King of Birds (ii)

My brother was four-years older, already on the edge of escape: anger and a bullet proof vest his only companions. When he was younger, he thought he was Geronimo and wore a tattered headdress (bought from some roadside souvenir stand) until the feathers fell off, one at a time. Perhaps it was only response but I became an outlaw, Jesse James, a bandanna bandit with heave metal cap guns slung around my waist. The threats of late-night, bare-chested raids were constant and I learned to sleep with my guns beneath my pillow. Even as I outgrew my outlaw days, my brother continued to wear war paint and hunt the beasts that grazed in his mind. The wreckage wrapped itself around our weary lives: we lived in increments, every day an inch, every inch a nail.

Growing up without my father, I often time imagined the places he might have disappeared to. My mother was of little help and I was left to compile clues from her short answers, her silences and her walks to the sea where she would collect shells.

-What happened to him?

She would absentmindedly stroke my hair.

-Some people aren’t meant to be here. It’s as if their very existence is an accident and so the wind corrects their course and takes them back to where they belong.

-Is he still alive?

My mother was draw her cigarette to her lips and smirked through the smoke, the closest thing to a smile she could ever commit to before softening into silence. It was a great disappearing act, which appeared to be our one family talent.

Left to my own devices I concluded that the sea was route he chose. I assumed he ventured forth across the vast ocean seeking some great treasure and that upon discovering it would return home, replete with a chest of shimmering shells, closed like tight fists that held vast riches inside them. I became enamored of books about the sea and the men who boldly drove their ships across it.

The summer of my twelfth year, my brother ran away, although, in truth he could never escape his madness. Who of us can? Some forms of madness are akin to desire, the kind that dangles from the sky
and strikes you like grief, leaving scars in the shape of teeth. My brother traveled by land, wandered through deserts and old Indian battlefields, I’m certain finding only the ghosts of the warriors who had once fought so bravely. Along some desolate stretch of interstate in Wyoming he was picked up by a truck driver and killed when the semi went off the road. It was all shattered glass and ash; only in the wispy smoke of the fire could anyone recognize him. In death there is no glory, just the grim squalor that
all futile gestures leave behind and the battlefield is just a burial ground for broken arrows + dreams. My father had left behind a shipwreck of fools and loss, sadness and shame.

One night, soon after that, my mother was developing photographs in her dark room when she saw my twin, the one she’d lost, emerge from the alkaline. She removed the paper, closed her darkroom, and wept for three days. All these intertwined tragedies were sewn through our family’s life with such thin thread. The spool always unwinds in our hands, yet we act as if it is happening to someone else even when the photographs reveal the terrifying truth.

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