For the last time, my brother and I are together. We are sitting in the dark with the blue flicker of the TV screen, playing Super Nintendo in the basement of our parents’ house where he lived like a child, a patient, a secret. The hole in the drywall has been patched, the paint weeks dry, white, the faint ghost of its imprint still there, a slapdash attempt at erasing the night when my mother heard the thunder down the stairs, the wrecking-ball crash, his head split open with all that blood and her arms cradling him like a child, a patient, a secret.
We are pretending everything is normal. We are experts at this, patching disaster and painting it white. We are taking turns dying, trading the controller back and forth. He must’ve beaten Super Mario World a hundred times—sober, stoned, interstellar on dextromethorphan (his drug of choice, post oxy)—but we are playing it from the beginning so we can beat it together, with dispatches of words hanging in the air like dust in a fallout shelter.
“I’m alright,” he says.
He’s not alright.
“Last time,” he says.
He’s dying over and over on the same level, a haunted castle, slipping into the lava, re-spawning at the gate outside, caught in a loop, with no memory of what happened before. And then, like lightning, he’s in the flow, his eyes disked, blue sky eclipsed by the widening darkness of his pupils—fearless, leaping across pits, dodging fireballs and spiked pillars, eating mushrooms and feathers, feeling invincible in a frantic mad dash to the end. And then he dies and dies again, and I die and die again, mashing buttons in that final moment of panic.
I don’t want to leave my brother, but my friend is having a party and I want to go. He says it’s okay. So we hug for a long time because we always hugged like that whenever I left him, because I never knew if it would truly be the last.