An Open Letter to My Dead Brother, March 2017

Hey Connor,

Today marks exactly eight-and-a-half years since the day you died, just over a week before your 22nd birthday. I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past couple of weeks. Google says you lived about 75 days shy of 5,000, or about 7.1 million minutes. Each year since you left is a smidge easier than the last, but the loss of you will always ache. I’ve cried for days writing this letter. The four hardest days each year are the anniversaries of your birth, your death, Christmas, and Pi Day — plus family vacations and gatherings. This summer marks the first tropical vacation that I will have taken with Mom and Dad in years. I’m excited, but it will feel eerie knowing that you should be coming along, too. It always does.

Shortly before Christmas, one of my coworkers shared a tragic story from her local news of a young teenager who hanged himself on a volleyball net in his school’s gymnasium. He was braindead by the time paramedics arrived on the scene, and died a few days later. The night after last Christmas, I dreamed that you and someone else (a stranger?) were brought back to life, only to hang yourselves soon after your resurrection. Although I awoke feeling traumatized, the dream provided an odd moment of solace. I hoped that dying wasn’t distressing or painful, and that you didn’t regret choosing to die, since you chose to do it twice.

That dream triggered memories of another dream, a recurring dream that I used to have when we were younger, in either late childhood or early adolescence. In the dream, we were visiting a beloved cousin, playing on the merry-go-round in the public park near her house. There were four or five older children playing there, too, using the same merry-go-round. Somehow, you were knocked backward and fell off the merry-go-round, becoming trapped underneath. When I screamed and begged the other children to stop turning the merry-go-round so that I could rescue you, they ignored me, nonplussed by the emergency. I was immobilized with shock. By the time they finally left and I stopped the merry-go-round from turning, you were fatally unconscious, and your body lay limp and intact on the ground.

Each time I had this dream, I would wake up foggy-headed, in a surreal tizzy, and would have to breathe slowly and deeply for a minute to assuage the panic. In the dream, I felt powerless to the other children, and guilty for not having tried harder to do something, anything, to save your life. I felt responsible for letting the tragedy happen.

The parallels between that dream and your real-life demise intrigue me. Part of me will always blame the other children for your death. Although they played no physical role in your suffocation, they created a social environment in which you felt miserable and frustrated enough to want to end your life. Also like the dream, I feel guilty for having failed to intervene, even though you never indicated that you were in danger or needed help. I suspect Mom feels that way, too, and I think all of us feel helpless, in general, to your decision to have left life.

As Dad has reminded Mom on many occasions, ruminating on the “What Ifs” is a waste of energy, but it’s challenging to avoid occasional (and tempting) speculation.

There was a young man who reminded me of you in my world literature class in college. I thought of him recently, too. He was skinny and slouched, with mousy brown, unwashed hair, and wore tennis shoes beneath track pants that were too short for his long legs. He kept to himself, like many of us did, yet he somehow attracted the attention of one of the popular men in the class. It warmed my heart each time I witnessed the popular classmate going out of his way to include him in his social group and be genuinely nice to him. He could have ignored the man but didn’t, instead going out of his way to do the right thing, seemingly for no other reason than it being the right thing to do.

I first realized in my teenage years that your social behavior was more peculiar than that of my friends’ younger siblings, but it wasn’t until you died that I started paying attention to literature about autism and Asperger’s. You were undeniably on the autism spectrum, likely as a high-functioning person with Asperger’s. How most of your teachers didn’t suspect that and/or failed to protect you from your peers in class, I don’t know. I think that many of us on Dad’s side of the family have traces of spectrum traits, but you had ’em with flying colors. Unfortunately for you, your peers mistook your social ineptitude for intentional rudeness or hostility, which only aggravated their ostracism against you.

I remember your remarks that the children from your elementary school “poisoned” the children in your middle school, suggesting that you never had a fair chance to start fresh or become anonymous post-transition. I’ve always wondered the specifics of what your peers did to make you think that.

In the days immediately following your death, kids in your grade created a couple of Facebook groups about ending loneliness in schools. While their gesture was kind, the titles came as a shock to me because that was the first I had heard of your alleged loneliness. I naively assumed you were immune to your peers’ social criticism because you always appeared disinterested. Clearly, however, your peers recognized the magnitude of your isolation, which I had failed to see.

I’m so sorry that I ignored you in the school halls and on the school bus. I honestly thought you wanted us to act like strangers in public, and that you wanted no association with me. I assumed that I was doing you a favor, though I’m not sure if we ever formally discussed those terms during the brief years when our schools overlapped. It never occurred to me that you might have been lonely, not even after you told Mom that there were some days that you never spoke a word at school. I hope you weren’t as miserable as I now fear that you were. I was completely oblivious to whatever you were going through. I wish you’d asked us for help.

I will always wonder if the day you died was your first attempt to kill yourself.

You erased the browser history on the family iMac prior to your death but did not clear the Google search bar. I was horrified to discover that electrocution was the second most recent topic you’d researched that day, and I can’t imagine what websites you found with subsequent searches.

I also wonder how much you knew about suffocation before attempting it, especially the level of pain involved. Were you experimenting and accidentally passed out, like Dad initially suspected, or did you actually intend to die? If we’d had firearms in the house, or if you knew which over-the-counter painkillers to take in what lethal amounts, would you have chosen a different method than suffocation, a method from which you could have suffered less pain? Did you get the idea to Google electrocution from all those years of us playing The Sims, since that’s one of the only ways to kill a Sim? Was the garbage bag you used already in your possession from having been instructed to tidy your bedroom the previous weekend, or did you have to come downstairs to the pantry to select one thick enough to more fully inhibit your breathing?

Similar to how you clearly didn’t want your computer research discovered, you must also not have wanted your suicide/experimentation interrupted, as you locked your door during a time of day when no one else would have arrived home for several hours. Why did you check the mailbox when you arrived home from school, and why had you started doing your math homework for the following day? Why kill yourself at that time and on that afternoon? What tipped your frustration and despair over your threshold of tolerability? For how long had you been considering (and perhaps planning) your death — hours, days, weeks, months? If you did intend to die, were you nervous, at peace, or something else? What horrible questions to ponder.

I’m guessing you did intend to die, and that you picked that afternoon in the heat of a moment of panic and frustration.

I’m guessing that you panicked that middle school would have the same, if not worse, social stressors and bullies as elementary school. (And you never wanted to fight back??? You tolerated a lot of shit, always passively receiving it without resisting.)

I’m guessing that you panicked that English class wasn’t going well, and you wanted to hide your grade from Mom and Dad at the upcoming parents’ night (which was planned for the same week that you died… maybe a day or two later?).

I’m guessing that you panicked that quitting the Boy Scouts, which you hated more than many things, meant forfeiting that stupid 1909 S VDB penny (your raison d’etre) that Dad had promised you for your coin collection upon completion of an Eagle Scout project. You also panicked that you would never be able to afford to buy one yourself, due to inflation, because it must never have occurred to you that Dad had already secretly bought the damn thing for you — or that you’d ever be earning thousands of dollars a month as an adult, and buying a $1,000-$2,000 penny would be quite possible.

And, I suspect that what tipped you over the edge was panicking that you’d lost your math affinity. You’d recently had that qualifying exam for some math organization, where they failed to warn students that the questions would be exceedingly difficult, and that answering even a few of them correctly would qualify your score. This cajoled your self-esteem and left you susceptible further threat, because you thought you failed the test. (We later learned that you had passed it, and did quite well.) I suspect that when you started your math homework that fateful afternoon and came upon a problem that you were having difficulty solving, that frustration triggered you. Losing math would have meant losing your sense of self. Maybe that’s what killed you, not the rejection of your peers.

But I don’t know. Only you do.

Back when I only published these feelings exclusively on Facebook, one of the most interesting people I met in college confided to me that they had publicly cried in a Starbucks while reading one of my letters to you. It was strangely vindicating to me to know that it moved them so deeply, like I had elicited in them a glimpse of my anguish, even though they never met you. That’s been my favorite of the many reactions people have shared with me thus far. (I love to hear anytime something I’ve written resonates with someone, for any reason.)

Similarly, I feel that your death has granted me the capacity to appreciate dark humor and dark art in a way that I otherwise could not have without first experiencing profound emotional distress.

Growing from mild curiosities to personal fascinations, I have found that other people who appreciate morbid things tend to share that same intimate understanding of pain. My soul has a greater depth since your death; I feel more humane. (…or maybe tragedy has allowed me to access a part of my soul that’s always been present. Who knows.)

I miss how you used to get mad when people served you Sprite with ice in it, because you felt you were being cheated out of soda. I miss how you used to take personal offense when your favorite roller coasters were closed for maintenance on family visits to amusement parks. I miss watching Spongebob with you, and arguing with you about the proper pronunciation of the name of father’s nemesis neighbor on Fairly Odd Parents. I miss building forts and playing made up games on the floor of your bedroom for hours in the summer in elementary school, and staying up all night giggling when we had sleepovers on the loft in my bedroom. I miss your hysteric shreiks when Dad would fart in your room while putting you to bed at night. I miss fighting you for the best Fruit by the Foot flavors each time Mom returned from a Costco pilgrimage. I miss sharing your computer to play Roller Coaster Tycoon, Monopoly, and that Hot Wheels racing game together, and comparing who could get their virtual pets to have the most frequent offspring on Dogz and Catz 4 and 5.

I’m not sure how adult-you would feel about the topics I write about and study, but teenage-you would have been curious. I’m disappointed that we can’t have conversations about what consent means, how to communicate with intimate partners, why introversion doesn’t have to be a social handicap, why masturbating and other forms of self-love and self-exploration are important for everyone, why periods are amazing and not gross, and my other favorite rantables. I wish I could have helped you emotionally mature as an adult.

I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, I miss you. But I remain angry with you for not leaving a note, offering a final goodbye, or providing any other shred of evidence that you thought you were making the right choice at the time and/or were at peace with your choice, or if you thought about our feelings.

You didn’t know, or didn’t care, that you would devastate the family that survived you.

Thanks for giving me an easy answer when people ask me who I’d dine with if I could have dinner with any person who had ever lived. Despite my skepticism, I find myself desperately hoping that some of your energy remains in our house, and that I’ll be able to find and recognize it.

Please come home.

Love always,

C

———————–

24 comments

  1. Reading this made me cry. Was thinking of sad he was.. but I’m really hoping he found beautiful angels in heaven and he is playing with them now and that he is happy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was drawn here by one of your blogs from about a year ago, and I soon after went through your archives and found your letters to your brother. I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was a hauntingly beautiful look at him, at your relationship with him, and at the way his choice changed all that. I’m sorry for your loss, but I admire your honest look at the hows and the whys and the what ifs and the consequence for those he left. And “Please come home” humbles me into mute observation. No words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your kind words and support. I appreciate it! “Please come home” has more recently felt like the most appropriate way to sign my letters, and I plan to continue to do so as long as it continues to feel “right” to me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. an obvious correction but apologies– i misunderstood when you said he would be 22 now, that it was 8 1/2 years ago. it doesnt fundamentally change the intent of what i said, but the fact that he was closer to 14 than 22 is significant. i was originally confused by the “adolescence” tag and the mention of middle school.

    most of his teachers knew nothing about him or his condition. people simply dont. its widely misunderstood or simply unknown to people. it wasnt your fault– and dont spend too much time thinking you could have helped. i think its very likely what was needed just wasnt around then, no matter who wanted to help him. again, im very sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always “enjoy” this piece. I had my Dark Night of the Soul. I was 46…. I was rescued. I continue to work at it. It is not easy, each struggling in his or her own way. Bi-polarity, alcohol, drugs. I’m a champion of Project Semicolon. I love your story. I could have been your brother…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I always “enjoy” writing these letters, as well, in a way. I am humbled at all you have overcome thus far in your life. Project Semicolon is a beautiful initiative.

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  5. oh, im so sorry.

    “You didn’t know, or didn’t care, that you would devastate the family that survived you.”

    no, theres another option: he was already (almost) dead. im sure he cared, and im sure he knew, but it was “too late,” at least inside.

    as far as methods, i appreciate your curiosity but i believe youre overthinking this. im not trying to say that all aspies think alike, but i can tell you these things with something approximating certainty: (im probably right– i could be wrong. obviously im not him.) i say this only in the hopes that you can put aside a few troubling (and unimportant) questions…

    he was probably looking for the method that bothered him the least. its extremely unlikely that he wanted to cause himself more pain than necessary. everyone has things theyre more comfortable with (emotionally) and things theyre less uncomfortable with.

    in short: its not just possible but likely he was looking for the quickest way that didnt bother him. he probably hoped some of the things he looked at were quicker or more painless, but then dismissed them as too unpleasant (or too complicated, or not likely enough to work.)

    also (nt and nd alike) women on average, are more likely to attempt suicide and men (on average) are more likely to succeed. i would say women are more likely to try– men are actually trying to end things.

    this isnt idle speculation, this isnt a morbid hobby or fascination of mine. im just telling you how a lot of people work (if i didnt think this was almost certainly relevant to connor i wouldnt bother you now.) ive had to deal with people with suicidal ideation in my life, and i was pretty depressed as an autistic child.

    i cant speak for every aspie, but i honestly think i speak for most of them when i tell you– they just want the pain to go away– and they want to stay who they are. a lot of them dont want to be drugged, they dont want to be undead– they just want to be happy, or safe and comfortable– without losing who they are, or die to get away from hopelessness and pain.

    what i mean is– and i dont know if im making my point or not– his suicide probably wasnt meant to be artful or symbolic (even if there was an element of that, it probably wasnt a theme– function over form) it was just meant to be an end to the pain.

    you hurt all the time, or you struggle all the time and hurt a lot, and even glimpses of hope and happiness and “being ok” just get your hopes up and let you down when its back to being unhappy.

    these people that are supposed to help? youre honestly too smart for their cliches. the reason youre too smart isnt a high iq– its experience. youve been up and down a million times, youve tried talking to professionals and all their useless drugs (they are mostly useless, for autism, imo– perhaps in some cases co-morbid conditions are treatable, but i think often those are symptoms of asd misdiagnosed and pointlessly treated as co-morbid illness…)

    so you know from experience theres nothing down that road but a lot of dead ends. and then you call those numbers youre supposed to call when youre feeling hopeless and stressed, but all they really want to know is are you going to do anything right now, or in the next 24 hours, and do you need to go to a hospital, where everthing is the same as the useless doctors except in an in-patient setting. and you know thats a dead end, too. really. you can be fine for a year or several, and still know thats a dead end (as opposed to it just seeming like one because of some depressive catch-22.)

    so you tell them “no, its not that urgent” because you know its not, and you get back to your miserable, frustrating, lonely existence. your girlfriend breaks up with you, you meet another lovely girl through a friend, and you move to europe– (admittedly, im getting a bit personal there. back to connor and the plight of aspies in general… although europe in the long run does more for you than any doctor ever did.)

    sometimes you spend 2/3 of the time for the course of a year hating your life. childhood (especially teens) is probably the roughest, but there im sure it varies a lot.

    pain– its about pain. life without proper support is like being crushed all day long, and trying to smile through it because if you dont, people wont talk to you and they leave you even more alone. and youre already too lonely. i had a year like this in this very decade.

    let me tell you something– and theres a 1% chance im wrong, but not much. connor was strong, if he made it to 22. he did everything he could. he triumphed over many things, but there were just a few too many. whatever the final straw was, youll want to put more significance into that final straw than is probably there.

    it was probably symbolic to him, that the last straw was the last one. but the significance– this is my point, my friend–

    the significance really wasnt in the method, i promise. im almost certain that to him it was just a technical solution to pain. he tried to figure out his options, he cast out the ones that seemed least likely to be reliable or the ones that made him too uncomfortable, and whatever was left standing was simply “it.” it was science, however morbid. and im (very) sympathetic. its deeply tragic and saddening. and theres nothing theoretical or “intellectually curious” about it, imo. this isnt some kind of “fun detective game.” 😦 its sad.

    the significance wasnt in the last straw, even if it was a little (insignificant) bit. theres just no point in sentimentalising over that. theres not much point in wondering, because what it was really about, was everything that lead up there.

    i can honestly tell you what lead up to the last straw. it wasnt a penny, it wasnt the scouts, the “thing” was the never belonging– the never being fully accepted– the rejection in general terms.

    think about it– how can it be the scouts or a penny, if *anything like that* wouldve had the same effect over time?

    it was *everything.* people have this way of making things about one significant detail– they make it about the last straw, instead of making it about 99% of the weight that made the last one unbearable.

    dont. thats my advice. because you do him a disservice (and i know you love him– i can tell– i know you mean him no disrespect, and i think you honor his memory– let me give you a hint that will help you honor it twice as much…)

    if you are even tempted to focus on the last straw, you make him so much weaker and more helpless than he was. i promise you– i flatter no one and nothing and exaggerate nothing here– connor spent 22 years fighting valiantly fighting the impossible, single-handedly.

    not to deny the people that tried to help– not to deny that people did care. but absolutely to affirm that it was this world that killed him, and that slowly kills the rest of us every day. yes, we are sensitive. even in the nt world, sometimes big things are small and small things are enormous.

    connor fought everything, and lost. when the last straw hit him, he was already gone. please, please, please– do not ever think that one little piece of straw could do the man in. he walked with the world on his head. it took him young. its not easy for us.

    be at peace, connor ❤

    im couldnt be more sorry that we couldnt all do more– to be perfectly honest, the only way this is ever going to get better is if more of us (and by us, i mean people like connor) have the freedom and others faith in us to build the next wave of advocacy and options for each other. people that dont understand us are not capable of it.

    we can do better– but when theres enough of *us* working together with each other.

    the nt world already has a network that lets it survive and thrive– its called the world. the nd world needs a simliar network, but weve been too few and far between.

    the next generation of people will have more people like connor. the more we build that network (and i mean a human network– though global communications do help a lot with that) the fewer people will find themselves brought down to the point where one more straw will be the last.

    ❤ i promise its true. this is the best i can possibly do to answer the questions youll always want to hold onto. let them go– there are more relevant questions (more useful questions) to ask about connors life. it was his entire life– not his death, that was responsible for its brevity.

    i hope you do not feel he is being disrespected, and i hope you do not take any of this personally. my primary intention is to help you understand why he didnt make it even farther in life. he shouldve lived to 100, but 22 years is a very long time (to endure) an nt world.

    if it helps, i dont believe it was all negative. a constant battle with stress and disappointment? perhaps. but all negative? doubtful. we are certainly more flexible than we appear from the outside.

    peace to all of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so very, very much for taking the time to share your thoughts and reflections to my letter. I sincerely appreciate your perspective, as someone with a far more intimate understanding of the autism spectrum than I have, and I in no way consider you to be bothering me with your input.

      I hope that you’re right that he did choose the method that bothered him least. I have heard the statistic you cite, though from what I understand, men tend to utilize more immediate and obtrusive methods than women (e.g., firearms, weaponry, etc. as opposed to overdosing on painkillers), which may contribute to why their suicide completion rates tend to be higher. Connor’s case sounds slightly different from what you describe because he was 13 when he died, and he had never been diagnosed with – or medicated for – anything, but I really do appreciate hearing your perspective and wish that this is the kind of conversation I could be having with Connor right now, so that he could tell me the same things you are. I also bear a heavy resentment toward the medical community’s systematic over-reliance on unnecessary medications for issues which would benefit from behavioral alternatives.

      I think you sound like an incredible soul with incredible strength. As someone who admittedly knows less than I wish I did about depression, I have been fortunate enough to have never experienced it yet. May I ask what has kept you going and how you have kept your depression surviveable, all these years?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. love. by the age of 4 i had already decided that jennifer beals would make an excellent wife, and to this day i think i couldve done a lot worse for myself had i talked her into it.

        im a dreamer and im terribly stubborn. on the one hand, if id only learned an instrument i probably couldve had more success as a dreamer and stubborn person. on other hand, a musicians life in all honesty (and no joke at all) probably wouldve led to boozing and greater depression and all the related and serious dangers.

        i also believe that when i was younger, my anger kept me alive.

        im too old for that now, ive had to let a lot of anger go in order to keep going.

        i descended from my grandmother, who i was always proud to be related to. she was one of the most stubborn and charming people that ever lived, and i will adore her forever. without a bit of her spark i doubt i wouldve made it this far.

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  6. Thank you. Helps me armor up for today. My brother was dealing drugs back in the 90’s and when he tried leaving the ‘game’ he was killed a month before his 23rd birthday. Because the police stole from the crime scene we only ever got an open finding. Only one cop who had Christian values felt so sickened by his colleagues that he tried to say something to us like a human being.
    I also have a good mate with autism and whatever other labels people like putting on it all. When he has calked me frightened he is going to kill himself I don’t mind listening to him and sorting it out with him. We live in a strange society. Even the black and indigenous people can be white in their hatred. Why shouldn’t they be. A lot of assholes these days hide behind some populist politically correct rhetoric and then drugs justifies anything because it is money. Services for the old school alcoholics are taken and ruined by drugs. Alcohol is pushed yet alcoholics don’t often have money so the treatment isn’t easy to locate. Those of us who hit rock bottom and came up to be revived and rebirthed in spirit can only be grateful no matter what pain we cop years after. My brother gone 22 years continues to teach me daily and because of his love and friendship I am indestructible and getting stronger daily. Jerry Garcia had a beautiful song called Uncle John’s band where he sang… all I want to know is are you kind?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree; it’s terrible that our society pushes drugs, alcohol, and other dangerous substances to be far more accessible and affordable than the quality treatment that so many people need but will never receive.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Most people are motivated by desires and ego… the problem is they never spend any time reflecting on those things and they never recalibrate or reassess their direction. They pretty much undeveloped since they were about 4 years old… only the capacity to cause harm increases. The most dangerous are those in denial…. which is not a river in Egypt

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Just been to an indie film night. Some pretty decent stuff shown tonight. I think I saw 6 short films. 5 of them really good

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