forgiveness he did not seek for an act he did
not explain, I’d failed to grant myself a similar pardon for my inability to save him. The
simple and persistent notion that it was my
failure to call him that led to his death began
to slip away as I found myself unexpectedly
exonerated. It was as if I hadn’t been able to
bear the thought that his pain was so profound
I couldn’t have talked him through it even if
I’d tried. I needed the distinction. I needed to
believe I was that important to him, although
deep in my heart I knew I was not. The news
that he was raped as a small boy—this brought
Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious.
We have only to imagine how differently we
would be described—and will be described after
our deaths—by each of the family members who
believe they know us.
—Gloria Steinem, 1983
to the surface a hidden truth of his death, an
obvious truth I had failed, somehow, to grasp:
that it was about him. It was nothing personal,
at least insofar as his family was concerned.
Can we possibly make our peace with that?
That perhaps there is nothing we could have
done given what we did not know? That he
hid his shame so brilliantly, so capably, that we
could never have seen him in all his complexity, no matter how hard we may have tried?
This story, viewed in just the right light, ab- solved both him and those of us who loved
him, yet it still had about it the odor of a spoiled
fruit. Try for a moment to imagine this being
the greatest gift you ever give your parents: the
knowledge that their son was raped as a young
boy. Imagine hoping that this news can be—
in addition to many other things—a source of
some small comfort and even relief. So it wasn’t
inexplicable, his death. It didn’t arise out of nowhere. People who report being sexually abused
as children are six times more likely to attempt
suicide, according to reliable studies. So there
you have it: sleep tight, Mom and Dad.
Imagine the act of traveling halfway across
the country to confront a child rapist being the
one thing you can do in your brother’s memory
that seems worth a damn anymore. Imagine
being ushered into his bland middle-manager’s
office, finding him a little flabbier than you remembered, a bit too falsely jovial, and shaking
his hand, exchanging polite meaningless words,
smiling at this man you can’t help thinking is
responsible for your brother’s demons, your
brother’s death, no matter the voice of calm
and reason in your head. The small talk dwindles to inanities; the moment arrives when
you must announce the purpose of your visit.
Imagine feeling the most unexpected thing just
then: nervous, ashamed even somehow. What
if you have the wrong guy? What if your brother made up a story for sympathy in a moment
of crisis, when he felt himself to be losing his
fiancée? Imagine thinking, for even an instant,
that your brother was capable of inventing such
a story to manipulate a woman he loved.
Imagine a flush of color rising up the
man’s neck as you say the word rape and him
saying, in reply, I have no recollection of a such a
thing…Imagine wanting to break his soft and
trembling face, more than anything you’ve ever
wanted in your life—not to deny the charge
outright but to claim no memory of the thing
happening. Imagine taking his hand in yours
against his will before you leave, a vice-grip of
a handshake, and wishing you felt his finger
bones snap like pretzels in your palm.
outside, snow was falling, a full-on bliz- zard. My work was done. There was no
more justice to be wrung from the affair. he
would always know I knew. My brother was
dead and he wasn’t coming back. Something
inside me gave way and shattered. I fell over in
the snow, unable to walk another step. In that
moment, I wanted nothing more than to lie
there making a snow angel, an absurd impulse,
but one I didn’t care to resist. I laughed and
cried, my arms and legs flapping in the snow,
flakes melting on my cheeks and merging into
rivulets with my tears.