A while ago.

I wrote this last November. I don’t know.

Here’s the thing.

It’s my brother’s birthday in an hour. We’re not close; I won’t pretend we are. I’d probably get him socks or something as a present. Maybe money. One Christmas, we gave each other $20.

He wouldn’t be able to name my favourite musician. I only know his because of all the Bob Marley stuff he owned.

He used to come home drunk a lot. He used to give me all his spare change because he couldn’t count it. He used to fight with our dad, really fight. Then he gave me a hug in the kitchen when our dad died and he suddenly found himself the man of the house.

He hung himself in a domain not far from our family home in June.

Over love. What else? What else drives us to do the unthinkable, to tie a noose and drape it around our necks and just let go?

My brother had never been in love before. He didn’t know how to act in a relationship; how he should treat someone and expect to be treated in return. He was in his mid-thirties but didn’t understand how these things worked.

Last year, before Christmas (not the $20 one), I helped him get away, to clear his head, to sort out feelings he didn’t know if he liked.

He told me he loved his girlfriend, he thought he loved her, he couldn’t think around her and he didn’t know what to do. I said well, love makes you feel a bit wacky sometimes. We laughed a bit. It was kind of awkward.

I spoke to his girlfriend on the phone. I asked her if she could leave him be for awhile, just to let him figure things out. Give him a break. They’d been in constant contact and things were a bit much. We’d heard things about her that weren’t so nice.

She asked me if we could all meet up for dinner sometime. I asked her if she’d been faithful to my brother. I could feel her trying to hold onto me through the phone, feel her trying to keep me on side. She laughed as she said that she needed one person in my brother’s family to like her.

In the end, she agreed to back off. We sent my brother off after having an early Christmas. My sister gave him Bob Marley jandals. It was sweet, that Christmas, actually. Felt nice. My sister, she tries her best to do things right.

His girlfriend rang him constantly while he was away. She went up to see him, they went away together. He took her somewhere for a nice weekend, got her a present, told my mum she complained the whole time about everything. They were on, then off, then on.

My brother came home, bounced from my mother’s to my sister’s to his own house to his girlfriend’s to my mother’s to my sister’s. Maybe not in that order. It all sort of melded into one long phone call from my sister, into talk of restraining orders and drugs and booze and she’s a prostitute and she’s cheating on me and it’s all a game, she made a bet to say she could get me and she did.

It melded into he’s on his way back and I don’t know what to do, he’s got nowhere to go, but I’ve helped him all I can.

It melded into a phone call late at night, saying can you come round? Just come round please. The police are here. They’re saying they found a body and they think it might be him.

I think the second thing I said after that was it’s all my fault. It’s all my fault, because I didn’t offer him a couch. I didn’t offer him any sort of practical help. I didn’t offer him a way out, a hand up.

It’s all my fault, because I didn’t try hard enough.

So I tried to make up for not offering to help by offering to identify my brother’s body instead.

My sister and I went together, with my mother’s sister, to tell her.

My sister and I went together to tell our uncle and our aunt. We woke them up in the small hours to deliver news they might have been expecting for years, yet were still unprepared for. My uncle asked us to leave. My aunt broke down.

I called his now ex-girlfriend at my aunt’s insistence that as we were all awake, she should be too. I told her my brother had killed himself, and she echoed what I had said. It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault, you know that, don’t you?

I’m diplomatic. I said we all have our parts to play.

My sister and I played ours to the hilt, my sister in particular organising the details – the coffin, the service, the pallbearers. She is strong and in control when others are not, and sometimes I am a little like her.

My brother’s ex-girlfriend came to our house, was there when my brother came home in a coffin, was at his side when the lid came off, holding my mother’s hand and sobbing, while my sister and I stood back and let her have her time.

I hugged her first, though.

The stories came out. Who talked to my brother last? My sister, we thought. Compared to his ex-girlfriend’s story, my sister talked to him a hour or so after she had. They’d talked about AA, his ex-girlfriend said. About changing. Not about getting back together, though. She was in Queenstown, busy, with work. She had meetings. She spoke to him at 1pm, my sister at 3, we worked out.

We didn’t have my brother’s belongings back yet, the things he’d had on him when he did it. My mother was going nuts wondering if he had a certain jacket with him; thinking it might have meant he’d come home before going out to kill himself. Thinking it might have meant she’d missed a chance to stop him.

My mother was falling over herself to include my brother’s ex-girlfriend; determined to honour her relationship with him as she believed he would want. I tried to express that I didn’t think it was appropriate for her to be there all the time.

We got his things back from the police in a big brown paper bag. My sister and I got his cellphone. We looked at the outgoing calls, the incoming, and the texts. He’d cleared his inbox. His outbox held just twelve messages. Most imploring my sister or his ex-girlfriend to call him, one telling her he loved her, one that said ‘u colgrl’ that we puzzled over for awhile. We sat in the dark of my car, pulling apart last words, trying to work out scrambled letters and call times.

We sat in the dark of my car, realising that his ex-girlfriend had lied about when she had talked to our brother; that it had been two hours after my sister had last heard from him.

We didn’t tell our mother. My sister left to take time out, feeling that she wasn’t coping. His ex-girlfriend came around that night. I asked her not to be there the next day, and she waited til my mother came out to ask her what was wrong.

I screamed at her on the street. For lying, for trying to be seen as much as possible to be the grieving girlfriend, for simply being alive on the footpath outside my house when my brother was not. I screamed and cried and generally made with the histrionics and I watched my mother finally, finally click. I watched his ex-girlfriend roll her eyes at me behind my mother’s back, then saw her get in her car and leave, saying she’d call tomorrow.

In fact, she called not an hour later.

And not long after that, my mother began to remember why she’d disliked my brother’s girlfriend in the first place.

So while I was writing this the time clicked over and it’s officially my brother’s birthday. I didn’t intend for this to be the long-winded story-of-my-life post it’s become.

Instead, I just wanted to say happy birthday to my brother.

And to let you know that if you’re thinking of killing yourself, then don’t.

If that sounds harsh, maybe it needs to be.

Maybe you need the kick in the face to stop thinking that you have nothing to live for.

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