29 Nov Walking Home by Daniel Green
I found a letter in my mailbox addressed to someone who doesn’t live here anymore. The same mailbox where someone left used cotton balls, rubber bands, and needles inside. The mailbox that I removed from a crumbling brick wall to sanitize with a bottle of water and dish soap. I got orange-brown rust stains all over my clothes; I don’t know how long it’s sat there, but long enough to garner rust indoors.
The letter was addressed as such:
345 Sydenham Road
Kingston ON, K7S 3N6
Owen. Every time I cross paths with the name Owen, it makes me think of my brother. He’s one of my two half-brothers; my father is seventy-four years old. He had a family before the one that I’m a part of. For him, I’m the last of three, the youngest of the family, and the one born into the protection of parents in a stable marriage.
My father is a Canadian science-fiction author. His last novel in the Ashland Trilogy, St. Patrick’s Bed, opens with the following acknowledgment: “For Daniel Casci Green, the completion to my fabulous Trilogy.” The Ashland books are almost pseudo-memoirs. He blends fact and fiction — plays with ghost stories, the afterlife, time travel — things that seem so fake but are too real.
The first in his trilogy is Shadow of Ashland. It follows Leo, who’s trying to locate Jack Radey, Leo’s mother’s brother who disappeared when she was young. Both to Leo and my actual father, Mom’s last request was to “find out what happened to Jack.” At the beginning of the novel, Dad writes:
For my brother
Whom we all miss
Now and Always
Ron died of a heart attack at sixty-one. Not being born yet, there’s no mention of me. But there’s this: As always, with love, I thank my family: Merle, for everything, and Conor and Owen for everything else.
Owen was acknowledged. But he left anyway.
He went missing about five years ago, in 2016. Or, maybe not missing, but disconnected. What classifies one as “missing” rather than “disconnected” or “disassociated” depends on whether or not they want to be found. If you don’t want to be found, people don’t put up missing posters for you. I can’t put up a missing poster or call the cops. Owen chose to go missing. He blocked our phone numbers and ceased contact with our family completely. It’s random to us, but not to him.
About two years ago, I went to the doctor’s office for a checkup. My dad drove me but he couldn’t find parking — he dropped me off while he looked for a spot. I went up the old creaky elevator alone. I’ve always feared getting stuck in elevators, especially the one at Doctor Loukides’s office. It had a dim, orange light that lit up the numbers. It moved slowly, wobbled. I didn’t like the idea of getting stuck.
Upon reaching the top floor, I heard the door to the stairwell open and close. I can’t remember if I saw the tail of someone’s shoe disappear around the corner and down the stairs, or if I’ve made that detail up after years of trying to cope.
I walked into the doctor’s office.
“Daniel! You saw your brother?” the receptionist, Dora, said.
I was having trouble breathing. “Brother?”
“He just left. He went down the stairs. You didn’t see him?”
“Oh. No. What brother?”
I froze. Then I sat down. “Oh.”
“Are you okay?”
“I haven’t seen him in a while is all.”
My dad came up and sat down beside me shortly after.
“Dad. Owen was just here.”
His mouth opened. Eyebrows raised. “You’re kidding?”
“No, Dora just told me. I could’ve run after him. I should’ve run after him. I don’t know why but I just sat down and—”
“Stop. There’s nothing you can do. You did the right thing. If he doesn’t want to talk, you can’t make him. But he was here?”
“Well… Wow. Thank God. At least he’s taking care of himself.”
That’s the difference between father–son and brother–brother relationships: my Dad was relieved to find out that he at least went to the doctor. I lost a brother, but he lost a son.
I think I regret that moment — freezing — but I’m not entirely sure. What would I have said? Was I to run down the stairs screeching his name, crying as I did, my sobs echoing through the six-story staircase? How would he have replied? How are you supposed to reply when you haven’t for so long?
It’s the same thing with phoning him. A while ago, I thought I was blocked, and the number used to go straight to voicemail or to “the caller is currently unavailable,” but now it rings. It rung when I tried calling him last week. I’d like to think that means he unblocked me, but it probably means he got a new number. I’m scared to call his number. I swell up with anxiety when I do; don’t know if I actually want him to pick up, don’t know what I’d say. I also don’t know what’s worse: no answer, him picking up, or a stranger picking up. I don’t know if there’s a difference. I don’t know a lot of things.
Maybe he’s dead. I’m sure we’d find out somehow, next of kin and all, but there’s no way to be sure. If he died tomorrow, or yesterday, I would keep on living my life as if he was alive. Missing? Dead? Disconnected? Maybe people are just gone at a certain point.
My father wrote a book about being gone—about death. A Witness to Life starts with his grandfather dying on a streetcar on Christmas day 1950, and then transcending into some sort of afterlife. My father introduces the novel with:
David Danladi Luginbühl
Always remembered, always loved
David was the son of my father’s friend, Ken. David was dating a woman in her late twenties. She had a kid. The three of them were driving down the 401 when their car got a flat tire. He pulled over, he and his girlfriend got out to check what happened, and they were hit by an eighteen-wheeler. The kid survived. O.P.P showed up at Ken’s door at 5 a.m. to tell him.
David was a twenty-three-year-old piano player. It looked like a future in music was on his horizon.
Owen is forty now. My dad sent him a text on his fortieth birthday:
February 16, 2021
Owen… Think of you every day. Happy Birthday. Love to hear from you. Update me and let me know you’re OK. It would mean a lot to me.
He sent him a letter a few days after:
February 21, 2021
I’ve thrown a few “bottles into the ocean with notes inside” trying to find you. This is one more.
Knowing that in the past, phone contact seemed to be blocked, I tried sending you a text on your 40th birthday, but I think it was probably blocked too, ending up in cyberspace. Before that, I’d had mail returned from your old Sammon Ave apartment with “Moved” printed across the address. It’s a long story how I came across this mailing address, and I’d be glad to tell you about it if we can talk some time.
Last night I actually had a dream about seeing you again, which has prompted this attempt. Simply put, I’ll always have a sense of my life being “not right” with you not a part of it—no matter how much distance you choose to maintain.
I’d love to hear from you, to know (if nothing else) what you’re doing, where you’re living, and that you’re OK, especially with all the Covid craziness. That much would give me some much needed peace. If we could achieve more than that, it would be a bonus. Life is too short. I actually had a minor stroke back in October, 2019—a wake-up call.
Daniel is in 3rd year at Queen’s, doing well. He misses his brother like I miss my son.
Love to hear from you. Call. Please.
I hope to have a book published one day. To write as well as my father does. My acknowledgment will read:
For my brother
Whom we all miss
Now and Always
Or maybe instead of question marks I’d use the date it was published. Because if I had chosen to share him with the world that would mean he was gone. That would mean it was real. It would mean that I’d be sure he’d never read it.
Earlier this year, when my ex-girlfriend and I first started dating, every time I’d drop her off at her place, I felt lonely walking home. I would usually tear up but didn’t know why. It took me a while to realize the emotion I was feeling was loneliness, but that’s because I’d never felt it before. My parents loved me (and still do), but I couldn’t run to them the same way I used to. I had a core group of friends in high school — always someone to hang out with — but now I’m struggling to figure out friendship.
It’s November 2020—I’m assigning blame to people in my head while walking home from my girlfriend’s house: she didn’t make me feel welcome. Maybe she’s going to leave me like Owen did. No, maybe it’s her roommate. Maybe she’s making me cry. No, no… Maybe it’s because I haven’t gone home to Toronto in a while. Maybe it’s the fact that my roommate still hangs out with my ex-girlfriend. Maybe it’s because I was with her for four-and-a-half years and left suddenly: disconnected, gone. Maybe it’s because David Luginbühl died on the 401. Maybe it’s because the kid was the only one that lived. Maybe it’s the fact that my father had a stroke last year. Maybe it’s the fact that I think he is going to die soon, that I can sense the cancer soon to be revealed. Maybe it’s because we all can die soon. Because lightning can strike — and people are gone. People just leave sometimes.
It starts to rain. Hard. The ink of an advertisement for music lessons bleeds down the pole it’s stapled to, like words turning to italics. Drops speckle my glasses. I can really cry now, because it’s invisible: maybe it’s because somebody left heroin needles in my mailbox. or because i got rust all over my clothes or because the caller is unavailable. i look up into the night at the clouds and the moon is poking through bright and orange glowing like christmas and raindrops and elevator buttons at the doctor’s office and bleeding rust splattering onto piano keys. i’m crying but don’t want to anymore or maybe the moon just likes to make me feel this way maybe feeling melancholic is beautiful and owen feels this way when he walks home ashland owen mcguire find out what happened to jack letters mailboxes lost people gone missing disconnected disassociated music forever now and always whom we all miss 1997 1932 1974 1993 1981 always remembered always loved ron owen walking home,
for my brother