Doug was my voice.
He was my heart.
I was his mind.
He was brave and brash.
I figured things out.
I held him when he took his life.
Depression has been a deep dark streak through my family. Each of us has responded to it differently. I’ve managed — more or less — with medication. My brother Doug, two years my junior, tried that route. The drugs soured and dulled his life, but didn’t resolve his depression.
And on the night of his first suicide, when I came into the hospital, he was distraught. Doug was clowned and gowned by a system that controlled him. Usually the bull bursting through doorways, he shuffled. There was no sarcasm. No joking. No anger. No words.
He reached out his hand to mine. I clasped it. Our fingers entwined, my smooth wrist brushing against his newly sutured one. I have never held anyone’s hand so closely, so long, so tightly. Neither would let go. The world was that union. If nothing else in the universe made sense, at least that one point of contact did.
When we were young boys, I was voiceless. Speaking to strangers was a baffling skill I was unable to master. Doug was my mouthpiece. If I needed a drink, Doug was there to recognize my need and ask for me. If he wasn’t at my side, I would remain thirsty.
When we spoke between us, or in the family, Doug and I would finish each other’s sentences. We were connected beyond words.
When we were three and five, we explored the new family house together on moving day — bravely venturing into every room of the daunting three-story building as we held each other, squealing.
On that night, holding on, Doug cried to me, lost and frightened. I was — perhaps for the first time — clearly the big brother. I was the lucky one, the one who somehow figured out how to survive, to live, to succeed, to love, to Doug.
I learned a little bit about humans that night. I learned how love felt. I learned how it felt to be needed, to be the last soul left, to be clutched at lest he fall back into the abyss.
What I didn’t know, what Doug did, when he finally let go of my hand, was this: he would do it again, better. After his first try, Doug always reserved the right to kill himself. It helped him live, knowing he had a final recourse. When he ultimately took that path, eyes wide open, he took his time, he took his dog, he took his life and he took my love.
It was only after Doug’s death I discovered he admired my accomplishments. He knew I struggled to exist in a human world, even if we didn’t have the word “autism” to apply to it. Doug was proud of me, though we never discussed it.
I was relieved Doug followed the path he needed. He suffered knowing the pain he would cause. He carefully considered the impact on others and lessened it where he could. In his last moments he held Moocher, already succumbed, close to him. And succeeded. The phrase “rest in peace” was never more apt.
[Edited 2018-12-29 for a minor embarrassing typographical error]