He Couldn’t Breathe: How Valium Killed My Brother

            I scroll down through my cell phone in search of my mother’s number to tell her I’m out of class. Now, she demands to see me before I go home to Salt Lake City. She didn’t used to have a preference for visits before. ..before that. I scroll down the list, and wince as I come across the name, the one I still can’t force myself to delete from my phone. Mitch…I still have an inexplicable urge to text him “I miss you” or “what are you doing?”

If they buried him with his cell phone could I call him? I mean if the service stayed active could I call him and tell him that I regret where I was when he died, that I regret how I was when he was alive, and that if I’d grown wiser younger, I could have removed him from the situations that lead him astray. I helped too late, and it was all of the fixing and mending that killed him…I think I’m responsible for it.  He’s not on “vacation” as my mother likes to think, he’s not anywhere that I can reach him. If life were a Kurt Vonnegut novel, we would have buried him with his phone and every wincing urge would lead to a reunion with endless apology. As I fumbled with my fingers the fantasy grew, an impersonal form of communication, a personal resolve for nostalgia.

            I can’t call him, so I keep scrolling down through more “M” names, ‘til I reach “Mom”. “Hi mom” I say when she answers, “I’m finished with school. Ok, I will see you when you get here. Yes, I love you too. Of course I’m okay. Ok, I love you too. Bye”. She sounds melancholy on the phone now instead of her former irritation. She worries more now than ever, she says, “I love you” more now that she realizes that her children can die before her.

One lingering thought sends claws down the length of my body, and I turn into an inferno from within. It takes retard-esque head shaking to force my body to cool, to remove the images, sounds, and guilt from my conscience. He haunts me, and the regret mixes with yearning in the form of a toxic cocktail that swells from my stomach poisoning every pore, burning, hell fire, at the thought of the lost…at the recollection of the morning, THAT awful morning. The morning that made my mother remember the fragility of the human condition, that made me remember that life can change or end in less than a second and in the least likely of ways.

I remember every detail of the morning I received the news. I was being me, very me, at 5:25 A.M. on September 21st. It was Sunday, and I was in San Francisco for a friend’s birthday. I had just barely fallen asleep, and to the copious amount of liquor’s success-was still slightly drunk. Darkness was disrupted with a bizarre, unclear sound coming from somewhere in the near distance. My eyelashes fluttered and I became aware of my body. The room was dark still, though I could see light on the ceiling coming from the two windows. I moved my legs to feel blankets, and objects around them. Where am I? I thought to myself. The noise was becoming clear and I realized it was music playing. What time is it? I was confused. I opened my eyes all the way and sat up. My friend Brandon was sleeping to my right scantily clad in blue briefs. On my left was a boy I didn’t know very well, I couldn’t remember his name as I’d just met him the night before. He was grinding his teeth and I winced at the sound of breaking glass. He was wearing a pink boa wrapped too tightly around his neck. As my eyes focused I could see more bodies. Three people slept on the floor surrounding the bed, Jared my friend, a girl I just met, and my friend Shane, San Francisco living, bizarre to say the least four people live in this studio. The music became clearer and I realized now that it was a rap song that I have set as my phone ring tone. What time is itI feel so tired…I reached for my phone to look at the time, the music continued to blare from it. 5:25 A.M. and it was my mother calling. My mother calling that early, panic swept through me.

I hit the answer button and held my breath. “Mom?” I asked, and sat there. “Hello honey, I’m so, so sorry to have to call you, to have to tell you, I don’t want to…Jesus Christ how do you tell your child that her brother is dead? Misty…honey, your brother Mitch…they found his body last night. He’s dead. He’s dead. I’m so sorry.” I swallowed hard and the room spun around, and went black. “NO! NO FUCKING NO! NO NO NO! I screamed with everything inside of myself. I wanted to scream loud enough to wake up. I wanted to scream loud enough to spit everything she had just told me out of my body. “NO!” I screamed one more time, and crawled out of bed, tried to stand, and everything went black. A second later I pulled myself up from the floor and crawled five feet to the bathroom to throw up. I’d thrown my cell phone somewhere and remembered my poor mother was still on the other end. Mom, shit. I crawled back into the living room where now Shain and Brandon were sitting up looking at me confused. I ignored them and found my phone and sat on the floor, in the den of sleeping cubs, and cried. “How? Why? Where?” were the obvious questions you ask at that time. “They don’t know yet, he was found at some girl’s house on the floor asleep. They don’t know what happened. It was a drug house, but your brother was clean so we don’t think it was that, but we don’t know…I still can’t get Nicolas (my youngest brother) to wake up to tell him.” My little brother was going to be the most devastated. They were close. They were far closer than Mitch and I had ever been. My mother gasped and cried hysterically.

“I’m going to call you back.” I said,

“No just come to my house right now!” she yelled.

“Mom, I’m in San Francisco for the weekend, my flight doesn’t leave until tonight”.

“Why are you there?! When did you go there?!”

“I flew here on Friday mom, for a friend’s birthday. I will get an early flight home today, I promise”.

“Okay, see you when you get here. I love you”.

“I love you too Mom…I’m sorry.”

I hung up the phone and looked at Brandon and shain who both looked shocked, exhausted, and sad. “My little brother died”. I mumbled, and the tears rose. I blinked and felt droplets fall down my cheeks. Neither of them said anything, they both stood up, both dressed in underwear (san Francisco makes people more naked than normal people) and picked me up and laid me down on the bed. Both lay on each side of me holding me. There is a reason why these two, are two of my best friends in the world. Shain tickled my back, and Brandon wiped the tears away from my face and whispered, “It’s going to be horrible for a long time” which was better than “it’s going to be okay” which would have been a lie. He knew because his mother died when he was twelve. I wept silently for an hour or so and then realized I had to get myself together to get home. The boys were passed out again, and I saw no point in waking them. I gathered my things and got ready for the day. I needed to get coffee and get my flight changed; I would wake them when I knew what was going on. As I started walking out of the apartment the girl on the floor who I didn’t know sat up,

“Misty, I overheard, I’m sorry. Where are you going?”

“To get coffee”

“I’m coming with you” and she stood up and followed me out the door.

We walked silently to the coffee shop her and me. I droned along picturing my brother in my mind. Tall, pale skin, five or six freckles on his nose, short wavy hair, bright, smiling, crystal blue eyes, huge contagious smile. I pictured him and walked on with her. Still to this day I don’t recall her name, but I’m thankful for her being there. She talked with me for hours (I couldn’t get a flight until 11:30) and kept me pre-occupied while we drank latte after latte at a swank café in Little Italy. I wanted to take my little brother on a trip here; he would have been absolutely in awe of China town and everything else this place has to offer. He wasn’t like me, he’d never been anywhere, and he’d never saw anything. That, still, is the saddest part of losing him so young. He just barely cleaned up, and was taking amazing steps to better himself. We, he and I, had just barely fixed our years of estrangement caused by my bitterness and his addictions.  I told the girl across from me about his life, and why there was more tragedy outside of his mere age. Twenty-three is too young to die, but twenty –three years of hell makes it that much worse.  “Some people,” I told her, “aren’t as cut out for a crappy childhood as others”.

Mitchell was born disadvantaged. He had serious health problems as a baby and we thought he was going to die a number of times as a toddler. His lungs didn’t like to work right and sometimes he would turn blue and pass out from lack of oxygen. We worked hard to keep him breathing. We fought against asphyxiation; we battled to put air into him. At age four I knew how to resuscitate a passed out child. We often had to hook him up to a ventilator thingy and calmly revive the child. At three years old he was physical abused by our baby sitter who beat him all over with a fly swatter, bruising him from head to toe. The cops did little, unable to prove which of the daycare providers actually did it. It left him terrified of people. His father, is not my father, and is a drug addict. As children we would spend weekends with this man, who lived on a farm, taught us about animals, and horseback riding, but was also abusive, generally intoxicated, and too often watching porn in front of us. I stopped going with my brother for the weekends with his dad when I decided he was too weird for my own good, Mitch, however, didn’t have the luxury of a nice Persian father who actually cared, and spent years growing up around drugs and other unhealthy situations.

My mother was a big part of his life; however she also has a tendency to see what she wanted to see. She never believed me about his father’s lifestyle and genuinely believed that any father was better than no father at all. Bullshit. Aside from having sort of crazy parents, he didn’t have any peers he could really turn to. Growing up Mitch was never good at making friends. He was shy and quiet and had a learning disability and a stuttering problem (which we thought was cute but school kids did not). I didn’t help in this area, I was a typical older sibling who teased him constantly and was often mean to him. I regret it now more than ever, now realizing that I could have potentially had a positive effect on him. You don’t think about those things when you’re fifteen.

My mother remarried when I was seven or eight, had a new baby she named Nicolas, who became one of Mitch’s only friends. She divorced and the baby went to live with his dad because my mother was too unstable to care for him. She remarried a man when I was ten who hated children, and Mitch had to go live with his father. I was the only one who was able to stay with my mother during the school year. During summers I would live with my father in Salt Lake. I preferred my fathers to my mothers.

My mother’s new husband was a tyrant who had a slew of Felonies for violent crimes, and was quick to practically rip your head off for doing anything remotely annoying. He threw a box of Tide detergent at me once for stacking the dishes “wrong” after washing them. While my little brother was dealing with his weirdo crack head dad, I was struggling with a verbally abusive father who called me a “little bitch” for being late to school. Despite everything, I was really resilient for the most part.

I made poor friend choices, and had poor grades for some time following her marriage to “Stalin” as I called him, but otherwise he hasn’t seemed to have too much of an effect on me. After five or six years the tables turned where he started coming to me for advice, and I was able to quickly argue him into his place when he needed it, when I found him acting out of line. Things never turned around for Mitch.

His father started giving him weed for his “anxiety” at fourteen, and the drug use only went up from there. In order to cope with family instability, and self esteem issues, he turned to drugs and by sixteen he was addicted to pain killers and oxy-cotton. As much as I tried to inform my mother of his problem, she couldn’t see it. She refused to believe that her “angel” as she called him from his sick days as a child, could be so far gone into that world. We argued about it constantly, about his need for therapy and rehab, two things she still “doesn’t believe in”. She finally brought him back to live with her through high school.

My mother and Mitch worked hard to help him graduate which was a great accomplishment for him. He was very proud of himself. He struggled so hard to earn that piece of paper, despite being rather intelligent, he could barely read, or write, his learning disability made things frustrating and he would often give up on things quickly when they overwhelmed him. He saw me doing college and wanted to go, but was scared and didn’t think he could do it. It wasn’t until after years of dealing with serious addictions that he cleaned up and decided on college for certain.

Getting better, or rather realizing that people cared about him enough to want him to get better came after a long struggle with drugs and alcohol. The day he decided to stop for good he had crushed up oxi-cotin, turned it into a liquid, and injected it into the vein that protrudes from the underside of his arm below the bicep. Ah-ha! The case of the missing spoons solved! The culprit: Mitch, to cook highly addictive, prescription chemicals for daily injections. When he wearily walked over to my mother’s house in a long sleeve thermal in June, she didn’t question him. When he rolled up his sleeve to show her the purple and blue puss filled abscess over his vein she gasped and re-evaluated his months of inappropriate dress in dessert weather.

Antibiotics and a stint at my mother’s house for the next few weeks got him off of drugs, but nowhere near sober. My tyrant step father didn’t make it easy for my brother to turn to my mother during his clean up phase because he refused to trust Mitch and constantly hounded and harassed him endlessly. My brother drank alcohol to self medicate, and de-stress, but at least that was better than hard drugs. My brother was determined to stay clean; he was scared straight at the thought of gangrene, of a “possible amputation” as my mother told him. When I found out what happened two weeks later, I told him that clapping was just too much fun to miss out on for the rest of his life. We laughed. Inside, I wanted to lose it. “I want to do better, to go to school to be a chef like the people on the food network!” He’d always wanted to be a chef since childhood, but never, ever followed through with his dream because partying had always been too much fun. Two weeks later I changed from a skeptical sister, to an unconditionally supportive one, and I still wonder if that’s why we lost him.

My mother and step-father left town for a week to go on a vacation and I was left in control of their house to make sure nothing bad happened. My step-father gave me strict instructions that my little brother was not allowed to be there. Of course, being Mitch, and wanting any excuse getting out of his father’s house (he had lived with him since graduation, surrounded by his fathers drug problems, and his grandmother’s bi-polar outbursts) he showed up the moment my parents pulled out of the driveway. Normally I can be strict on his bad behavior, but he showed up bawling, hysterically. Annoying drug problems or not, it’s impossible to watch a twenty-three year old man cry, when you love them, when you remember them in diapers dragging one of your dolls around the house by the hair. We sat on the couch and he sobbingly told me why he was so upset. He had fallen asleep on the couch and his grandmother woke him up by placing a pillow over his face and screaming “I hate you I hate you I hate you”. He woke up in shock, and being barraged by verbal assaults ran from the house barely dressed. His friend picked him up and dropped him at my mothers.

“I don’t know why she hates me” he stared at the floor.

“She doesn’t hate you; she’s frustrated with your father whose fifty and been living with her for his entire life. She takes it out on you honey, you’re not bad to her…you didn’t steal anything from her did you?” I had to ask…he has in the past.

“No, I swear, I haven’t done anything like that for years. She just gets mad and her face turns red and she looks like her heart is going to jump from her body. This weird vein thing pops out on her forward too…it’s kind of scary. But seriously I didn’t do shit, I really didn’t Misty”.

“I believe you.” I didn’t. “Get some sleep and in the morning we can make breakfast and talk more okay love?” I kissed him on the forehead and went to bed.

The next morning I awoke to him hunched over the couch holding his arm. His face was ghostly white, his lips blueberry blue.

“What the FUCK did you do?!” I screamed.

“I didn’t do anything!” He forced out in a soft whimper.

“Right! What the fuck happened to your arm then?!” I demanded.

“The cat bit me” he whispered.

“Right…the cat bit you.” I walked into my room and ignored him for a while as I sent a text to my mom accusing him of shooting up, and asking her what to do. No response.

About thirty minutes had gone by and I walked back into the living room to find him breathing weird, lying on the floor on his back. Oh, shit!

“MITCH!” I yelled, “Mitchell Blaine! Sit up right now! We’re going to the emergency room!” I yelled as authoritatively as I could.

He made a strange sound, like a tire leaking air, and rolled onto his side, struggling and shaking into a sitting position. I grabbed the car keys and pulled him up walking him quickly to the car. I wanted to smack him for sneaking drugs into my mother’s house and doing them, for lying, but I didn’t think it was a good time considering his current demeanor.

We arrived at the Ogden Regional Medical Center in Ogden five minutes later. I had to help him out of the car. The automatic doors opened and we stepped into the white life-less room taking in a huge breathe of ammonia stench. Mitch dropped onto the floor like a sack of potatoes. Nurses rushed over. He was practically dragged into a room while they fired question after question at me about him.

“What is wrong?!” One nurse asked

“I..I..don’t know. He says a cat bite, but I think it might be a drug overdose. He has drug problems”. I told her. She nodded and ran off, her body disappearing then a few minutes later her giant teased hair followed, fading into the distance.

I called my mom and left her a message telling her what had happened. She called me back to say,
”I will be there shortly, make sure you tell them that he has insurance even though he doesn’t”. Odd that she was worried about that at this time. I said okay and hung up.

I found my little brother a moment later in a hospital bed, wearing a gown, hooked up to an I.V. drip fully conscious. The doctor came in and I asked him what was wrong. The doctor answered as doctors often do, in a detached manner, monotone, and staring at his clip board. “He was bit by a cat and the infection spread into his blood stream and into his glandular system. It happened really quickly, he would have died if he had arrived here twenty minutes later”. Holy shit. I’m a bad sister, a bad person. He was telling the truth. I crawled into his hospital bed with him and he smiled at me. Perfect, bright white teeth. “I’m so sorry” I said. He shrugged, “its okay sis”. And we fell asleep snuggled into each other, sinking into the bleach scented sheets.  My mother came in and woke us up sometime later. When I opened my eyes she was taking a picture of us with her phone camera. Mitch and I looked up at her and Mitch started laughing, “What the hell are you doing you weirdo” he smirked.

“The two of you look so cute like that; I haven’t seen you snuggled into each other since you were tiny”. She was right; we haven’t even really gotten along since I was seven or eight. A sort of sadness panged me that we just almost lost him, and I would have regretted the years spent being mad at him instead of trying to get to know him. I rolled his hospital bracelet in my fingers, it read, August 21, 2008.

The doctor came in and explained the situation to my mother who sat next to Mitch and I on the bed, smiling and being uncharacteristically sweet. She’s a great person, but unhappy which turns into general irritation and annoyance. Mitch was feeling better but breathing irregularly, and I could feel his breathes move the bed in short, huh, huh, huhs.

“Are you having a panic attack?” I asked him.

He nodded; he’d been having severe anxiety problems since a child, and had panic attacks often. For some reason, nobody had ever taken him to see anyone about the issue though it crippled him at times. As the doctor came in to check on Mitch and turned to leave I stopped him, “Excuse me” I said,

“Could you give him something for his anxiety?” I asked, “He has horrible panic attacks”. The doctor nodded, wrote something on a small pad of paper, ripped a small square away handing it to my mother. “It’s valium, tell him to take it whenever he starts feeling a panic attack come on, it will calm him down”. And with that the doctor pivoted in his white sterile coat and walked out of the room.

I smiled to my brother, “finally you’ll have something to chill you out now”. He smiled back…”yeah. It will help me with school. Will you please help me do it?” I nodded, “I absolutely will”.

He had to go back to the hospital every four hours for the three following days for antibiotic IV drips. I decided I didn’t like domestic animals that much anymore, cats have deadly mouths, like little fury Komodo dragons. During that week I searched online for hours trying to find the very best culinary arts programs in Utah that he could attend. He played in mom’s kitchen for the week, sickly, pale, full of antibiotics, making inedible cuisine, but smiling bigger than I’d seen in years. He was genuinely excited to get himself together, even willing to move to South Salt Lake away from everything he knew just to study food.

“I just want a seafood restaurant in Portland, that’s my absolute dream” he smiled over a pile of god-knows-what that he was putting into the oven to bake. Whenever I pictured him in my head before that year it was always in front of the stove cooking something.

We found two potential schools: Salt Lake Community College, and the Art Institute. The Art Institute was pricey, but had student housing, and a wonderful program. SLCC didn’t have student housing, had classes in a number of locations that would have required him to take a million buses all over town every day. We chose the Art Institute, he was approved for all of the loans and grants necessary, fitting for his lab coat, and then denied admission to the school because he couldn’t pass the admissions test. He was heartbroken, we were heartbroken. We had pictures of him in his chef coat smiling so proudly, and now he was being told her wasn’t smart enough to go there. I thought he would give up. I worried he would head back to drugs, but he didn’t. I suggested SLCC again and he was more than willing to give it a try. We toured the culinary arts kitchen which was huge and amazing. The program looked great and he began to get excited again. He was more reserved this time though, worried he would be denied access because “he’s just not very smart” as he would say. “You are very smart” I would re-assure him, “some people learn differently than others” and I believed that. He was very smart, a fast learner, with amazing problem solving skills, he just didn’t learn very well in a classroom setting because his anxiety would sometimes get the best of him. In elementary he was so sick and frequently hospitalized that he never learned the basic skills in math and English. Hands on though he could learn anything and I knew if someone would give him a chance he could do it.

He was accepted into the SLCC program, and within a week we bought his books, got him moved into a room in downtown Salt Lake, and were busy shopping and refurnishing his bedroom with a desk and such. He was incredibly stressed out but optimistic, but using alcohol to cope a great deal with his nerves and because of that we started fighting again.

We went grocery shopping for his new apartment and on the way there he was drinking orange juice which suspiciously smelled like vodka. By the time Mitch, my mother and I reached the store he was lit. I could tell he was lit because his pale face was bright red. My mother and I chose to ignore it for the time being and proceeded to shop. We somehow lost him though fifteen minutes into shopping and not able to find him continued getting him stuff we knew he would like. After forty minutes went by we started to worry, and needed to check out but couldn’t find him. My mother was getting irritated, I was in a hurry, and he was nowhere to be found. Finally after looking for him for thirty minutes he came walking up to us glaring at us with his on cart with ten or so items in it.

“WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU GUYS BEEN” he screamed, top of his lungs inside the store. Everyone in line turned to look at us.

“Mitch, don’t yell” I whispered.

“We have been looking all over for you!” my mom shot back, “where have you been?! We’ve had to page you half a dozen times!” she continued.

“I HAVE BEEN LOOKING EVERYWHERE FOR YOU GUYS! THIS IS BULLSHIT! WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE ME LIKE THAT!” he yelled. I knew him well enough to know it was panic and anxiety and alcohol talking and not him, however I have a bad temper and he was making people stare at us. I don’t like negative attention of that kind, and embarrassment was quickly turning into anger.

“SHUT UP!” I seethed, “we’re here doing something for YOU, and you’re yelling at us! Knock it off, we lost each other, it’s over with, chill out!”

“I hate you” he snapped. After weeks of mending our relationship, and my spending literally ten hours a day with him doing everything on earth I could to make the school thing work, to make him happy he told me he hated me. I snapped, and my mouth separated itself from my heart and horrible things poured out of me before I could stop them.

“You hate me? Good, then I don’t have to spend every fucking day of my life taking care of your incapable ass! You keep drinking yourself retarded and you’re going to be just like your disgusting drug addict father.” With that I pivoted and walked briskly towards the exit door. I was seething and blind with rage…because he hurt me.

I heard running behind me and out of the corner of my eye saw blond hair. “Misty, Misty, I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean that…please talk with me, please” he yelled as I walked away from him. I found my moms car and got into the passenger side and locked the door. I needed to calm down, and his profuse apologizing wasn’t allowing me to do that. He stood at the car staring into my window with the more distressed look I’d ever seen. He looked broken, his eyes were in pain, but I was too angry to roll down the window and say I was sorry too. He turned and walked away from the parking lot towards his new apartment.

My mother came out with a cart full of bagged groceries a moment later. “Where is he?” she asked. I shrugged. “You’re saying mean stuff to each other is wrong, you’re just hurting each other and you don’t mean it.” She said. “He told me he fucking hated me!” I snapped. “He was scared Misty, you know he gets panic attacks and he flips out, doesn’t help he’s been drinking”. I nodded. I knew that, but still, having a white trash verbal battle in a grocery store with my drunken brother was not my cup of tea, and it would take a few minutes before my logic and sympathy would kick back in again. My mother got into the car and we drove off towards his house in order to find him.

He was crossing the street heading south-west when we pulled up next to him. I rolled down my window,

“Mitch, honey, and get in the car” I was still annoyed so my tone was more authoritative than sweet.

“NO! You said I’m going to be like my dad! You don’t say that to someone! You don’t ever say that to someone!” he yelled back. I felt horrible.

“You told me you hated me! I was just mad, I didn’t mean it, get in here!” I barked.

“NO! You don’t say that stuff to me!” his eyes were glistening in the sun, tears. Great!

“Mitch! You were mean to me! I snapped, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it. Please get in here, we’re in a hurry and we have to go” I said much nicer than before.

He walked towards us and got into the back seat, eyes pasted to the floor of the car. We didn’t say anything the whole way. When we arrived at his new place, I stayed in the car while my mother took him in to drop off his groceries. We didn’t talk for a few days, until the night before he started his classes.

I called him the night before he started his first classes to see if he wanted me to go with him. He was nervous and getting ready for bed…at eight thirty p.m. I giggled at how over prepared he was making himself, but I remember being the same way my first day of college after high school. We talked as though nothing had happened, and we went over the right transportation for him to take to get to the right campuses for the right classes. I told him I loved him, and hung up worried for him and hoping he didn’t get overwhelmed.

The next day we spoke after his classes were over and he was beaming with excitement. He told me about the professors, about his mishaps getting on the right (or wrong) bus, but over-all he was thrilled to be there. I was relieved, I hung up the phone and took a deep breathe feeling for the first time in forever that he might be okay. He was busy with school and I was overwhelmed with grad applications and work so we didn’t see each other for a few days until my birthday on September 2. He came out with us and danced with me at the club, and with a boy dressed in drag. He thought he was dancing with a really pretty girl and I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was a boy…and that we were at a bar that was fifty percent homosexual. We all drank and had fun, and at the end of the night he left on his BMX towards home. I didn’t see him again for two weeks, at a coffee shop called Nostalgia downtown Salt Lake. What an appropriate name.

The last time I saw my brother was in the very coffee shop I’m working from right now. I was wearing a gray t-shirt with a skull on it, Skinny jeans, and ballet flats; my hair was in a high pony tail. I know what I was wearing because I took a phone picture of myself two minutes before he showed up. He walked in wearing a hat, a white t-shirt, and loose blue jeans. I was busy and rushed through the interaction.

My mother put money in my bank account for Mitch, and he swung by the coffee shop to get the money from me. We spoke for a few minutes, I gave him the money and he stayed for a moment to talk about school and of course have a beer.

“Mitch honey you shouldn’t be drinking this early, its one p.m., you have homework to do” I told him.

“I’m gonna do my homework after I leave here, one beer won’t get me drunk sis” he smiled. I shrugged,

“You should take the valium that your doctor gave you instead of drinking” I said.

“Okay” he smiled as he stood up to leave, “I’m going to go ride my bike around the city okay? I will see you soon, let’s hang out because I miss you” he said. I smiled and nodded. He walked out just as a friend of mine was walking in to say hi. My friend sat down, and I began talking with him.

My brother died about ten days later on September 21st. One month exactly to when the cat almost killed him. Three weeks into his first semester of college. Three months after being sober, and three weeks after I told him horrible things at a grocery store, and twenty-three years into his life. His body was found at a drug dealer’s house, on the floor. His BMX bike was locked to a chair in the kitchen. The girl who lived there admitted to my mother that she knew something was wrong with him but was too scared to call the police initially because there were drugs in the house. We thought, indefinitely, that he re-lapsed and died from an intravenous drug overdose.

A month after we cremated him, his six-foot-one-inch muscular frame, his wavy blonde hair, his crystal blue eyes, and flawless pale skin, burned to ashes and sealed inside a gray vase, a month after the remains of my brother were sealed into cement in a cemetery next to my grandparents, a month later, we received his toxicology report stating his cause of death.

Mitchell Blaine Evans, cause of death: Valium mixed with alcohol, pulmonary edema, Asphyxiation. He stopped breathing at a stranger’s house on her floor where he laid because he was “tired”. He took the valium trying to calm him, nervous because he had just met the girl, and new people give him anxiety. He died alone around three A.M. on September 21st 2009. That day has changed me, and my family forever as the permanent loss of a loved one usually does.

Every night since his passing my mother sends me a text message saying, “I love you more than anything, goodnight”. I approach seeing and talking with people as if I’ll never see them again, because maybe I won’t. Of all of the regrets that I have, of all the thoughts that shallow my breath and break my spirit, nothing destroys worse than losing someone I loved knowing I took him for granted, knowing that I forgot about mortality, assuming that I could always see him again, because there was always another day. There is not always another day, there is not always that moment to make up for lost time. Yet, more often than not in our world, we don’t realize our limited abilities to connect with those we love until it’s too late, and you catch yourself fantasizing about magical cell phone calls that could break the communication barrier that death creates.

My Two Brothers And I. Mitch is the blonde, Dakota is the brunette. Our last photo together.
My Two Brothers And I. Mitch is the blonde, Dakota is the brunette. Our last photo together.

16 thoughts on “He Couldn’t Breathe: How Valium Killed My Brother

  1. You are absolutely brilliant! I am amazed that you don’t have any books published yet. You’re the perfect person to publish a memoir. I’d be thrilled to see you in hardcopy and even more excited to own one of your books.

  2. I am sorry for your loss and the challenges you experienced with your brother and family. I have no doubt your brother is still with you everyday and guiding you in life and always.

  3. I can never imagine what you have been through, I have one younger brother and YOU are such a strong person. I love your blog, writing, and personality. I may not know you in person, but it would be very pleasurable fact to know you. Your brother must be so proud of YOU.

  4. You have the clearest, most genuine, credible voice I have ever read. I feel like I’ve just lived this experience with you, in your head. Tears in my eyes and heart tugging for the girl who woke up in San Francisco that morning. Hope that chronicling your loss helped in some way.

    Much admiration for you, M.E. I just happened to start providing feedback here. Had to. Will write elsewhere, too.

  5. Firstly, I am truly so sorry for the loss of your brother. It was a horrific tragedy.
    Your writing is raw, emotional and incredible… I’m so sorry for your terrifying childhood experiences, but I know that your gift for writing is because of those experiences. You’re a phenomenal writer.
    It’s a great coping skill too…. don’t ever stop! And thank you for sharing!!

  6. I feel as if I am stalking you! I found you on surviving italy and cannot get enough of your writing and observations. I am sorry for you loss. Thanks for sharing this memory as well as your own journey through depression. You are an amazing woman.

  7. So deeply sorry for your loss. Not only do we share the same experiences with crazy Italian in-laws but also having to bury our brothers way too young. X one day at a time ….

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