What I will never forget is the green carpet in your room, which would later hold your vomit. And your walls. Those dark green walls. I remember staring at them for the first time, wishing I had a favorite color. I remember you playing music for me, the Euro-techno-pop bouncing through the line of light between your blinds, diving down through the dark air, and slowing as it moved through the thick Florida humidity. I remember sitting there listening, looking at you and the green walls and the Star Trek figurines and the cases upon cases of CDs, wishing someone would teach me to love music as much as you did. I remember sitting on the floor in front of your TV, the channel choice deliberately chosen, and you pointing to the screen, looking back and forth from my face to the woman on the show (gauging my reaction), saying a few times, “You know that’s a man, right?” And me looking back and forth from your face to the woman on the screen, saying curiously, “That’s weird.”
What I will never forget is how red became my favorite color after that. How I compulsively listened to music after that. Those things you taught me then. But now I’ve learned to hate that I called it weird, and I spend hours studying my shame over that eight year old girl, the twelve year old, the nineteen year old. Why didn’t we help you. You gave me color and music. Why didn’t we help you. It’s only been two years of my life I’ve served, and I’ll spend the rest of it doing penance for you. See, look at that: you’re not even here and once again you’ve rewritten who I’ll be. Why didn’t I help you. Now I wander the streets obsessively watching the lives of others, repeatedly offering my help, and permanently waiting on standby. You’ve taught me that.
“We watched this video in biopsychology about how one twin brother had soldiers and weapons all over his room while the other had Barbies and dolls and pink and frills. They were talking about how already you could tell one’s sexual orientation so early. You know, because of the Barbies and the rest—”
“—like Michael,” dad said, smirking over his plate. I remember he looked up, opened his mouth, and forked in another corner of his chocolate cake. Mama kicked his fifty-three year old knee underneath the table. The one that had the screw in it. If grandpa had been at that dinner, he probably would have kicked him a lot harder (wouldn’t you agree?). It seems the faces in that family picture from 1994 have remained static; you’ve had no effect on them. Still negligent and indifferent. Like I was to you. Like they are now to me (because you were just a cousin). That dinner I remember a shockwave through my brain as your name bled through every synapse. Looking out at September, I realized I hadn’t heard your name since April. I wasn’t able to say it again until November, but even then it seemed like the most difficult word to expel. Everything had gone blank by then, inexplicably erased, and I had forgotten your green room, Star Trek, rural Florida, and RuPaul.
And now that you’ve left me alone here, heavy with grocery bags of regret in each of my hands, the plastic twisting around my fingers cutting off the circulation, my muscles too underdeveloped to cope, I wait for the same thing for which you waited: help. Only now am I noticing how the trestles that prop up daily life are brittle, how it’s just the neighbor’s face behind Santa’s beard, and re-reading that Thoreau line over and over and over: “life of quiet desperation.” Now, just like you, I lose something every time I talk to someone, begging in my head that they just ask one question about me (about you), but they don’t. They only stick a spare dollar in the cup but don’t make eye contact. I’m sure you knew that feeling well. How did you make it so long knowing that all of the conversations, the relationships, the family and friends—knowing that all of that was just small talk? How did I ever expect you to make yourself feel better, when you discovered that the secret behind it all was that no one really cared if you got better or not?
I saw that shade of green on the streets not too long ago, and I thought about your room, empty now with only the imprints of furniture on the carpet, a few remaining tufts of dog and cat hair floating in the air. I sat myself down on the faded green carpet and looked around, wondering how I’m supposed to carry on knowing that secret you taught me. My life seems so empty now, just like this room, just like yours was. Where the hell is everybody? Did you ever figure that out? I can’t see you and I’ve forgotten your scent, but I can still hear those songs. Maybe you left behind music deliberately to help me get along. I can’t play it just yet, but I still listen for now. I cling to its sound so desperately for now. And maybe you left me that to help me rebuild, a small inheritance to keep me alive.