I came downstairs at 3am. My mind was racing. The usual stuff of insomnia: bills, money, the kids, what we were going to do with my aging mother, who had even less than we did, and was beginning act like she couldn’t remember things. The wife got uptight when I joking said we could put her in the basement.
“We’re already cramming the kids into one room and they’re not going to stay small enough for that to work for long,” She admonished me when I’d mentioned moving mom in.
“Well, we’re going to have to do something soon,” was all I could muster in response.
I felt the jab of wishing Jesse were still around.
Jesse was my older brother. He’d died 15 years ago. We were Irish twins, he was only 11 months older than me, but he was my big brother in every way. He was bigger than me, braver than me, more popular than me. Hell, he was even better looking than me. But he always looked out for us, especially since dad had split the scene when were kids. He’d stepped into the role of being the “man of the house” without ever even having had a good role model. Dad was a drunk and never had his shit together. So Jesse took over when he finally disappeared from our lives. Even when we started getting into trouble as teenagers, Jesse had it together. We’d come home after being out drinking all night, and he’d somehow still have a 10 spot to give to mom for groceries. She’d never even have to ask. She just smiled and folded up the money into her robe pocket as she turned to the stove to make Jesse some eggs. I’d always come skulking in after him feeling like hell warmed over and then feel the extra guilt of knowing I’d spent my every last dime on cheap beer and cigarettes. There were times when Jesse would disappear for days at a time and mom would worry.
“Why doesn’t he call?” she’d ask me as I sat on the couch watching tv.
“How the hell should I know?” I felt left out and left behind whenever he would go awol. But he always came back with stories of debauchery that made me look up to him even more. And he’d always have a few extra bucks for mom.
So tonight I came downstairs with all this on my mind and turned on the tv just to numb it all out. And I swear to god, it’s Jesse on the tv! Its some old movie called Rumble Fish from the 80’s about two brothers and how the younger brother wants to be like his older brother, but the older brother tries to warn the younger brother not to be like him. And in the end the older brother dies and the younger one has to go on without him. It was so strange to watch a movie that was like the story of my life. And it made me remember what I always tried to forget.
The night Jesse died was supposed to be his last in Seattle. He’d been asked by a local up and coming band to be their roadie for a US tour. It was Jesse’s break to make it out of town. And what I didn’t realize then was it might have been his chance to escape the life that was waiting for kid’s like us: a life of blue collar jobs, of never having enough money and of dreams left unrealized. He saw his chance to escape and he reached out to take it.
“Might be gone awhile. I’ll swing by to say goodbye to mom and we can go grab some beers after.” He’d had the confidence that he’d always had.
We’d sat waiting for him in the kitchen until well past midnight. Mom finally got up to go to bed.
“I’m covering the morning rush, so I’d better get some sleep. Tell Jesse to send a postcard home when he makes it to California. Always wanted to see the beaches down there.”
I’d gone out looking for him. He wasn’t in any of the usual places. The next morning the band guys were calling our house.
“Dude. What the fuck? Is your brother there? We gotta hit the road and he isn’t here to help load the gear.”
I’d told them Jesse didn’t show up at home last night at all.
“Well you can tell him he’s fired when he does show up!”
I was still holding onto the phone when the police called. They’d found him down by the railroad tracks. A train conductor had called it in. Saw the body but couldn’t stop the train. The coroner thought he’d probably been walking along the tracks and fallen and hit his head. That was it. No mysterious strangers, no drugs in his system. Just fell and hit his head.
Sitting in the dark, at 4 in the morning, watching a movie from the 80s, I lamented my brother’s death like I never had been able to in 15 years. It was time to let him go. I’d call mom about moving in once the sun came up.