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To Matthew

You died on a Sunday. Divine Mercy Sunday. A day of divine forgiveness. It was a heavenly day, too. You know, one of those days where all you taste is sun and green and salvation. Everything is rising again. You can see the grass genuflecting to the sky on the hills where cows used to bow when there was still a dairy farm. You can almost hear the flowers burst from their stems in glory from beneath the magnolias, and the birds don’t seem to know how to stop singing their praises. For once, the rain had ceased to fall up. It was not a day for death.

You killed yourself. At least that’s what they told me.

In a sick way I want to know how you did it. Was it a rope? A knife? A razor? A pillowcase? Did you suffer? Was there blood? Was there a note? I never heard if there was. Not like I’d want to know exactly why you did it. I think I can guess. Why else except depression; feeling like a cornered animal who can’t fight back, who can’t escape? Why else except knowing life is a hell you can only die to escape from? Did you beg for salvation when you saw the end? Or were you grateful?

As awful as it is I wish someone had shot you, or knifed you, or something. Then I could place blame, call names, throw curses at the walls for the injustice of lives half lived. I want to believe that I’m not being told the truth, that the whole thing is a cover-up so that some brutal soul can stay alive and guilt-free. Yet, I know I can’t blame anyone else for this. Accusations are not easy to assign names to when the only name you hear is the one you can’t to say out loud.

Your father was so proud of you. His oldest son was doing something great with his life. The Army. Special Forces, to boot. He’d wear the baseball cap you got him with the embroidered insignia on it; the one with the sword and three bolts of lightning lying on an arrowhead. He carried around the photo of you in your green beret and your stony stare, pulling it out so often it got soft and tore in the corner above your right shoulder. The “top-secret” map you gave him he eagerly would lie across the table and trace the red and blue boundary lines in a vigorous mess of pointed fingers of where you told him you had gone. Don’t you remember?

Can’t you remember how the rain fell up so fast for him after Papa died? You were in it too for a while but he still hadn’t been able to come out of the rain by the time you enlisted. But you were slowly pulling him along, letting him watch the rain fall whichever way it pleased because now he was able to focus a little more on the future, your future. How could you let his rain accumulate with this? Now the rain will never end. You know that right? Don’t you remember?

You would come home on leave and tell your father, my uncle, about the survival drills, the maps you shouldn’t talk about, the codes you couldn’t say, all while shoving your face with a roast beef sandwich, a steak, or potatoes and turkey. The food in the mess-hall must have been slosh compared to Chinese food or my mother’s turkey dinner. I remember sitting across from you at the Thanksgiving table and trying not to watch you eat. It was so difficult! You sat bow-legged in your folding chair, arms against the side of the card table, crouched like a homeless child over your plate, rarely using your fork to devour seconds of cranberry sauce, stuffing, and turkey. I think you ate six rolls. Your stubbled cheeks were stuffed more than chipmunks could hold while you tried to laugh and talk your way through dinner.

What were you thinking then, chuckling and trying not to choke on dry rubbed turkey? Were you thinking, I’m going to miss this? Were you thinking, when I die I hope they remember me like this, jovial and hungry? Maybe then they won’t cry. It wasn’t so bad until it had end. Was that what it was like, Matt? Were you slogging through until the very end, pushing through the receding downpour, until you couldn’t find another way out? But they told me they don’t really know what happened. There was an investigation. I don’t know what the end result was. I know precious little about what you did, about what happened. All I know is that you’re gone.

But maybe you didn’t do it. Maybe it wasn’t you. Or maybe it was an accident.

It will be two or three in the morning when my open window invites me to lay my head on the sill and see the dark rain fall back up and the sun rise from the west. I will watch as life is set on rapid rewind, as it always is during storms like these. I will follow it, too, Matty. It will pull me into blindly feeling my way back to my seat in the Chinese restaurant where you stole pork dumplings, your favorite, off my plate because you had already eaten all twelve of yours in under three minutes. You could always eat like a machine. It was how you were built: tall, wide at the shoulders, but muscled and rigid, forever a military man. It was in your blood; my father, our grandfather, our great-grandfather and many other men scattered throughout our lineage. We can’t escape our duty, it seems. In America and God do we trust.

Did you believe in God, Matty? Did you believe in anything?

The rain is falling up again tonight. Bats backstroke through it with surprising agility. I stumble back into the period costume I wore as a Christmas caroler at the local amusement park. You were on leave. You and your mom and your dad and my family all came to watch me sing while you licked powdered sugar off your fingers and sipped milky hot chocolate. You always did like funnel cake. When you said I was an amazing singer, you said it like you were surprised. You had never said anything like that to me before. I was the little cousin, the only girl in a band of boys, the pint sized thing that always wanted to tag along. And, now, I was beautiful.

I don’t think I ever said thank you.

I don’t remember if I ever told you thank you for dragging me across the beach on the boogie board, either. Do you remember? It was the summer you helped me build a sandcastle and then let me tear it down with my tiny six-year-old feet. Your brother and you would play with the plastic Tommy guns in the backyard of the family beach house, too, and I’d run around behind you with my doll dangling from my hand, ducking to avoid the invisible fire. We’d play hide and seek, you’d kick me out of the garage when you were playing video games, you’d pretend to hunt me while I hid in the crevice of space between the couch and the bead board covered wall. Your brother always wanted to scare me. You never let him because Papa had always said you were the oldest, so you had to take care of us.

You were Papa’s favorite. Did you know that? You were the first grandkid, that’s why. Your art projects were always the first on the fridge, your photos the first to fill the frames. There you’d be, smiling from underneath your black mop of hair next to your ginger-curled brother Danny, arms around each other, peering out of a gold octagon frame. And there you’ll stay. Your stories the ones Papa would tell constantly. Papa loved to tell the story of how you found our aunt’s dollhouse and decided that the army men needed to take it over and so broke each and every window of the poor, handmade thing. You laughed as you did it, then cried when there were no more windows to break.

I know I’m not the only one who sees the rain fall back up this time. Danny does, too. So does your father and our cousin Thomas, your mother, our Aunt Sara and Uncle Kevin, my parents, Nana. Nana must know the rain well. It’s always falling back up for her. It’s constantly nudging her back to moments she murmurs aloud over and over so she’ll never forget. How much it must hurt to know that the rain is receding for someone as strong as you seemed to be. She watches with me as the drops gently rise, muttering some prayer of forgiveness I’m not ready to mutter myself. The rain starts to stick to me, lying like bubbles across my pale skin, like the bubbles I would blow as you and Danny and Thomas played stickball on the Battery Park cliff. They cling to my hair like the snow did that afternoon I last saw you, gathered at a round table with our family, exchanging Christmas presents underneath an oversized tree in an empty pub. You rubbed your shaved head with one hand and crouched over your food again, trying not to choke on a sandwich too large to fit in your machine of a mouth. Had the rain claimed you by then? Had it started to weigh you down, did it make you feel the pressure? You smiled and laughed that day when we posed for pictures and we all gave you jackets and sweaters and gift cards wrapped in red and gold. I don’t remember what I gave you, and I don’t remember what you gave me.

I hope I said thank you.

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