I preserved in the story of my brother’s life
became the story of mine too: one minute attentive and the next minute distant, one day
hungry for intimacy and the next day desperate for freedom, one week exalted by the energy of the city and the next week oppressed
by the weight of all the longing played out in
the towers and the streets, in the privacy of
little rooms. The enigma of his death made
me enigmatic by association, and by remaining so—by refusing to be any one way or any
one thing—I honored him. I became him.
he would forever remain unfinished, and so
Every other year or so I felt the lure of new Mexico, the place where the pieces of his
life lay like a shattered stained-glass window I
could not quite restore. Six years after his death
I traveled there once more, to sit down with his
ex-fiancée and see what I could learn, if anything, from her stories of him—a rather neat
role reversal from the first time we’d met. She
had grown into a woman in the time since I’d
seen her last, married now, with four kids. I had
traded combat boots and army fatigues for a
suit and tie, my bohemian notions superseded
by my need to pay off student loans. We sat
and made small talk over beer and pizza, avoiding the subject that had brought us together
once more, aware that to broach it was to risk
reopening the wound. Finally, with a bit of
prompting on my part, she began.
It was like there were two sides to him, she
said. he was different when he drank. he got
angry. one night he threw a glass against the
wall and it shattered everywhere. That’s when
I started having second thoughts about marriage. I wondered if I really knew him.
She asked, Did your parents hate me when
I called off the wedding? Did they blame me
for what happened?
I assured her they didn’t. A full year separated the planned wedding day and his death. If
anyone, they blamed the new woman, the older
married one who, rumor had it, had played
rather carelessly with his heart.
She leaned across the table, and a hush
came over her voice.
I don’t know why, she half-whispered, but
I feel a strong connection to you. Like you’re
my brother in a weird way. I know that makes
no sense, since we only saw each other once before, but maybe we went through some of the
same things afterward.
Yes, I told her, no doubt we did.
There’s something I want to ask you, she
said. Dan had a secret. I’m pretty sure I’m the
only one he ever told, but I wonder if he told
Nobody, who has not been in the interior of
a family, can say what the difficulties of any
individual of that family may be.
—Jane Austen, 1815
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I couldn’t
think of any secret.
What she wanted to tell me was that my
brother had been raped. Dan shared this with
her not long before they broke up. he was drunk
one night, and they fought. She suspected that
he knew he was losing her. Through his anger
and his tears he told her the story, how he’d
been just a child when it happened, six or seven
years old if she remembered correctly. When
she told me Dan’s description of the rapist, I
knew exactly who it was.
This news made him even more mysterious and distant to me. how could I imagine
that, the act itself, much less what it meant
to him? how could I dream my way into his
shame? In some perverse way, this revelation
put an end to my desire to learn more about
his life. I couldn’t bear to think there were
more skeletons leering in the closet, waiting
to be discovered, if only I managed to find
the person with the knowledge of the secret.
Besides, learning he’d been raped shifted the
blame. Cracks appeared everywhere in my
story of who failed him, and how, and when.
Although I’d refrained from crafting elegant
theories about his motives, in effect offering a