When I was a little child, my brother Matt nearly drowned. We had taken a vacation down the shore, and he got caught in a riptide, and was tossed about a bit like a doll in a front loader. We only noticed at the very end of it, when he was unceremoniously thrown back up onto the sand.
He picked himself up and looked at us, his chest heaving as he caught his breath. My mother stared at him grimly, waiting to see if he would panic. If she should panic.
He blinked salt water out of his eyes and waded right back in with a determined smile, letting the foaming darkness suck the sand out from under his toes once more.
When we finally went home, exhausted, burnt, and full of boardwalk food and souvenirs, he brought with him a bottle of murky water and seaglass. He said the glass pieces were given to him to protect, by a beautiful sea monster who found him under the water.
He claimed if he didn’t take care of them, the sea would come back for him and whoever harmed them, and drown them where they stood.
He kept it on the nightstand by his alarm clock, the first thing he saw when he woke up, and the last thing he saw when he went to sleep.
One day, when we still kids, he took my pocketknife and left it out in the dirt under the treefort. It rusted shut, and was ruined. In the manner of all wronged, incensed children, I swore revenge, and thought about what would hurt him the most.
When he least expected it, I snuck it out of his room and poured it, glass bits and all, down the toilet. I called him in, and flushed. The look on his face when the last of it went down the drain was something I’ll never forget. I hurt him that day, way worse than a rusted knife had hurt me. He screamed like he’d been gutted, and then, when the last of the glass went swirling down the drain, fight went out of him. While he just stood there, shocked and staring at me, I handed back the bottle, and mumbled an apology, then ran.
It was almost a year before he forgave me.
I hadn’t thought about it in a long time, and might’ve forgotten about it entirely, but for Matty’s phone call a few weeks ago. He left a letter for everyone else, but he left a special voicemail, just for me.
To everyone else he said “I’m sorry,” and he meant for killing himself.
To me, he said “I’m sorry,” and he meant for what was coming next.
They found him in the bathtub, drowned. The curiosity of the medical report was that the bathtub was dry, but Matty’s lungs were full of North Atlantic seawater.
She came back for him finally, just like he said she would.
That was weeks ago.
Since then, everything in the house smells like old water, like cold barnacles and riptides. Every faucet I run, every hose I turn on, every washing machine, every shower… it all tastes of salt and smells like the ocean. I can’t even open a bottle of Dasani without choking on the brine.
Maybe I should write my letter, while I still have time.