Life After You

“Life After You”

I stood outside the building, blowing smoke into the air carelessly as I cowardly avoided going inside. Brian always makes it so damn easy looking. Like you’re the same guy in there. But even though you seem to be, I don’t know if I agree. You don’t know me anymore. Oh fuck, when you realize you’re supposed to, you try to remember. I’ve seen how it frustrates you, angers you. Sometimes you even pretend like you do remember. I play along. . It’s hard, knowing every day one of my best friends is here but doesn’t have a damn clue who I am. That you’re “alive” yet so damn empty of everything that matters.

I miss the days when my life was full of laughter. Post-rehab stints, I mean.

But I’m not sure that’s possible anymore. How the hell did I not realize that the reason my life used to be like that, was because you were around for most of it? You were our crazy, hyperactive little brother. The girls miss you, you know. Lily, Lenni, they vaguely remember the days when you were their fun Uncle Nick. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful they are. I can’t believe they’re sixteen.

It’s been thirteen years since you’ve been diagnosed.

Ten years since you’ve been in that damn home.

And it seems like it was yesterday when the five of us were on top of the fucking world.

Not to say we ain’t had our success. I just wish you’d knowingly been able to see it. We don’t get mocked anymore. When we’re talked about, it’s with respect. Finally. There’s been specials and shit. I mean fuck, it’s not like we’re Madonna. But we’ve been called “The Temptations” of the 90s, which is a hell of an improvement than being compared to damn New Kids the way we used to be. I stopped performing. Something I never thought I’d see. You reminded me of something Nick. Life only gives you so many damn chances. How many had I thrown away? I wanted to be home with my girls, watch them grow.

“Dad?”

I stare at my daughter. I never did remarry. I ain’t sure why. I know there’s a woman out there for me who won’t do what Rochelle did. I still date. I mean hell; I’m fifty, not eighty. I take her in for a moment, her clothes, and stance. It still throws me now and then, raising identical twins. It’s Lenni, my soft spoken one. Lily’s my rebel, daddy’s little wild child.

“Hey.”

“Uncle Kevin wanted to know where you were.”

I took another long puff, watched the smoke swirl around me as I exhaled. I sighed. I really hated it here. What it meant, what was inside. How it’s ten fucking miles outside the damn city. It’d be easier to remember the way you were before; if I didn’t have to see the way you are now. That sounds selfish as fuck. I know it is, and you deserve me staying by you. But is that you, the way Brian’s been convinced it is? I ain’t sure. He kept his promise you know, wrote and published the book you asked him to write. It’s a fucking bestseller. All the funds went to your mom’s charity of course.

“Tell Mr. Anal I’ll be in after I’m done with my cig.”

“Are you okay?”

I nodded.

“Okay, hey dad?”

“Yeah…”

“I love you.” I smile as I watched her walk inside. Lenni always had a knack for knowing when I needed to hear that. I’m thinking that all that still matters, is love ever after. I may not have a woman in my life for that, but I at least have my kids.

I wish you’d gotten to know what that was like.

The last time I was here, I left early. You started talking to me like you’d just been introduced to me. To you, you had been. To me, well, I couldn’t fucking deal. Shit like that rubs me raw. I don’t want to be shitty. You’re my little brother. Wherever you are, I hope you know that. I hope you know that your leaving, the real you, almost killed us all. Brian can’t handle it. I think that’s why he held on to your shell harder than any of us.

Ironic. When we were teenagers, back in the beginning, I wanted you out of the group. No offense.

Now, I’ve come to realize you’re what bound us together. You’re why we still come as one. We live very separate lives now. It’s too painful a damn reminder, knowing the four should be five. So we just don’t. Not unless we’re here to see you. Ain’t that a fucking bitch? You brought the laughter, the fucking unity that made us special.

With you broken, that was broken.

When it came to the four of us, there just was no life after you.

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