My brother was the Best Man at my wedding.
His speech brought me to tears, not because it was sappy, but because it was my brother being honest. He began the speech with the simple words we all knew were true: “I hated my brother when I was younger, but now he’s my best friend.”
The Christmas before the incident, my brother gave me a frame with his speech beside a picture of the two of us from the wedding. Until recently I’d had it hanging on my office wall, but a few months ago I took it down and hid it away in the closet.
Each time I looked at that speech and that picture, the two of us smiling in actual joy, I remembered sitting there at my wedding, listening to him and smiling while the tears fell down my face, thinking of the words I would one day say at his own wedding. But that day won’t ever come. Instead of talking about his future life, his wife and kids someday, my sister and I talk about what will happen with him after my parents die. What we’ll do with him.
And so I now have the blank space on the wall. It’s metaphorical, symbolic, I know. It’s blank, like our relationship now. I can write something new over it, rewrite our story fresh. A new journey. A palimpsest of wall. But that’s all bullshit. It’s what we tell ourselves to make life a little bit better. In truth, I took the picture down because I don’t want to be reminded of the person I now know. I’m sure I come off as a horrible person for it, but we each deal with tragedy in our own way. This is mine.
Sometimes at night, after I catch myself staring at the blank wall, I pick up my phone and call his number and wait until his voicemail picks up. I hear his voice from when he was normal. From before, as we call it.
I know he sleeps with his phone on silent, though I’m sure he wakes up in the morning and sees the missed calls, wondering what I could have wanted at one or two in the morning. I hope he smiles when he sees them, but I don’t know.
In truth, I don’t know why I call him. I know I say I’ve given up, but I don’t think anyone can truly give up on another person, especially one you loved so deeply once. If you were to ask me why I do it, though, I’d probably say it’s because I still want to believe in that miraculous hope that someday I’ll hear the healthy voice of my brother, hear him say my name like he used to, and I’ll know that it isn’t a recording. I’ll know that it’s really him again.
Until then, I have to be content with the recorded voicemail he made one day years ago. A day long before everything happened. He didn’t know then that his words would one day make me break down in tears as I sit in an office room with a blank space on the wall beside me.
Brandon Daily is the author of the novel A Murder Country (2014), which was awarded the Silver Medal for the Georgia Author of the Year Award–First Novel in 2015, and The Valley (2016), a 13th Annual Best Book Awards Finalist–Literary Fiction. His short fiction has appeared in several online and print magazines, and his one-act play, South of Salvation, was performed and won first prize in the CAST Players One Act Play Festival in 2012. Brandon currently lives in Southern California with his wife and son, where he is a teacher.