One year ago, on New Years Eve, I lost someone I will never be able to replace. I can't explain what he meant to me in five pages of words, in almost two decades of life or 20 billion years.
He was introverted but could make good friends with most anyone in just a day. Though he was never particularly profound towards me, people have told me stories about knowledge and wisdom that he shared with them at the most mundane times. A friend of mine recently told me that he'd offered some rather profound wisdom on facing life with a smile, while at the same time offering to shave his head for her, but only if he could outline batman symbols on the side of his head. He played video games and thought stick-shift was more fun than automatic transmission; he wrote stories that professionals would have been proud of while he was in third grade, but could not type on computers. He never called home when he should have, and he hated everything about chocolate.
The person I lost was my brother.
He knew me almost every moment of my life. I watched him play video games and he chased me around the house, beating me with books, because I would-not-could-not read or write. The largest thing he ever threw at me was the Complete Unabridged Annotated Edition of Sherlock Holmes, Two Book Box Set.
He was involved in theater, and was insulted for hanging around the "thespians" as their stage manager and techie. We were never in a production together. He built an electric vehicle from scratch with a group of friends, and helped create a home-made biofuel which was never used. He was the only one who was allowed to pet Pal-Cat. During his last few months alive, when he was around, we would stay up late in the night talking about the best superpower, how great it would be to have this game, the best books on the apocalypse, webcomics and humanity. Whenever asked a question about humanity's latest atrocity, he would reply to me, "Eh, people're stupid," but would turn around and give a detailed analysis to anyone else.
There was no one else like him on the planet. There never will be again.
He was supposed to have time:
Time to make friends, to have a future, get a job, maybe find a significant other or remodel the world entirely. He would have been the one to cure cancer, to create the environmentally perfect vehicle or renewable energy source. He didn't, though, because of an otherwise perfect day. Because of a careless pilot who killed him while doing what he loved.
In the year before his death, my brother took a trip with our father to Alaska to work on airplanes.
When he came back he never said it outright, it was clear he loved Alaska, monstrous mosquitoes and all.
I have never been to Alaska and I do not know if I ever will be. I have wanted to visit Alaska since I was young. I watched the Balto movies and studied the history behind them. I watched nature documentaries and sifted through photos friends of mine brought from their travels. Perhaps because I have never been there, Alaska has always represented a place of purity and beauty in my mind. I'm scared to go there-- it might shatter that image of purity for me, to realize fully that Alaska is a place on Earth, just like any other.
My brother went to Alaska to work on airplanes. He flew part of the way north. They have heated floors up there, he said. If you get cold, you could just lie down.
The best picture we have of him comes from Alaska. Pictures of him are all over our house, now. They've been there for a year, too, ever since the day of his death.
Though the day itself still remains perfectly, the week after his death was a blur. I remember vague things: a handful of nights, wondering if I would have to return to school, and my mother talking about the dentist appointments she would have to cancel, rooms filled with flowers and tissue boxes. I remember asking for his glasses, which we never found. I remember gory thoughts, like that his glasses can't be found because they're embedded in his skull. I remember writing on notepaper something to read at the funeral. We didn't bury anything.
It was Alaska that brought me out of that blur. One of my clearest moments from this time was our first outing after the funeral.
It was in an early January morning when we set out.
We live in a valley. To leave our property and go most anywhere we have to drive past a large, slanted hay field surrounded by woods and creaks. In January, there is no hay. Only brown, broken shoots of the year before that the snow had further shattered, stuck up amidst a few scattered green plants and trees.
There was no snow this morning. Instead, a fine layer of frost covered every blade of grass. The valley's mountains and overcast sky partly blocked the sun, making it come down in rays, turning the grass golden and lighting the hill only in pockets. The few leaves that remained on ground plants were lit up to shining greens and yellows, the trees' bark turned vibrant.
It reminded me of a very different, rather bad photograph my brother and father had brought back from Alaska.
There is romanticism about death. They say you have a pain in your heart, like it's been stabbed and twisted, broken beyond repair. I never felt a pain in my heart during the week before. I felt it in my lungs, as though one of them had been ripped out. As though someone else was supposed to be helping me breathe, and had failed to deliver.
As I watched the field pass us, I had the strangest, warm, curling feeling in my chest, as though the lung I had been missing had grown back temporarily.
I remembered that photograph they showed me, and called this feeling Alaska.
I have had many Alaska moments since then. Moments when I look around and think things don't have to be so bad; moments when I realize I can feel better by just getting up and doing a simple task, like taking a walk, playing violin, or speaking and being helpful to a person I don't know.
It's in the Alaska moments when I don't miss my brother as much, and I wish other people might be able to have these moments with me, and not look confused when I say I want contentment more than happiness. That I want to move on, and that the worst thing that could happen to me is to forget.
This story is not meant to depress. It is not meant to garner pity. It is not meant to whine, or make people feel bad for not having dead relatives or for being fortunate. Those things are ridiculous. We feel those things sometimes, but that doesn't change that they're ridiculous.
This is about moving on.
My mother hasn't yet-- and she may never. My father may never, though he hides it.
Alaska is the reason I was able to move on. Alaska is becoming my Safe Place, though as the days go by I'm less and less dependent on it. It's a place that gave me peace for long enough that I'm able to think rationally, in spite of emotions that for a while stole away my life.
Because of Alaska and my brother, I have been able to move on. I have been able to decide that really, his death is meaningless. That's what makes it hurt so much. That's what makes my parents and his friends so hard to console. There was no point. There was nothing at all. It was an accident.
But my brother's death has the potential to do something, to mean something. By writing this and speaking to people about it, by finding a goal and following it, by trying to better myself and the world around me, I have been trying to give his death meaning. I have been given meaning by surviving his death.
That is what this is about.