Now that he’s dead, Rex is back to being Kevin. Writers get their people back after their people die. People revert back to the people.
I was very nervous on the phone telling my brother about the anthology because I hadn’t spoken to him in a long time (silence there, to an already dangerous mixture of the truth about the sex): “Um…look, I’ve written this piece about our incest and they want to publish it and I’m going to read it to you and ask you if it’s okay because if it isn’t, you can sue me or something.” Kevin only had to approve the “story” or it wasn’t going to see the light of print.
After I had read it to him, I was surprised by my brother’s reaction. My brother very casually said, “sure it’s fine, it’s a good piece, when is it coming out?”
And it didn’t occur to me at the time, but my brother’s approval may also have been a plea on his part to not discuss the back-story, relieved now that the piece was written and that he was off to one side of the potential firework-danger of strange sex going off too close to him. My brother was relieved that what I had written froze the incest in time—painful and ambiguous still, I suppose, but no longer the central heating in the here and now.
When the anthology came out, Kevin called me every now and then to say he’d seen the book in the gay section of some bookstore somewhere (where else would it be? The general population’s casual interest in gay life abruptly stops at erotic memoir). But he didn’t live to see my own book of essays published and died never knowing I had made him dead in the middle of a summer street in the middle of a paragraph of creative non-fiction.
And in these five summers away from his final summer, I am thinking of the fragility of any family once it enters that required pact with grieving when we all try to unravel the riddle not of the death, but of the life.
All of us die, but not all of us live.
I know that my brother died of acute alcohol poisoning that took its last good shot at his already broken heart, but I don’t know how he managed to stand in one place for so many years or how he lived in the one room or worked in the same one basement or inhabited the one mind that he lubricated with fear and resentment toward most of his people but would let break down occasionally with joy, thank God—for the people he knew who made—no matter how cluttered their lives may have been—a place for art. To be an artist.
Like so many families into which a writer is born, I don’t know if my brother really saw me as a practicing artist. I was someone who wrote poems and a couple of books of prose, but I was not the artist doing it, I was my brother’s brother doing it. I was the big mouth with a pen who should have let lying dogs sleep in the middle of a road: a memoirist, in a family of secrets and lies!
Of the many unspokennesses between us, perhaps the oddest was the conversation my brother and I never had about how serious I was about my work, about getting it published and, finally, about finding a community of writers in a world that did not begin with writers. My brother had certainly written (his only book of poems was published posthumously) but he was never really that concerned about what would happen to the writing, supported by the fact that he only sent it out occasionally.