I landed to DFW early on a Sunday afternoon a new person with a healthy mindset and a fresh tan. Dad and Carter came to pick me up. They were late because Carter made things difficult in one way or another. Classic! I wish you were still here to give her shit. She doesn’t take it the same way from me. I loved seeing the two of them walk through the airport doors. It was one of those small yet meaningful moments when you realize how loved and lucky you are to have people to do stuff like that for you. I’m lucky to have them. We were lucky to have you.

We went straight to you from the airport. Your gravestone finally came in. It couldn’t look better. Dad and I tried not to cry but eventually succumbed to the pain with a sense of secrecy. Sunglass on faces, hands in pockets. We are both still shaken to our core in a similar way. United in grief, I could see the anguish flow through his body just as it pulsed through mine. Carter tried her best to be optimistic. She filled the air with sentimental yet meaningless conversation while I pretended not to cry, as I looked anywhere but at the people around me. After half an hour, we pulled ourselves together and headed to Mi Cocina to eat nachos and queso. We wouldn’t have had any leftovers if you had been there too. 

After spending time with the sisters I got to choose at Abby’s, I went to yours again at sunset. This time was quieter, better for reflection, and easier for me to actually communicate with you. So anyone nearby wouldn’t know I’m an absolute psychopath who thinks you can hear me whenever I speak outloud, I spoke these words to you a bit under my breath: “I realize you can see God in the Texas sunsets. I bet the views are even better from the other side. Don’t judge me, I blame my southern Christian upbringing for these statements. I have a perfect view of the sun now as I sit at your grave. Your stone is done so well. It really couldn’t be more perfect. Scott and Griff were here yesterday. They sat above you and you drank together. I pictured you in heaven matching them shot for shot, audibly laughing while sitting in a recliner made of clouds. I love knowing your stone is always surrounded with a love that will never die, even though you have. I feel a new positive energy around me but a looming sadness still consumes me from time to time. The grief monster is my new favorite villain, the perfect antagonist. He’s so easy to hate but I like having him around. He sure knows how to keep things interesting, constantly changing the mood of any scene. I’m watching Sunday turn into Monday. I wish this wasn’t where I have to come to visit you. How can a graveyard be the place where I go to see my favorite person? I guess it’s nice I always know where to find you. I will never stop wishing you were here. It’s dark and I can no longer see through my tears. I’m going home, but I’ll be back. I love you, Ikey. Rest easy, Brother. I’ll see you soon.” I kissed my hand and touched your name on the new stone before heading to your car to cry along with The Beatles as I drove home. “Yesterday” always hits our heartstrings. 

At 8 am the next morning, I was in the hospital for a laparoscopic surgery. Mom and Dad were both with me. We laughed about how the waiting room has bible verses in a fishbowl. Dad and I made fun of Mom for wearing diamonds and Prada stilettos just to sit around in a hospital. Dad was glad she didn’t hear my comment about the Devil wearing Prada once my jokes started getting malicious. Right before I was directed to watch an informative video on my upcoming procedure, Dad received a call. He left the room with a weight on his shoulders I could visibly see. The grief monster was demanding his attention, I knew it. It was like he winked at me on his way out as he jumped on Dad’s back. I knew the call was about your cause of death.

We’ve been waiting for months and constantly refer back to the question of how whenever we speak. Dad re-entered the room with a sorrowful look on his face. The grief monster smirked over his shoulder. “They declared he choked,” Dad muttered softly as he tried not to break our hearts, and his, any more. An unsuccessful attempt. I could physically feel more pieces of my heart cracking inside my body. Who knew there was so much breaking one muscle could bear. The words hit me in the stomach like you used to when I wasn’t giving you enough attention.

I was instantly in tears. I, uncharacteristically, didn’t care that I was in public. I was a full force wave of emotion walking from one end of the hospital to the next. Beware Medical City, there’s a Texas hurricane occurring indoors. The clacking of Mom’s heels were the alarms warning the people around me to take cover. She followed slowly behind, annoying me with her audible wallows. Dad left us to do whatever it was he said he had to do. I knew he was really going to break down in solitude. As we entered the doctor’s office, I became bitter. I was still crying tears of sorrow but I was undeniably angry.  I wanted to tell you to chew your fucking food. I wanted to tell you, in person, that it’s your own fault you died. I wanted to blame you, but you are no longer here to justify my anger and turn it back around at me. I had to do this on my own. 

The video of my surgery began to play on the screen. It’s a video from the 70’s, crazy hair and outfits and all, that is apparently required before the procedure. The video started showing the diagrams of what was about to occur inside of me. I felt nauseous. I felt uneasy, angry, and sick to my stomach. Mom was next to me, more aware of my emotions than her own, and ran to tell the doctor that I was not okay. I would not be watching the rest of the video. Instead, Dr. Kinney gave me two xanax and a muscle relaxer. The tears slowly stopped and the grief monster backed out of the room as the medication seeped through my bloodstream.

The next few days after my surgery, I was on bed rest. Dad had the doctors prescribe me the strongest pain meds they could so I would actually stay in bed. It was kind of nice, honestly. I watched 3 entire seasons of Game of Thrones in a matter of days. I’m obsessed now. I wish we could discuss it. Dad came by every few hours to bring me food. Mom kept me up to speed on my medication. I didn’t leave the house until Wednesday and that was only to get a facial and a haircut.

Friday afternoon, Dad called a family meeting. We’ve been having these a lot lately, since you’ve been gone. It’s strange. We sit in the front room of Mom’s house, the very room I learned of your death, and discuss the important matters at hand. We act like a family that wasn’t marked by addiction and divorce. Nothing of the past matters anymore. We still have each other. That’s all that matters. These meetings always revolve around you. Even in death, you’re bringing us together. Mom, sitting in her red cashmere robe, just woken up from a midday nap, slurred, “It just doesn’t make any sense” when we began to talk about you, apparently, suffocating. We all nodded in agreement. It doesn’t make sense. How can someone who had eaten an hour before death die of choking on food? We all took turns filling the silence anyway we could. Carter and I tried to turn the situation into humor. We laughed as we realized that if we wanted to start a charity in your honor we would call it the ‘Chew Your Damn Food’ Organization. Sponsored by A1 Steak Sauce! Mom rolled her eyes as she complained “can you two shut up?’ No mam, we can’t. We are your daughters. 

Your phone and wallet have finally been released back to us. Dad handed over your possessions reluctantly. Your black leather wallet, like the rest of your life, was pristinely organized. Each item had a purpose. The numerous rewards cards, debit and credit cards, your multiple business cards all await your return in the same fashion you left them in. We’ll never take it apart without putting it back together just as you had it. Thanks for the $20. I used it to buy nachos and a margarita. Carter and I are thrilled about possessing your phone. Were you rolling your eyes at us getting excited to hack into it? Real rocket science to have your birthday as the password. 

Carter and I had to leave the family meeting to meet Scott and Griff at Mi Cocina. We drove your car and brought the cell phone along with us, desperately hoping to feel closer to you. I know you were watching and willing me not to read your texts, especially when driving. Carter acted as soon as the thought of your annoyance crossed my mind. I was mid scroll through a stop light on Mockingbird when she snatched the device from my grasp. When we parked in Highland Park Village, I decided that since we now have your phone we have the perfect opportunity to mess with people. My inner prankster, modeled after yours, was thrilled. I liked every Instagram you’d been tagged in, from your account, because that’s what you would have done. All those sorrowful remembrance posts got an extra like from Ikeandcrews. A joke in poor taste but, hey, if we’re not laughing about it we’re crying. People should get used to the dark humor or learn to stay away. I messaged your group text with your best friends. Of course, they have yet to take you out of it. I typed out, “hey guys. Just woke up! What’s new?” Carter wasn’t sure if I should press send. I did it anyway. I laughed hysterically at myself while she rolled her eyes before laughing with me. She sent the next text, “I’ve had the craziest dreams lately.” After a couple minutes, they all realized it was us and began to joke back. “Hey bro, we miss you. What’s the dating scene like up there?”

The week has quickly come to an end and it’s now Saturday and I must, once again, leave the comfort zone of Dallas and head back overseas. I wish I didn’t have to go. I wish I could stay here with Dad, Carter, Mom, our friends, and you. I hate being another person to leave these people I love so much, even if it’s just for a matter of months. It is still so foreign to me that when I want to visit you I must go to your gravesite. You were always the first person I wanted to see when I arrived to town. Now, I always know where to find you. No difficulty with logistics there. The conversation sure is a lot less lively, though. 

Dad and I discuss visiting you as if we weren’t going to look at your name on a plate in the grass. Our schedule for my last day seems so pure. Finish packing, fill a prescription, have a late lunch, go see Ike. I’m standing over your grave now. I am wearing your Rubik’s cube socks. You’re right Coldplay, every teardrop is a waterfall. You would laugh and tell me how crazy my shoes are if you were here. Are you saying this down to me now? I tell myself you are. I feel you and acknowledge you as sun beams down on me and lets me know you’re here too. Miranda Lambert was right when she sang “it really sinks in, you know, when you see it in stone.” You’re dead. I’m not over it. I’ll never be over it. All I hear in my head now is your laugh and the grim “Over You” chorus. “You went away. How dare you. I miss you.“ I pray to God, out loud, before I leave. “Dear God, Please let Ikey be okay. Please let him be healthy and happy wherever he is. Please let him be with you. Please let him still be him, unchristian flaws and all. Let him know I love him. Let him know we all love him. Tell him. Now.” I repeat this twice before kissing my hand, touching the “brother” on your tombstone, and walking to join dad sitting on a bench nearby.  It’s time for me to go now. I love you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. 

Dad goes back one more time. I fix the flowers on the stones nearby. Most of your neighbors don’t have people like Carter and Dad who come almost everyday to keep your gravesite clean. Dad even has a brush and rag in his trunk that he takes to his daily visits to clean off your stone. He has the lawn service schedule memorized and knows when it’ll need to be cleaned off. VIP service! Only the best for the best. Dad is crying when I return. Openly, which you know he rarely does. I hug his back. He mutters “I miss him so much,” as his back begins to shake and the sadness overcomes every muscle on his face. I can’t help but fall apart whenever he does. He takes a deep breath before shaking my shoulder and declaring, “you’ve got a flight to catch.“ We walk towards the car together. He stops one more time. He looks back longingly. “He looks great.” I nod in agreement and lean my head onto his coat. We walk to the car, arms wrapped around each other, and head for DFW. I scribble these final thoughts down on my phone notes before putting on a Kingston Trio album for the drive. I miss being able to visit you already. I know you were there with us today. I love you stronger than the sunbeams you were sending our way.