How to watch your brother die

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How To Watch Your Brother Die

For Carl Morse

When the call comes, be calm.

Say to your wife, “My brother is dying. I have to fly

to California.”

try not to be shocked that he already looks like

a cadaver.

Say to the young man sitting by your brother’s side,

“I’m his brother.”

Try not to be shocked when the young man says,

“I’m his lover. Thanks for coming.”

Listen to the doctor with a steel face on.

Sign the necessary forms.

Tell the doctor you will take care of everything.

Wonder why doctors are so remote.

Watch the lover’s eyes as they stare into

your brother’s eyes as they stare into


Wonder what they see there.

Remember the time he was jealous and

opened your eyebrow with a sharp stick.

Forgive him out loud

even if he can’t

understand you.

Realize the scar will be

all that’s left of him.

Over coffee in the hospital cafeteria

say to the lover, “You’re an extremely good-looking

young man.”

Hear him say,

“I never thought I was good enough looking to

deserve your brother.”

Watch the tears well up in his eyes. Say,

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what it means to be

the lover of another man.”

Hear him say,

“Its just like a wife, only the commitment is

deeper because the odds against you are so much


Say nothing, but

take his hand like a brother’s.

Drive to Mexico for unproven drugs that might

help him live longer.

Explain what they are to the border guard.

Fill with rage when he informs you,

“You can’t bring those across.”

Begin to grow loud.

Feel the lover’s hand on your arm

restraining you. See in the guard’s eye

how much a man can hate another man.

Say to the lover, “How can you stand it?”

Hear him say, “You get used to it.”

Think of one of your children getting used to

another man’s hatred.

Call your wife on the telephone. Tell her,

“He hasn’t much time.

I’ll be home soon.” Before you hang up say,

“How could anyone’s commitment be deeper than

a husband and a wife?” Hear her say,

“Please. I don’t want to know all the details.”

When he slips into an irrevocable coma,

hold his lover in your arms while he sobs,

no longer strong. Wonder how much longer

you will be able to be strong.

Feel how it feels to hold a man in your arms

whose arms are used to holding men.

Offer God anything to bring your brother back.

Know you have nothing God could possibly want.

Curse God, but do not

abandon Him.

Stare at the face of the funeral director

when he tells you he will not

embalm the body for fear of

contamination. Let him see in your eyes

how much a man can hate another man.

Stand beside a casket covered in flowers,

white flowers. Say,

“thank you for coming,” to each of seven hundred men

who file past in tears, some of them

holding hands. Know that your brother’s life

was not what you imagined. Overhear two

mourners say, “I wonder who’ll be next?” and

“I don’t care anymore,

as long as it isn’t you.”

Arrange to take an early flight home.

His lover will drive you to the airport.

When your flight is announced say,

awkwardly, “If I can do anything, please

let me know.” Do not flinch when he says,

“Forgive yourself for not wanting to know him

after he told you. He did.”

Stop and let it soak in. Say,

“He forgave me, or he knew himself?”

“Both,” the lover will say, not knowing what else

to do. Hold him like a brother while he

kisses you on the cheek. Think that

you haven’t been kissed by a man since

your father died. Think,

“This is no moment to be strong.”

Fly first class and drink Scotch. Stroke

your split eyebrow with a finger and

think of your brother alive. Smile

at the memory and think

how your children will feel in your arms

warm and friendly and without challenge.

By Michael Lassell

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