You were never one for conversation, were you Samson? Yeah. Even when we were kids. I remember countless times back in grade school where the teacher would call on you, and you’d look down at your desk and speak real soft into the wood, your hands folded all timid-like on the desktop, and the teacher would tell you to look up and speak clearly. And— man, what a memory— there was that one time where you got real nervous and ended up shouting your answer to the teacher, even though you were close to the front, and your voice cracked something bad. Ha. It’s amazing to think about how much you’ve changed. Now you can carry on a conversation with just about anyone. Except I can still tell you get nervous when you’re speaking. It’s just no-one else really notices. I guess it’s just, y’know, a sibling thing. Knowing how you’re really feeling.

            Do you remember the first time we fought, Samson? Like physically speaking? Probably not, it was kinda a long time ago. Yes, you’re older and all but I’ve always had the better memory. Heh. But anyway I think I was 7 and you were 9 and we were in the living room watching television, some cartoon or whatever— what was it again?— but anyway all of a sudden you turned to me and said Hey Nev do you wanna see something cool? and then I responded Yeah sure. and you told me to give you my hand. And I hesitated a bit, but you were super calm and composed about it, so I gave you one of my hands and you started running your fingers up and down my palm like some kind of fortuneteller. Oh! I just remembered the show— we were watching Courage the Cowardly Dog. Yeah. I remember because you always said you liked all the trippy visuals and you were surprised Ma let us watch it. Anyway, you said something about how I would be married by age 30, and so I said something like Yeah right. and you said But it’s true, just like it’s true that if your hand is bigger than your face you’re a certified genius. I was skeptical of it, but you had said it so earnestly that part of me almost believed it, and so after a moment’s hesitation I put my hand up to my face to confirm it and you clocked me right in the center of my hand-back.

            Then we got into a fight. We rolled around a bit, I screamed a little, pulled at your hair, you screamed, things continued. And then you got me in a headlock and pinned me to the ground, and I started punching you in the stomach yelling for you to stop, and that’s when Ma came in. She and Pa had been in the kitchen making dinner, I think. She yelled for you to stop, and so you let me go. I was crying something bad, I remember. And then Ma got all mad at us and lectured both of us for fighting, and I think I may have said that you started it and you claimed I did and Ma wasn’t having any of it, and that night we were both sent to bed early. I got real mad, Samson. I still remember how sad and frustrated I felt about that. It was such a dumb thing, too. But at least that was the only time we ever got into a big physical fight. I think we were both scared after that, scared that Ma and Pa would get mad again. But at the time I was so mad. If you would’ve asked me right then Nev, how do you feel about your brother Samson? I would’ve probably said I hate him. I would’ve said I hated you. At that age everyone exaggerates their feelings like that.

            If memory serves, it was only a few weeks after that fight that the thing in the cafeteria happened. Some kid came over to where we were sitting and pushed my lunch plate on the ground and told me to eat off the floor. He said I was weird, too. Harshly so. Elementary school kids can be so cruel, the more I think about it. But anyway, you were sitting next to me, and so in response you scooped up some of your mashed potatoes with your hand and shoved it in the kid’s face. I think you would’ve gotten into another fight if the teacher hadn’t intervened then. And the school called Ma and she had to come pick you up in the middle of the day. I’m sure you remember that. She was mad like when we fought, but after you told her why I think she softened up a little bit. If someone would’ve asked me how I felt about you after that, I would’ve probably said I love him.

            You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing all of this up. At least this suddenly. And, well, it probably has to do with the fact that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about your hand, and about what happened to it. I tried asking Ma and Pa about it, but they seemed to forget a lot about it. To be fair, they weren’t there, but they should at least know something. Eh. Maybe that whole thing about traumatic repression is right, even for someone like me. I mean, you know I’ve had a great memory all my life— hell, Pa even called it photographic once, and it’s the main reason I could be in all the same classes as you— but for some reason I can’t really remember much about the day you lost your hand. 

        I was 12 and you were 14, I remember. It was at one of the grocery stores around here, but I can’t remember which. The two of us had gone shopping with Ma and Pa— what did we buy, anyway? I don’t know— but we were waiting in line for checkout when I complained a bit to Ma about how thirsty I was. Maybe it was a hot day? You agreed with me, I do remember, but was it because it was hot? Were you just supporting my complaint as my sibling? I don’t— but anyway, Pa gave us some money for the vending machine outside. I remember that I felt relieved by this. We thanked Pa and ran out through the automatic doors. The vending machine was probably near the exit, but I don’t recall. There weren’t many people around, though, I do remember— I guess it was an off-day for groceries, maybe a weekday afternoon, after school. I— hm.

            I put my dollar in and pressed the button for my Coke— maybe Pepsi, or RC, or something else, some cola. The machine rumbled and the can came out the slot at the bottom. Then you put your dollar in and pressed the button for your soda— a different one I think— and the vending machine rumbled but nothing came out. I remember you perked up your eyebrow in confusion. You tried pressing the button again, and I checked the disposal slot. Nothing. So you got down on your knees and tried reaching your hand up and into the slot to see if the can got stuck. I wanted to help, so I went around to the side of the machine, and— oh God, why did I— and I grabbed the sides and shook it. That part I remember very clearly. Everything I said up until now has been slightly hazy, and some of it has just been filled in from context assumptions. But this I— I remember shaking the vending machine to get your can out. And then— I think it was the bottom that broke. One of the leg supports. The machine must’ve been really old, or poorly built, or— oh God— but I think I saw it happen first but didn’t register exactly what it meant. What it signified. I didn’t think through what that meant.

             I think you were quick to react when it started to fall. I sure wasn’t. I probably kept shaking it for a second. But then— what the hell was I thinking?— you tried to move but it fell and you couldn’t get your hand out in time and then everything went fuzzy and there was a crash and a scream and the automatic doors opened and Ma and Pa came out pushing the cart and I just kinda stood there, I think, all shocked and confused.

             You don’t know how guilty I felt, Samson. When you first woke up after the shock of it all and they told you that your hand was damaged beyond all repair and that they’d— oh God, they’d have to do that thing— and I just remember your face dropping and your pupils sinking back into the milk of your eyes like you were a dead man alive. I went with Ma and Pa every day to visit you while you were in the hospital recovering after the surgery, and every time I would look at you and start crying and say I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry over and over with my words like slurring to the point where it was all just mumbles and weeps. And every time I remember you would say It’s ok Nev. but I would look into your eyes as you looked at me and smiled and I could still see the milky haze from the day they told you what would have to be done, and I knew that your words were empty and you were really still upset about it and blamed me for it. But— but I couldn’t bear to look away or look at where they had amputated it so I would always keep looking at your face and feel more and more empty and guilty about the whole thing. I don’t know if you remember your time in the hospital. I think people repress that stuff, too. You didn’t talk much when you were there. You just kinda slept and took painkillers and occasionally watched Courage the Cowardly Dog on the hospital TV monitor.

            Do you remember, Samson? I said sorry so many times. I still feel like that, this sense that I did something so stupid and careless and I injured you so badly because of it. Sometimes I just think about that and I feel physically ill, y’know, just thinking about what I did. I remember beating my head into the wall for half-an-hour one night saying idiot over and over until Ma found me and forced me to stop, and then I sat on my bed and dabbed at my forehead with a wet cloth and stared at the little red stain I’d left. And even after we had both graduated high school and were in college, going to different schools in different states, whenever I saw you I would still get the sense that you probably hated me for it. And I understood why. It was always little mannerisms— the way you barely made eye contact, stopped cracking jokes around me, went out of your way to make sure we were never alone in the same room— the occasional things you would say or do that made me think He will never forgive me for what I’ve done. You seemed to talk differently to me after that. It was still amiable, but there was some quality to it that I could never quite explain. Something cold. I think that’s when you started calling me by my given name, actually. I hated myself so much, Samson. If someone would’ve asked you Samson, how do you feel about your brother? I’m almost certain you would’ve said I hate him.

             That’s why I tried to bring this all up a few months ago, Samson. Because it’s been building up inside me for years and I’m full to bursting. Every time I see you on holidays and vacations and special events you talk to me more as an acquaintance instead of a brother. It’s like I’ve become a stranger to you. I feel like you’ve closed yourself off to me behind glazed distant eyes and I feel like I’m to blame. And so I tried to pull you aside to tell you all this, to let you know how I’ve been feeling, just for the chance to hear you honestly speak your mind to me. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I just wanted to let you know once more how sorry I was and how I wanted us to be like we used to. That I recognize that I was being stupid and careless and that I never meant to hurt you. Please. I’m sorry, Samson. Please don’t pull away from me. Don’t tell me that it’s all in the past while you avert your eyes from mine and turn away from me with your lips puckering all sour-like. I know you, Samson. I’m your brother.

            I’m ashamed of myself, is what it is. I don’t remember much from that night either, to tell you the truth. After my attempt to reconcile I guess I went out feeling pretty bad about it, driving out to God knows where. I don’t know where I was going or why I was going there— I just felt like I had to get away. I drove my car out of the suburbs and into the old scenic roads that run through the forest nearby. Just driving around in the pitch black of the night, probably feeling so hopeless and lost and broken that I probably wished for something to come out from nowhere and strike me down right then and there. I— I didn’t actually want it to happen. I swear to God, I hope to God I didn’t actually want it to happen. It just— there was a flash and then there was something in front of the car and I—

            Ma and Pa got the call early in the morning that I had been in an accident. That a deer had jumped in front of my car and I had struck it at incredibly high speed. Probably going 60 in a 45. And I had been knocked unconscious and was severely injured. That the car behind had stopped and called 911.

            They visited me in the hospital every day while I was in there. You came too, Samson, on most days. It pained you to see me in such a state. My entire body was covered in bloodied bandages from the countless gashes and lacerations caused by the deer and the glass from the windshield. The doctors said that things didn’t look good. You kept coming. I had yet to wake up. Weeks passed. They told Ma and Pa that I probably wasn’t going to wake up. And after a month they decided to finally pull the plug on me, and I passed.

             It’s been so peaceful here, Samson. There’s been no pain, now. I’m just sorry that I never knew the truth about it all. I simply wish I would’ve known about it sooner, about the fact that you were so cold to me because you were ashamed of yourself. That you had been using me as the scapegoat of your pain for years, labeling me as the object of your misery when in reality it was nothing more than a freak accident. We were kids. The machine was the one to blame, that damn machine and its weak supports. It was never my fault. And you knew that, and yet you kept telling yourself that it was, all so that you could turn your fear and pain into anger targeted at something. Everyone needs something to blame, Samson. It’s only natural. I would’ve forgiven you for it, probably.

            But I guess neither of us will find out. After all, I’m dead now, and you’re standing over my casket and looking at me, talking as if you were me because you feel guilty. You’re trying to parse out the words you think I would say, if I could even talk, as some kind of morbid coping mechanism. God, you’re even self-aware of how dumb that sounds when you say it out loud. You’re going through the trouble to put on this act, all in the hope that you’ll find some ledge to grab in all this chaos. Yeah. You’re blaming yourself for it all, for causing me so much pain through the years for such selfish reasons. You don’t think you deserve to be forgiven. You feel lower than scum, and there’s many times since I passed where you’ve thought that the world would be better if you could just go find a corner to curl up and die in, like a cockroach. But at the same time you know that’s not something I would’ve wanted. Even when you’re pretending to be me you can’t bring yourself to say that I hate you. I was always so kind to you, Samson, and you know that. You were always my brother. I was always your brother.

            Hm. Now I know the answer. With definite certainty. If someone would’ve asked you Samson, do you love your brother? you would’ve said Yes, but I don’t deserve his. I would’ve accepted you no matter what, Samson, no matter how many flaws you may have. I would’ve told you that you were not a bad person, and that you were just struggling. I would’ve told you that it was a very human thing to do, to avoid all that pain. I would’ve told you so much to make you feel better, Samson. But I fear that in doing so I may have made you hate yourself even more.

            And while you’re standing here, saying these words as you look down at me, perhaps I’m hanging up somewhere far above, looking down at you. And maybe I want to tell you that things are going to be OK. You will always be my brother, Samson. No form of projection onto me will change that fact, will put words into my mouth. And if I could I would descend before you and hold out my hand, and through your tears you would give me yours to grasp and I would pull you up, and we’d ascend forever together, never looking back. And maybe then, after a long time of ascending, we’d both come to realize that there was never any guilt to be had in the first place, no pain, no reason to feel bad. I know that you’re sorry. You wish so much that this could happen, that you could see me once more and follow me upwards into the great white sky. Is there a heaven up there, Samson? I don’t even know. But I’m not scared. I was never one to get very scared, and you know that.

            The mortician’s come to tell you that visiting hours are about up. They need to put my cover back on again. You can’t keep talking through me forever. I don’t want to leave you any more than you want to leave me, but you must understand him, Samson. Please think about me often, and when you do, try to think back to all those pleasant moments. Just close your eyes, and let everything go black. If you stay like that long enough, everything will turn to white, and you’ll be back there. You’ll be sitting in a classroom in the desk next to me, in the living room putting me in a headlock, in the cafeteria shoving food into the face of the kid who bullied me. You can be in all those memories with me, Samson. Be there in those moments, back when there was no guilt. You need to remember. For me. From the moment I was born, I was your brother. Take care to think of this. And then fade back to black again, and begrudgingly open your eyes.

Michael Vedder is a senior studying Applied Mathematics and Mathematics (and always willing to explain the difference). His hobbies include writing, video games, and playing the piano. He is from Phoenix, Arizona, and doesn’t know why he hasn’t succumbed to hypothermia yet.