And I say that without a shred of doubt.Â Let me tell you about what happened last Thursday.
So last Thursday, the 11th, was my girlfriend’s birthday.Â Shawna and I had great dinner plans, and all was looking to be right with the world.
Then 11AM rolls around, and my brother Matt calls me at work.
“Nate, I’m downstairs.Â I need you to come see me.”
“Just get down here.Â It’s important.”
So I run downstairs, where I find Matt looking like somebody has kicked his puppy to death.Â I figure it might be something with our father.Â The guy’s had health problems lately, so maybe he took another turn.
So I ask Matt what’s wrong.
“It’s Mark,” he says. Â Mark’s our older brother, by the way.
“He’s been diagnosed with rabies.Â He has a week to live.”
I stare at my brother a moment.Â I contemplate punching him in the throat and telling him he’s not funny.Â Instead I say, “Huh?”
“Three weeks ago he killed a bat that got in his house.Â He got some of its blood in his eye.Â Now he’s showing all the symptoms.Â He’s been given the vaccine, but once symptoms show up it’s too late.Â The doctors gave him two to ten days.Â We’re driving up to Indiana tonight to say goodbye.”
I stand there staring at the ground for a full minute, trying to make some sense out of what I’ve just been told.Â I should probably say something deep and heartfelt here, but I’m just in a trance.Â The first thing I can say is, “It’s Shawna’s birthday.”
“She’ll have another one.”
“I fucking know that.”
So I tell Matt I’ll be ready to go.Â I head back inside and tell Shawna I can’t celebrate her birthday because my brother might be dead inÂ a few days and there’s nothing to do but head north and be by his side.Â She takes this surprisingly well and drives me home so I can start packing.
I’m still in a trance at this point, though I’ve noticed I can’t seem to talk without waving my hands around and gaining volume with every word.Â It’s like a bad Kelli Dunlap impersonation.
I get home, and the first thing I do is decide I don’t want to drive.Â If Mark’s maybe got as little as two days left in him, I don’t want to spend one of them driving.Â I call my sister, Sheryl, to find out where he’s located.Â She tells me he’s in a hospital in Indianapolis.Â I buy a one-way ticket on Southwest because I can’t afford roundtrip.Â I’ll figure out how to get back later.Â Matt and Sheryl buy tickets of their own based on my actions.
Of course, now I’m out of cash, and I’ll still need a hotel room once I reach Indiana.Â I pack up a box of DVD box sets, CDs, and books and take them to Half Price to sell.Â I walk out with $71, maybe enough to get me a single night.
I start to pack.Â I throw shirts, jeans, shorts, socks, undies, and toiletries in a bag.Â Then I make a call to Matt.
“Should I pack funeral clothes?”
He doesn’t know.Â I call Sheryl’s husband Joe (no reason to bother her) and ask the same question.Â He doesn’t know.Â He also tells me that it turns out Mark is in Cincinnati.
I call Southwest and ask to switch my ticket.Â They don’t fly to Cincy.Â I cancel the ticket and am told the refund will take three to five business days.
So it looks like I’m driving.Â I look up the price of a rental car and realize I can’t afford one.Â My ’99 Escort with no air conditioning will have to do the job. I can use part of the $71 to get an oil change and maybe use the rest to buy enough caffeine to get me to Cincy in one piece.
Then Matt and Sheryl cancel their own tickets so they can drive up with me.Â I realize how much I love the two of them.Â Then I start packing my black suit.
And that makes me realize how much I love Mark.Â I’m cleaning lint off the suit I figure I’ll be wearing to my brother’s funeral, and I realize I decided to become a writer because of this man’s own prose.Â Â My brother MarkÂ a gifted writer, and he’s been writing since I was a kid without really submitting stories anywhere.Â He writes for himself, and he’s really good at it.
And in ten days he’ll be dead before reaching his 50th birthday because of a bat that got in his house.
I drop to my knees and just stare at the floor. Tears come, but I don’t do anything about them.Â I’m not really aware of anything but the floor and my brother and what’s going to happen in the next week or so.
And then my cell phone rings.Â It’s Joe.
“You don’t have to go up.”
“Mark doesn’t have rabies.Â The doctors changed their diagnosis.”
I think my next breath was probably the sweetest I’ve ever had.
And that was the worst day of my life.Â Being sure I would lose somebody, being told it was certain.Â Seeing how it affected my loved ones.Â Feeling the panic and the sadness and the black hole that is knowing the end is going to come and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do to stop it.Â That’s horror.Â Nobody should have to go through that.
But there’s happy news.Â My brother’s going to be okay.Â I can’t wait to see Mark again.Â I can’t wait to hug him and tell him how much I love him.Â I’ll take that over the alternative any day.
I’ll see you soon, bro.Â Sleep tight.