ANOTHER STATISTIC -- MY BROTHER KEITH
By Deborah Uetz
My first memory was my brother. I was three years older. I guess I took him under my wing when he was still a skinny cranky baby who couldnít be soothed. For those reading this who have lost a sibling at a young age you may be thinking that it shouldnít be so painful to lose a forty nine year old brother. Maybe it is so painful because I have forty nine years of history with him and it all came to a stop in an instant when he placed a Glock in his mouth and died under a full moon on a snowy night.
My brother had spent most of his years in Arizona. Having grown up in the Midwest he was in awe of the desert and mountains that surrounded his second home. I always intended to go there but never did. If he told you where he was from he would say Tucson. I looked up the newspaper obituary for him in his adopted hometown. It read "Keith Glover, production worker." That was it. So much for another suicide in a National Park.
Keith was a brilliant man with a photographic memory. He was a student of history who didnít bother with seeking a degree. He played blues guitar and his pale green eyes would light up as he talked about his favorite guitarists. His black and white photographs of 1980ís New York street scenes were deserving of a one man show, but the show was cancelled at the last moment. That fact sums up his life more than any other. His last words to me were "My life just never worked out."
By the time Keith was forty nine years old his health was deteriorating, he had given up on finding someone to love him and he had vowed to never bring children in to the world because he was afraid he wouldnít be a good dad. He had spent the last three years of his life helping care for his dad and for the first time in his life his dad seemed to genuinely like him. Unfortunately, his dad was dying of Alzheimerís disease and with each day that Keith grew closer to him dad slipped farther away. Keith was holding his hand when he died. Eight months later I would get a phone call that my brother was missing.
The phone call came just as I was drifting off to sleep. With the first words I knew that the very thing he had talked about as easily as breathing had actually become a reality. His car had been found in a National Park and he wasnít in it. He had told me for twenty years that some day he would go out into the desert, put a gun in his mouth and die. He said that he had even practiced lying down to see what it would be like. I can honestly say that the story was so familiar that it seemed like a movie I had watched too many times but always believed it to be fiction -- not a documentary.
His body was found twenty four hours later. Always the planner he had carried a water bottle, a flashlight, a gun and an extra clip. He died alone in a place that he had chosen at a time he had chosen. I still donít know exactly where it was or when it was since the search for him lasted a while.
It has been one year. He died sometime within a day or two of last Christmas. We made it through last Christmas fueled by shock. We robotically went through the motions and as we did I made arrangements to have his body cremated and shipped back to me. Over the course of the next three months bits of his life returned to me. His ashes arrived about two weeks after his death and he was buried with full military honors. His ashes were buried next to the dad he finally grew to love. Some friends in Tucson emptied his apartment for me and sent back four boxes of his things and a guitar. He had pawned everything that would bring any money but for some reason he kept one guitar.
Among the things that arrived that day were toys I had given him over the past years. Keith loved "toys". There was a miniature Navy flagman, no bigger than a Ĺ inch tall. I had given it to him as he was leaving that last time. He had joked that his car was so full he didnít have room for air to breathe. I said "then I guess this wonít fit either." The little Navy man reminded us of dad who had spent WW2 in the Navy. Keith laughed and stuck it in his pocket. A tiny wind chime was in the box. He had admired it in a shop and I had bought it for him. I still listen to the sound of it and wonder if he listened to it one last time before he left his apartment that night. There were so many photographs of the two of us as kids. Did you know that no matter how old you are you are still the very same kid inside? My grandmother told me that when she was in her eighties and that is the truth. Keith and I were still those two kids who played hide and seek and shared a bedroom and slept in identical maple twin beds and whispered about wanting to get out of that place and be on our own. I thought Keith had made it. He was as far away as he could get -- or at least I thought so.
It has been one year. I made it through the first anniversary of his death. This time I think it was almost harder. I knew what was coming. I wasnít blindsided by a phone call. I knew that one year before he had tried to overdose in his apartment. That having failed he had written an emotionally detached note that said he would have to do it the hard way and eat a bullet. I knew that he had gotten in to his car, his first new car ever, and according to Map quest drove for 15 minutes. He had gotten out of his car, knowing that he would never be back to it and walked one mile into the desert. He walked that mile as I have walked that mile in my head a thousand times. I walk it as if I am following behind him, trying to turn back time. I want him to turn around and see me and stop the movie. He doesnít turn around. He walks his mile and then another fifty steps off the desert path he finds the place he has chosen to die. And he dies, and I am left standing there next to him in my mindís eye screaming "donít do it Keith!"
Last June he didnít have a birthday and I did. I refused to acknowledge it. Last week it became 2004 and that bothers me a lot. He died in 2002, but it was really only a year and a few days. As time moves forward I am left wanting to stay behind with him. I feel such a sense of failure because I was the one he would turn to, always. He would pull up his shirt sleeve and show me his red skin (from psoriasis) and say "Deb, who could love a man like me?" and I would always tell him that someone would. I told him people donít fall in love with you skin, they fall in love with your soul. I think I was the only person he ever listened to for advice and that is a huge weight on me. The one time that he didnít ask me what to do ended with a one line obit "Keith Glover, production worker."