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I knew these accounts were attempts by those who loved him to soothe the pain of an otherwise inexplicable absence, and for this I could not fault them. But I took it as my duty to preserve some ambiguity, if for no other reason than to allow him an inner life of some complexity, resistant to pat answers. He deserved that much from his only brother, I thought, and I hoped that time and patience would one day reward me with the truth.

Meanwhile I had a life to live. I graduated from college, moved to New York and landed a job at the Wall Street Journal. I made friends and stumbled into relationships, which invariably foundered on my inability to let myself be known—what with my fervent interest in the concept of self-murder, my acute case of survivor’s guilt. The ambiguity I preserved in the story of my brother’s life became the story of mine too: one minute attentive and the next minute distant, one day hungry for intimacy and the next day desperate for freedom, one week exalted by the energy of the city and the next week oppressed by the weight of all the longing played out in the towers and the streets, in the privacy of little rooms. The enigma of his death made me enigmatic by association, and by remaining so—by refusing to be any one way or any one thing—I honored him. I became him. He would forever remain unfinished, and so would I.


Every other year or so I felt the lure of New Mexico, the place where the pieces of his life lay like a shattered stained-glass window I could not quite restore. Six years after his death I traveled there once more, to sit down with his ex-fiancée and see what I could learn, if anything, from her stories of him—a rather neat role reversal from the first time we’d met. She had grown into a woman in the time since I’d seen her last, married now, with four kids. I had traded combat boots and army fatigues for a suit and tie, my bohemian notions superseded by my need to pay off student loans. We sat and made small talk over beer and pizza, avoiding the subject that had brought us together once more, aware that to broach it was to risk reopening the wound. Finally, with a bit of prompting on my part, she began.

It was like there were two sides to him, she said. He was different when he drank. He got angry. One night he threw a glass against the wall and it shattered everywhere. That’s when I started having second thoughts about marriage. I wondered if I really knew him.

She asked, Did your parents hate me when I called off the wedding? Did they blame me for what happened?

I assured her they didn’t. A full year separated the planned wedding day and his death. If anyone, they blamed the new woman, the older married one who, rumor had it, had played rather carelessly with his heart.

She leaned across the table, and a hush came over her voice.

I don’t know why, she half-whispered, but I feel a strong connection to you. Like you’re my brother in a weird way. I know that makes no sense, since we only saw each other once before, but maybe we went through some of the same things afterward.

Yes, I told her, no doubt we did.

There’s something I want to ask you, she said. Dan had a secret. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one he ever told, but I wonder if he told you too.

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I couldn’t think of any secret.

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  • Not to deflate this writer's balloon, but why did he think his work was done? The perp admitted his guilt -- no guiltless person would stop at lack of memory; he had said that because he didn't know what proof the writer had and feared violence or public exposure too much to deny it outright. So why did the writer not look into what access the perp had to any small children at this point? Even if the perp were childless and worked in a corporation, was he a youth pastor, a scout master, a peewee ball coach? The writer has no reason to blame himself for his brother's death, but if what he wanted was justice, there is plenty left to be wrung out.

    Posted by Mike on Sat 24 Dec 2011

  • Agree with Mike's comment.

    The writer's brother would have truly died in vain if the pedophile is not brought to justice. The same "reliable sources" proves that pedophiles have a pattern of doing this not on just one but many children. For the writer to protect the identity of the abuser and bring a touch of bad taste to his brother for being an unwilling victim shows everything that is wrong with our society today.

    It just so seems, after reading this article, that perhaps it is better for our male (the females have far much more help: a mere accusation instantly brings legal circus around the male abusers) victims simply turn over and die than be empowered against their abusers.

    Posted by Ben on Sun 25 Dec 2011

  • Reminds me of Anne Enricht's "Gathering", except for the ending that takes the story in a different direction.

    Posted by Michal on Mon 26 Dec 2011

  • Mike and Ben: to report what else he did with the information he had is another essay, another purpose than this essay serves. The author is not writing a 'coming to justice' nor an education piece for victims of abusers. What you both say, that abusers should be reported, even decades after the fact, is all true. What the author did or didn't do in those terms are not part of this narrative.

    Posted by Grant on Mon 16 Jan 2012

  • Of course what the author did/didn't do is part of this narrative. Did you not read to the end? He spends the ultimate paragraph discussing his feeling of release after looking at the perpetrator; clearly the author's impression that "[his] work was done" is meant to operate as the cathartic moment of the essay.

    Posted by Mike on Thu 2 Feb 2012

  • There is room for compassion here, there is room to embrace this grieving man and point him toward groups waiting to give him solace and power to handle this unspeakable thing left only to him. As a group we are charged to want justice and I am convinced it will come more quickly when we lend the man a hand rather than piling on with recriminations. He did not owe us a Chapter Two. I am certain we all encourage him to find the group that will take him through the next steps because he is not alone. I leave it to readers to do their own web search, it will not take long to find the appropriate and welcoming sites. RSD

    Posted by Roberta on Fri 10 Feb 2012

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About the Author

Philip Connors is currently at work on a memoir about his brother, to be published by W. W. Norton. His book Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout will appear in paperback from Ecco Press in February 2012. His last essay for Lapham’s Quarterly appeared in the Spring 2011 issue, Lines of Work.

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.
Robert Frost, 1960
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