My friend Brei came to see me. She and Davis were married and had three little boys. They were moving out of Minot and I just can’t remember why, but she came to see me before they moved. Brei was going to stay overnight and I was going to show her my costume shop and theatre and take her out to eat. We were getting ready to head over to the university when my phone rang.
Sean said he had something to tell me. He said Joyce wasn’t going to tell me, but he thought I should know. Jerome Michael was dead. He’d killed himself.
There’s a psychological theory that proposes we can alter behavior by exhausting the response to it. Explained drastically: if I’m afraid of spiders, put me in a room full of harmless spiders. My reaction will be over the top, but the body and brain can’t sustain that. Eventually exhaustion from the reaction sets in. The next time I see a spider, I no longer react.
When Sean told me Jerome Michael was gone, I didn’t feel the gut punch I’d felt about Tonia, Bram, and Bonnie. My breathing stopped for a minute and I began feeling unreal. But the emotion of the moment was removed and far away from me. I asked when and where the funeral was. Sean said Joyce wouldn’t tell him; she didn’t want us to go and get upset. Especially me, since I was supposedly still a suicide risk, according to Joyce.
By this time I was on medication for depression and anxiety and my doctor had spoken to me about intrusive thoughts. It’s possible I was the person in my family with the best mental health. That didn’t mean I was up to fighting with Joyce about attending the funeral. I thanked Sean, asked him to call me if he found out any information about the funeral, and hung up.
I continued with the plans Brei and I had: touring the theatre, going to dinner. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t prepare for a funeral I wasn’t going to. I remember feeling very removed from the world; I remember Brei kept asking me if I was alright. I wasn’t, but I couldn’t do anything. Instead of removing myself mentally, I just kind of stepped beside my life, watching it happen. After dark, I went out on my front porch to smoke and Brei came with me. I finally allowed her to really talk to me and I was able to tell her a little bit of what I was feeling.
When I was still dating Bram, after he’d moved in with us, Jerome Michael had brought his fiancee to Minot so we could meet her. Her name was Michele–one L–and she was my age. Jerome Michael was the same age as Bram. When Jerome Michael told me how old Michele was, I opened my mouth to protest then immediately shut it when my brain made all the connections. Jerome Michael threw back his head and laughed–he’d told Michele that was exactly what was going to happen. Still laughing, he told me if I could do it, so could he. They got married before Bram and I got married. Unfortunately, they also got divorced before Bram and I got married.
But he’d met someone else since then: Leslie. They seemed like a good match and they got married while I was away in grad school. They had a little boy, also named Jerome, and a baby girl. They seemed like a happy family. In fact, of the five of us kids, Jerome Michael was the most likely to laugh. He was the only one of us who seemed to let things roll off his back instead of internalizing them. I didn’t understand how he could’ve killed himself when none of us had even known he was unhappy.
When Joyce called after the funeral, she told me Jerome Michael hadn’t killed himself. Leslie had killed him. Of course. Joyce said Jerome Michael’s cancer had returned. He had cancer? Yes; she hadn’t told me because of her insistence that I was suicidal. But the cancer had gone into remission and everyone thought it was gone for good. Except me, because I hadn’t known.
Joyce said the cancer had come back and that Leslie was having an affair and it was all just too much for Jerome Michael to take.
“So he killed himself?” I asked.
“No, Leslie killed him.”
“But why would she do that, if he had cancer? Was it a mercy killing?”
“No, Leslie wanted out of the marriage, so she killed him.”
“But why not just wait for the cancer to kill him?”
“I wish you had been strong enough to attend the funeral; it was a very beautiful ceremony.”
Bonnie and Jerome Michael had been very close. Much like me, Tonia, and Sean, sometimes all they’d had was each other. Jerome Michael had joked to me once that he’d had to divorce Michele because she didn’t like Bonnie. When Jerome died, so did the final vestiges of our old Bonnie.
I didn’t get to go to my youngest brother’s funeral. I don’t even know where he is buried. I don’t know if he ever knew how much I admired him for being able to remain cheerful and sweet, even though his childhood sucked. I don’t know his kids, because Leslie has them and she doesn’t visit. I don’t blame her: why would you visit a family that insists you killed your husband, their son?
There’s a worrisome tally taking place in my head:
all at least tried to commit suicide,
2 have succeeded. So far.
1 grandchild/adopted child with enormous identity issues
Or if you believe Joyce:
1 attempted murder
1 daughter who is definitely a daughter.