They found him dead. That is what the man had pulled me aside to inform me of. They had found him dead and I threw myself unto the concrete. I sobbed and sobbed. I grazed my fingers on the hard stone walls and cried bitterly. It was what I had always been afraid of. And now it had happened. I felt sweat forming on my brow. I gasped and sat upright with wide eyes.
I could hear the sound of the radiator. I could see the shadowy drapes in the dark. I felt the heat coming from the electric blanket. My breathing slowed down as the realization came. It had only been a dream. I was stunned at first and then relieved.
When we had been younger, he never questioned me. Everyone had always been required to work, even I had started a weekend gig. But I was responsible for him and the younger one. There would be no lingering for me after school. I would hop the bus down Bedford Avenue and hurry to my grandmother’s place to pick them up. That was the routine. We walked the five blocks to our apartment daily. We stopped at the corner store for quarter juices and the processed desserts in their plastic packaging. I threw together corned beef and rice or boxed macaroni and cheese for them to eat and we would watch television and wait for the adults to arrive. Every now and then I might have instructed him and the younger one to clean their room or take out the garbage while I cleaned things up in the kitchen. He never questioned me.
I imagine, though I never asked, that the transition must have been difficult for him. My private journal and wet pillow knew that I had my own issues to deal with. Brooklyn had not been easy in those days, especially since we had previously known a different life. Circumstances had called for me to stash a six inch box cutter in my puff coat and walk the streets with a hood pulled over my face – not wanting any trouble. If ever I saw him on the street corners with the other males, lounging like lions that had just eaten the kill, I would call him in. For the woman said that she did not want her son on the street corner and I was obliged to follow her instructions. She had known her reasons…trouble was his constant companion and many was the night that we were unwilling companions of those very corners, trekking across them and looking for him. I imagine that it must have been difficult for him; that he had his own issues to deal with - only he could truly say.
This world is a precarious place for our brothers, someone said to me. And I knew it firsthand. I knew it as literally as I knew the shades of my own palms. It was one more bitter fact of our existence. Because we are men, and since we had been so raised…I showed more than I could say that I loved him deeply and unconditionally. Love was not a word to be thrown around loosely among us. I had never uttered the words. I never once whispered, when no one was watching, that I loved him more than my life…that I worried about him…that I wanted to grip him close to me and keep him safe…that I would watch over him forever; for we were pulled from the same womb. His pain is mine. His joy is mine. He is me. Because we are men, and since we had been so raised, I hoped these things would be implicit. I knew these things would be evident in the smile I gave him across the dinner table, in the way I nudged him as we shared a drink, and in how tenderly I held and rocked his son to sleep.
My mind was with him and so was my heart. I thought about him as I moved through the day. I frowned over something that had occurred to me and remembered a look I had seen in his eyes. His spirit was on me and my mind was with him. My heart was his as it always will be. When the phone call came I was not surprised. The woman was distressed. I heard it in her first hello. They locked him up again last night, she said. I sighed.