I looked up and faced the steel door like an opponent urging me to battle. My legs shook beneath the dirty jeans I’d been robotically putting on the last four days. My heart pounded under the navy sweatshirt that had become more of a nose tissue than an item of clothing. My face felt numb and I couldn’t tell whether new tears were falling or old tears had yet to dry. 

Since December 30th, I had been in a daze of grief that made the most mundane of tasks seem laborious. Getting out of bed, eating more than a grape at a time, or interacting with people not in the same shadow of heartbreak seemed as strenuous as hiking Everest with your significant other’s chatty Mom, mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.

 Now, January 3rd, this was the last place I wanted to be. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t open the door for weeks. No one had entered the apartment since the resident left on his last vacation. Opening the door would confirm my conscious nightmare: the owner was gone and wasn’t coming back. But I had to open it, for my sister.

With a shaking snot covered hand, I turned off my phone’s location services so my whereabouts would remain unknown. Carter couldn’t know I was here. The last few days she’d been less like a sister and more like a new mother, never letting her baby out of sight and constantly worried what exposure to the outside world might do. If she checked the location of my phone she’d immediately know whose apartment I stood in the hallway of. She’d know what I had gone to get. She’d know what I would be giving her at her 28th birthday party later that night. 

I had been here less than a week before. I turned left at the first hallway once inside and passed the eccentric granny’s door with a snowman doormat, a holly wreath, and a wooden mailbox that said “Letters for Santa” in red and green glitter. I turned right when I passed the dog bone adorned matt and snowflake decorated door that belonged to a friendly couple and their dog that never shut up. I reached my destination at the unembellished door that had only a doormat that said “Hi! I’m Mat” to hint at the character inside.

Like before, I unlocked the door after numerous attempts because those damn electric locks never work properly. But, unlike my previous visit, I didn’t hear laughter as soon as I entered. Crosby, Stills, and Nash didn’t serenade me upon arrival. My brother didn’t greet me with a smile, wearing boxers and rainbow socks. I closed the door behind me and put my head in my hands as I sunk to my knees.  

After a few minutes on the hardwood floor, crying softly enough not to alarm the neighbors, I willed myself to the office. In the desk, I found what I had come for: the “Happy Birthday Family Member” card that my brother and sister exchanged for the past four years. My shattered heart sunk when I saw my brother hadn’t gotten to sign yet. Small sentiments are irrelevant to the Grim Reaper. He’s on a schedule. No time for nonsense. I took it upon myself to sign for the both of us. I rapidly left as graceful as a hurricane, slamming the door with urgency as I tried to keep any bit of my brother that still lived locked inside.