I’m not sure if I’m still in a funk or if this is my new normal. I can’t see a trace of happiness when I look in the mirror. I feel like I’m strapped into a rollercoaster of emotion. My ride occurs in the dark, so I’m unable to prepare myself for the many drops and flips along the track. One moment my happiness is growing steadily towards the top then the next I’m free falling towards the ground at 100 miles per hour and I need to find solitude and sunglasses so no one can see the tears crash out of my eyes. I’ve retreated into myself and have become a hermit like I’ve never been before. My circle of friends was small before but has since gotten even smaller. I don’t mind this much. Now, I don’t feel obligated to do anything I don’t want to do. Maybe this is a bad thing. Maybe this is causing me to isolate myself in an unhealthy matter. At this point, I really don’t care. I want my friends to pass me the Juul and leave me alone. Give me whatever is bad for me. My brother is dead. I’m no longer afraid to die.

It still takes a profound amount of effort to get up and make it through my day. If I can get through the day’s sunlight without crying, I am proud of myself. People keep telling me how strong I am and how impressed they are by me but they don’t see me fall apart behind cheap shades and closed doors. I wear strong armor, but I feel my heart and soul deteriorating inside this smiley shell as the wall between who I knew myself to be and who I am now keeps getting higher and higher.

People expect me to be normal, whatever that word means anyway.  My deadlines still remain, event invites keep coming, and life spins madly on. How can the days continue to come? Do people not know that I am fighting the most painful battle I have ever had to face? No, most people don’t. They expect a happy girl to get her deadlines in on time and still show up to class and parties. Even when I’m trying to be social, I feel like I am accidentally exuding pain. I can tell some people don’t want me around because of this. I’m sick of the sympathy invites, I’m sick of people pretending to care, and I’m sick of people telling me that they’ll always be there for me when we both know that statement to be false. I know I’m being harsh but that’s life. This is mine without you.

I walk down the street and try to remember the advice I collected from you over the years. You verbally gave me so much advice but you led by example and taught me more through your actions than your words ever could. You always put your duties before anything. If you had work or an obligation you’d previously agreed to you would put in the hours and show up prepared. For you, it wasn’t even a question. You did what you were supposed to do and that was that. You had an inherent sense of right and wrong and you never let the devil on your shoulder sway you to make bad decisions. Of course, you did make bad decisions. But your bad decisions were premeditated and all in light of a good joke or too much booze. Wrong choices like cheating, lying, or deceiving were ones that you never made, under any circumstance. It was against your nature and you probably would have grounded yourself for a month or evaporated into smoke if you ever did anything of this nature. You spoke to everyone. You liked to speak to everyone. Anyone you came in contact with was granted a snaggle tooth smile, a firm handshake, and a warm “Hi, I’m Ike Crews.” Most importantly, you always made an effort to demonstrate your love to those you cared about. You were always in touch. You visited loved ones as much as you could. You would have missed a party at Elton John’s house if it meant you could spend an evening with your loved ones. You even took me along on a date that summer I interned in D.C. because you thought we weren’t spending enough time together. Poor Krizstina had to deal with the both of us for an evening. You were the kind of friend and family member everyone wants to have. You were the kind of person that gave a kind of undeniable, tough yet constant, love. The kind of love that makes you feel secure. The kind of love that makes you grow with ease. The kind of love you can’t live without once you’ve had it. I can assure you, anyone who felt your love is struggling to live without it now. Why did you have to be such a good person? Why couldn’t you have made some more mistakes? Why did you have to learn life’s lessons so easily? Maybe if you weren’t the impressive person you were you’d still be here with me. New greeting card idea I should email to Hallmark: ‘Maybe if your loved one wasn’t so good they wouldn’t have died so young. Sin in their absence.’ Think they’ll like it?

I am always listening to your iPod and hoping the songs will show me some musical philosophy to make life without you easier. Most times, it does. When people see the outdated music device they laugh. I always respond with “no distraction, just music.” I think they would judge me if they knew I considered the iPod a tiny piece of your heart that I can carry in my pocket. I’ve convinced myself that you choose the songs that shuffle on. It calms me to think that you’re watching me and hoping that I get whatever message it is you’re trying to send. I know this is a bit crazy. Thankfully, you have exceptional taste in music so I won’t be getting any vulgar ideas about having sex or doing drugs. These messages will come with a poetic subtlety from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. 

Last week when I was deciding whether or not to go to Paris with my friends, you played “Champs D’Elysee” by Joe Dassin for me. The happy tune made me realize that it was okay to spend the weekend doing nothing but walking around a beautiful city, eating delicious food, and looking at art. So, with that little push from you, I went to Paris with my friends. We laughed at almost every situation. We danced to country music. We discussed conspiracy theories. We sang “Champs D’Elysee” whenever there was a break in the conversation. We ate croissants. We pretended that saying “bonjour croissant!” with enthusiasm meant that we could speak French. Damn tourists.

It was the most normal I have felt since you left me. It wasn’t my old normal I was feeling. It was a new this-is-life-now-and-I’m-making-the-most-of-it kind of normal that’s a little less sure but a lot more determined. My friends let me talk about you, often. They were okay when I slipped you into stories here and there and they would even ask me questions back. This is something I’ve found to be rare from people who weren’t at your service. I’m often cautious to bring you up because I don’t want to make others uncomfortable. It’s a fucked up thing really. These people should be fine. I’m the one who lost the sibling. They should be trying to not make me uncomfortable, but oh well. To each their own.

Pearl has been the best throughout all of my chaos. Whenever I have needed her, she has been there with hugs and a delightful pessimism that only she can provide. She lets me turn this horrendous situation of your death into dark humor. Most people find my joking about death extremely uncomfortable. Increased by peer discomfort, this has proven to be my favorite coping mechanism.

As we walked along the Seine, Pearl laughed when I told her my parents were so lucky they had me because they’d be screwed if Carter was their only kid left. (Kidding of course, but a joke in Pearl’s direction because she’s an only child). She encouraged me to buy a lock for you to place on the bridge. I chose a blue one like the blue gravestone Dad and I chose a month ago. I can’t believe it has already been a month since we designed your headstone. On the lock I wrote, “I love you, Ikey” and drew a heart to represent the little piece of mine that the lock now has. I gulped back my tears as I threw the keys into the river. Sophia captured this moment on film. I’ll love you even when they come to cut the locks down. Thanks for pushing me to take the trip. You know I needed a good-for-the-soul kind of vacation. 

Dad and I talk often. We start with updating each other. I tell him about my classes and the hunt for a job after graduation. He tells me where he and Kathiann have traveled to lately. Then we begin to discuss our family. We always start with Carter. Then to Kathiann and her girls. Then to Mom, Kelly, and Miller. Then onto the grand finale: you. I can still hear the pain in his voice when he talks about you. His voice starts to slow, he takes deep breaths, and he tries to be as positive as possible in an effort to stay strong. I know he is breaking down on the other side of the phone. Oceans away, I can picture the expression on his face where his eyes sink, his face and eyes become red, and he flexes his lips to remind himself he can still control his face even when consumed by grief. I had never seen this expression before you left. I am familiar with it now.

The mannerisms of pain are demonstrated differently in each person. Dad’s are humble and reserved. He told me that he is just about done packing up your apartment even though every time he goes over there he loses himself in your scrapbooks, records, and general memorabilia. I knew this would happen. I hate that I had to leave Dallas and am not able to be there to help him. I would be there everyday he was if I could to push him along and hold him together. Thankfully, you were stupid organized. The physical demand of packing up your life isn’t overbearing but the emotional weight is way too heavy to lift all alone. Your death has made me realize that life is a never-ending cycle of packing, moving, and unpacking. Then you die and someone else does it for you. Thanks for the burden, ya jerk. 

Where do you go after you die? My faith in God is strong but there are still so many questions I wish could be answered. Do you still exist as I remember you? Will I see you again? Have you seen all of our loved ones? Do all dogs really go to Heaven? Because Bear was a menace and I’m not sure if he would make the cut.  If we do get to be reunited, where do we live? Does everyone have a nice townhouse or does everyone get to build his or her own custom dream house? Is there a life up there like there is on earth? One with demands, duties, and schedules? We can’t possibly live in heavenly bliss forever. Is Heaven one big connected oasis? Or does one’s soul fracture into a million little pieces and each piece plays a different role in someone else’s heaven? Is it all a figment of our own imagination? If it is, does that make it any less real? It terrifies me to the point of tears thinking that death could be eternal darkness and I’ll never get to see you again in the physical presence I crave most now. Tell God to please let the stories of Heaven be true. Tell him to please let me see you again.

I still cry most days but it’s no longer the earth-shattering-look-to-the-sky-and-hold-your-heart kind of crying that bursts out of my eyes and runs down my face. Now, it’s more of a subtle bat-your-eyes-and-look-down-at-your-shoes kind of crying that gently rolls down my cheek. A more depressed cry, if you know what I mean. I have found myself perpetually looking for traits of you in the people around me and holding those people closer than before. These pieces will never make you whole but they are comfortable place holders used to combat the emptiness you left behind. For example, I find a lot of you in Alex.

Alex shares your goal-oriented enthusiasm, your psychotic work ethic, and the brutal irony of always being right. I’m rolling my eyes at the both of you right now. He keeps trying to recruit me to run a marathon with him but I’ve agreed only to train with him in the mornings. Like you, he gets me up way earlier than I would on my own and pushes me to run farther than I would on my own. He often tells me to stop setting limits on myself. I always laugh and think of the many times you uttered similar advice in my direction. I’ve found it remarkable to see how far my feet can carry me. It’s always much farther than my mind tells me they could.

You’re always there with us during our morning runs in the form of the iPod. I turn on the “jogging” playlist when I’m heading out the door and it feels as if you’re heading out with me. “Woo! Let’s do it, Cams.” Just this morning, I was feeling defeated at 4 miles. My right knee was hurting, my back was sweating, and my nose and ears were uncomfortably cold. Fucking Scotland at daybreak. I wanted to stop and walk home. As quickly as this thought came into my mind, “With A Little Help From My Friends” started playing through my headphones. I giggled at the poetic justice you sent my way. I looked up at Alex, who was urging me to catch him with his judgmental gaze, and matched his pace for the end of the run. 6 and a half miles? Piece.of.cake.

At the end of the run, more lyrical philosophy soothed my mind and heart as I took a victory lap down Hope Street. This time it was “Changes” that you played. Tell David Bowie he was right. I can’t change time but it sure can change me. Ask him if he’s seen Shrek.