was that odd? On the night my brother killed himself?
Or maybe I told that cop nothing. Maybe I just sat there and sniffled and sobbed and shook my head.
No, I can’t think of anything odd that Ray’s ever said or done to me. It was all typical big brother/little brother stuff.
Even this, I maybe told that cop: Well, officer, whichever way he’d killed himself, it was classic Ray. Just the type of thing a big brother’d do to get the last laugh on his whiney, crybaby brother.
It was like he was saying, Quit your crying, Crusty, or I’ll give you something to cry about.
It was like saying, The sky is falling, the sky is falling. And you’re gonna save me?.
How Ray did it? What do I remember about that night or the weeks leading up to it? What he’d said and what he’d done. Twenty-five years. All the possible scenarios. Who could even say what had or hadn’t happened anymore?
Was that odd?
About the Author: Benjamin Drevlow is the author of the book Bend With the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father. He has published short fiction and nonfiction at Passages North, Fiction Southeast, Split Lip, among other magazines. You can find these and other stories linked at thedrevlow-olsonshow.com.