I have conjured my brother. He is a composite, inhabiting the uncountable hours I spent in youth feeling his presence at the other end of the couch while we read or watched TV or played video games or just hung out and tormented the cat. Here is my father’s living room in fine detail—the cool tacky softness of the leather sofa, the warmth of the camouflage nylon Army-issue sleeping-bag liner that we have always used as a throw blanket. He sits there, a compact masculine frame with thick reddish hair, holding a bowl. I know without looking that it contains one of two things: cereal with milk poured over it, or ice cream with milk poured over it. His favorites. He commiserates with me, is jovial—except when my feet twitch involuntarily, which they tend to do when I read or watch something intense on TV. Unable to hold in my emotions, I release them accidentally through my toes, which are tucked behind my brother’s thick leg. Annoyed, he tells me I have to stop or move my feet.
But this is too much. I see him, feel him too clearly here beside me on my own leather couch. Almost as in a dream, as if I have walked into the room just to the left of myself and I’m looking at both of us there together on the couch. He doesn’t move; he’s made of past moments. But he is as crisp as if viewed through binoculars, clearer than as with the naked eye—almost somehow more real in my memory than he was in life,. I feel a jolt, a stab of pain. I should take solace in knowing that death can’t own him so long as I still have the power to remember. But I don’t.
I can say that the process involves accepting the limits of the process. That some things, some losses, aren’t ever going to be made okay—not by remembering, not by writing, not by the sound in my head of some words that Paul Simon once sang: “Sometimes even music,” he crooned, “cannot substitute for tears.”