I bawled and howled when Robert died.
When Robert died.
Robert: my brother.
I sat, inconsolate, howling on the lid of the septic tank. ‘Why! Robert!’
He lay dead on my mother’s kitchen floor, fetal beside the fridge.
She’d called me — as I knew she would … one day — to cry into the phone that he was dead. “You have to get here. I think Robert’s dead.”
Robert was stone-cold departed of the moment.
No longer with us.
A blanched example of his former self.
You had to know Robert.
We had been expecting his departure for years. He was of the walking dead.
A diabetic who lived hard. Afflicted with pain and sadness, and the melancholy and anger due to a woman who had left him … all that.
Who cared? Not Robert.
He had hopes. He couldn’t walk well, so he turned his thoughts to getting a motorized scooter. He often looked at those pamphlets from medical supply companies … ever dreaming of mobility, independence.
‘Maybe I could free myself of these drugs; not have to ask my brother to drive me here and there. Ahh, the independence. Maybe, with a scooter, not one of those really fancy ones but a basic job, I could actually get around on my own.’
There wasn’t the money nor did I think it, this independence business, that important. Robert would ‘abuse’ a scooter, after all. Probably be one of the first to get caught drunk driving on a device that travels five miles an hour.
My approach to this may seem flippant. Robert would laugh. Agree mostly. Though make some pointed points along the way.
Robert’s death carried us all, we brothers and sisters, back. Back to those way-back times of childhood. As it would be.
We knew Robert.
Robert always travelled uphill.
In the middle of a family pack of seven, Robert had to make it on his own. We older three had only time for our high regard of ourselves. His younger siblings were also mildly separated, though more likely to pay Robert heed. We older sibs thought Robert an odd sort who probably wouldn’t amount to much — not as much as we, in any case.
There was that sort of division. But not a divide based on malice. Just the way it was, really.
Robert may have been going to grab a glass of milk.
He was tightly fetal when I found him.
My mother waved me on when I arrived that early morning. I went to his bedroom. He wasn’t there.
‘Where is he?’
She threw her arm, pointed toward the refrigerator.
Where my brother lay.
Collapsed, perhaps, after seeking a meal or other refreshment.
Twenty-six years before his expected death, Robert was diagnosed a diabetic. He punctured himself daily from then on, pressing insulin into his veins.
Ten years before he died in 2003, Robert had heart surgery.
Neither his failing heart nor his diabetes slowed his appetite for life.
His death alone in a kitchen does not define nor undermine. It was a thing on its way, and he had to face it as we all do.
He would have kicked out the mariachi band, had one been sought to ease the pain that would go with his death. He would have sent the band packing, with hugs all around.
Robert, my brother, had a wit, sharpened by what I’m not sure. Sharpened, maybe, by that positional thing: middle child. He was so good on his feet. And he never gave in. It was his way or the highway.
That stubbornness served him well. Sometimes.
His intransigence, though, frequently got him in trouble, sometimes even estranging his family. Still, as disarming and ugly as it was for me, he died well.
After all, he died.