N.B. I originally wrote this late on the night of October 6 when Andy was not expected to survive the night. He unexpectedly held on for two weeks, and passed peacefully at 3:50 PM on Monday, October 23. I was able to spend a week with him, and my sister was with him when he died. If you’ll indulge me, you might enjoy this Youtube video, which gives a small glimpse into the very special person he was.

And now my original essay, which stayed in draft…

Tonight I sat up late watching ninja turtles on the tv and waiting for my brother to finish dying. He is two thousand miles away and apparently all I can do is wait. At first I listened to John Prine, to the live version of Mexican Home, which is a song I’ve long thought would gain new significance for me when my father eventually passes. But it is my brother who is going first, and it’s a song he and I enjoyed together. Eventually I decided to watch a movie to distract myself. I wanted to watch something by Sofia Coppola. Her movies more than any others connect with that sacred core that burns inside of me. But when I went to pick what to watch I found I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I was too sensitive, afraid it would undo me. Or perhaps I just didn’t want to forever associate one of my favorite films with this night alone. Whatever the reason, I started poking around for something else to watch, and somehow landed on ninja turtles. The movie ended and my brother wasn’t finished dying yet.

It felt strange to try to sleep while he performed his last labor. So I started a load of laundry, and now I’m writing this. I still haven’t cried. I’m struggling with tense and I find myself envious of those languages that apparently have dozens of tenses. As an English speaker I have so little to work with. If you take away be I’ve got almost nothing at all. My grammarian friends please tell me, has the wisdom of man in all her years yet named a tense for someone not quite present but still in the process of becoming past? In my ignorance I will waver.

In a sense I’ve been waiting years for the call. The one where they tell me my brother is dead. And in some dark place in my subconscious I think I had spun a thousand tales about how it would go down. But in the end, it wasn’t overdose. It wasn’t a side effect of his illness. Not really. In the end it was a perfectly ordinary tragedy. He fell from a high place while painting a house. It was kinetic energy that got him, what Annie Dillard so perfectly called “the engines of matter unhinged.” We played a game of telephone, my parents and sisters and uncle and I, so I’m still not sure I know exactly what happened. It will all become clear in time. And then time will mist it over again. A strange reckoning, but all we are given.

Why don’t they ever use the term overdose when alcohol is the drug of choice? Why do they call it drug of choice when nobody would choose this life? My brother was my best friend in the beginning. But we grew apart. We had a complicated relationship, and he had a hard life. He avoided me for nearly ten years, and it would only be fair to say I never tried hard enough to mend that break. I almost feel unworthy of the grief that has nevertheless manifested. But not really. He had a beautiful soul, and I loved so much that greater part of him. He wore friends like cheap clothing, and he wore them well. They never looked better than on him, and he shone from within. But he was hard on them, wore them out. Shoes need polish, and he was never a polisher. I’m the same way. (About not polishing I mean. I never wore friends as effortlessly as he did.) I admired his goodness, and the strange and beautiful way he saw the world. In some ways he burns so brightly he overwhelms, and the light does not necessarily illuminate. But it does shine.

Andy and Isabel, Christmas 2006

Andy and Isabel, Christmas 2006

My child Isabel texted me and among other things said they have nothing but good memories from those early days. That’s how I feel too. Nothing but good memories from those early days. I realize just now that those early days for Isabel were later days for me. And suddenly it seems so clear that he always was and we out-grew him, they and I and almost everyone else. I wonder if this insight could have changed things for he and me. Not anymore of course.

I’m told he’s not conscious. That he feels nothing. But still I’m urging him along. I can’t help but think that maybe there’s some part of whatever is happening electrically in his bruised and bleeding brain that can in some way be classified as suffering. And so my tender wish for my sweet brother is end.

Tomorrow they will harvest his organs. At first this feels like a nasty term. But then I start to think it is just right. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells me originally “harvest” was the name of a season, that way back when it simply meant autumn. That seems just right too. A little something beautiful amidst all this dying.

I suppose you think I’m trying to say something profound, but I have nothing profound to say. I have nothing at all to say really. He was my first friend. He was a strange poet. He was a gentle soul. He was a wry joker. He was a weirdo. He was my Andy. My Horton. My bro. My brother.

My laundry beeps. If I don’t hang my shirts now, they’ll wrinkle. “Evidently we go on, as we always have.”

My father died on the porch outside on an August afternoon.

I sipped bourbon and cried with a friend by the light of the moon.

So it's hurry, hurry step right up it’s a matter of life or death.

The sun’s going down and the moon is just holding its breath.

Mama dear your boy is here — far across the sea,

waiting for that sacred core that burns inside of me.

And I feel a storm all wet and warm — not ten miles away,

approaching my Mexican home.

John Prine, Mexican Home