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For Barry

“Wish not so much to live long, as to live well.”
-- Benjamin Franklin


“Death is not a door that we walk toward. Death is the act of walking itself.”
-- John Fowles

My brother, Barry, was sixteen months my junior. On September 21, 1985, he put a .357 Magnum into his mouth and spray-painted the back wall. He was twenty years old and it was my mother’s birthday.

Why did my brother choose to end his own life? I don’t know. The answer to that question died with him. But still, perhaps I can make a few observations, exploit my misfortune and pick the bones of a dead man.

Shortly before graduating from high school, Barry talked to an Army recruiter. He wanted to follow in my footsteps and become an electronics technician, but I didn’t think the field would suit him. An eye test revealed his inability to distinguish between two shades of yellow-green, so he had to choose another field. He chose to become an MP, a Military Policeman.

In many ways, we were alike. We were both idealists, wanting to change the world in our own way. I meant to do it with my writing and my philosophy. He would do it through a career in law enforcement. I knew this was right for him. As usual, his approach was much more practical than mine.

Barry entered the military and married his first love soon thereafter. He enjoyed a brief but brilliant career because he had found a purpose. All was well with the world. But at the end of his two years, he let his wife talk him into quitting.

Back home, I researched the local law enforcement agencies for him. He was twenty years old, meaning only the Sheriff’s Department would hire him. He returned home, applied and was hired to guard the jails.

I remember Barry’s time at the Police Academy only too well. Typed notes were required, but he could not type, so I did this for him. I learned about law enforcement in the process. He enjoyed practicing his hand-to-hand combat training on me a bit too much, but again, I learned much in the process.

We went to the old haunts together. He could still play a video game for thirty minutes on a single quarter. When we played doubles, my purpose was to give him two-minute breathers.

We went to a movie together and some fellow behind us wanted to start a fight to impress his girlfriend. The old Barry would’ve “kicked some ass,” but my little brother was a man now.

He test-drove a sports car not because he wanted to buy it, but just because he wanted to drive one. He drove it seventy miles per hour on a winding road, explaining, “This is how I would really drive it.” He kept telling the salesman, who was on the job for his first day, “I’ll show them my badge” and flooring the accelerator.

I also remember the last time that I talked to Barry. It was maybe a week before he killed himself. He asked me to go to the movies with him, but I was too wrapped up in my own life. I can even quote my last words to him. “Why don’t you go do something with your wife?” He never told me that she had left him a month earlier.

Thus ended Barry’s grand dream of changing the world. He sat behind a desk, reading paperbacks and spraying inmates with a fire hose to break up fights. He walked down halls as inmates spat on him and flung cups of p*ss at him. He saw human nature at its ugliest. But more importantly, he was not fighting for the good cause.

Barry went to work; he went home; he paid bills. He was utterly alone wherever he was. Many people do this and perhaps a rare few even have the courage to ask Is this all there is? But perhaps saying Yes is more painful to nobler souls.

Perhaps he should not have bottled everything up inside until it exploded, but we all know that “real men” are tough (another shared trait). Perhaps it would have been more bearable if he had not been alone, but everyone close to him is to blame for that. But we can say “perhaps” and “he should have” all we want. He's still dead.

Thinking back on our lives, I realized that my little brother had always been a role model for me. He still is. Much later I realized that he thought of me the same way. He looked up to me and I never knew until it was too late.

I liked to think that he could have always come to me if he had a problem. After his death, I criticized him because he didn't come to me. But then I remembered that he did come to me. I told him to get the hell out of my life and he did exactly that.

You may reply that it is not my fault, because I didn't know he would kill himself. Perhaps. But does that mean it's okay to treat someone like that the rest of the time? No. It is never okay. By turning him away, I killed my brother just as surely as if I'd pulled the trigger.

I wrote the above thoughts shortly after Barry’s death. I believed them. I believed that I had put my loss in the past, come to terms with my feelings and moved on. The casket was closed and Barry and his memory were buried. But then, almost sixteen years later, something unexpected happened. I found love.

When Barry died, I did not bury him. I buried my heart. I married the girl I was dating at the time, got a steady job, supported a household and built a life for myself. For this, I have no regrets. But I wasn’t happy and I didn’t know it. In this, I was much less honest than my little brother.

Now I like to think that I’ve finally learned a little about love. Not family love, as that is usually given and usually taken for granted. I mean the kind of love where you bare your soul to a complete stranger, where someone sees into the ugliness of your heart and loves you in spite of it. The kind of love I’d have never dreamed of finding until, one day, it finally happened.

Looking back at Barry’s life, I doubt he ever knew such love. Without it, there was no joy in his life. That’s why he ended it. Again, he was always more practical than I am.

I would have loved Barry even if he weren’t my little brother, but I never told him. Now it’s too late. Could I have prevented this tragedy? I’ll never know now. I missed the warning signs and he blew his brains out.
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