Dear Living IRL readers,
What follows is a series of excerpts from a work in progress—a memoir about my experience living life in the world after the death of my sister. Because she and I both grew up online, technology plays a role in my grief. It has strong fingers, has managed to work its way into my endlessly tangled emotions.
I won’t explain much else, other than that this is what I am trying to give you: concrete examples of moments when my grief and technology have interacted. Sometimes this involves phone calls. Sometimes texts. Sometimes emails. Sometimes social media. It’s all always there.
New Orleans, Louisiana
There are times when I’m driving that feel so normal. The billboards outside stand intact, the skyline is unwavering, and the air hardly moves, heavy with humid, rose-gold light. Small birds sway on powerlines above the rush of traffic. Everything in the world is more or less okay.
I pick up the phone to call my sister, then remember that I can’t; I don’t know if it is real or if I’m imagining it.
I tell myself: no, this is not the time you sat on the red couch in your apartment and started crying—at first a little and then a lot—when Emily texted you two days after the Eagles-Saints playoff game saying that she did not think she wanted to live anymore. You tried to text-message listen and console and convince her to hang on—to leverage how much she trusted you to make her believe that she was going to get through this and it was going to be worth it. This is not the time that that happened and then—even though you were worried and scared—you couldn’t do much else besides keep your phone close and you had already made a plan and were running late, so you went to the Blind Pelican and ate 25 cent oysters with friends. We laughed because we were all carrying our old college ID cards in pursuit of student discounts at movie theaters and museums.
This is also not the time I sat on the steps outside of a dinner party, crying on the phone; when I went back inside I had to explain to the host that I was okay, just worried about my sister who has a long history of mental illness. He said something kind and kind of comforting like, “Hey that’s okay, I can relate—my brother went through (this) and (this) and (this) and now he has his shit together but yeah—it sucks, man.”
I only know it’s real when I pretend it’s not real, like when the man on the plane asks me about my siblings and I tell him about Noah, who’s 14 and just went to his eighth-grade formal dance, and Emily, who’s 21 and goes to the same college that I went to in Colorado. Yes, we’re very close; no, she didn’t go to the school because of me; okay sure, maybe you’re right, maybe she did want to follow me out there. It’s real then because I’m lying and I know it and you don’t. I’m describing my dead sister to you and I’m doing it to meet your overtures halfway but not to be honest, which is what I try to do.