A month after my brother died, I scrolled through the contact list on his phone and memorized his voice-activated-dialing commands. His cellular plan would lapse soon, the cell provider couldn’t transfer the audio, and I didn’t have equipment to re-record them. So instead, I wept on my screened-in porch and listened to him say each name again and again.

His best friend, Aaron, he pronounced “Adrian,” a private nickname he intonated like a joke. “Bruce,” he said with a woof, which reminded me how my brother used to cough talk to tell you something straight, as in, “Ggkr-suckitup-hhhh.” He referred to Chris by last name, “Newman,” which he clipped. “Office,” he said, meaning Mom and Dad’s insurance agency, which he wouldn’t take over like they planned.

Because Jeremy knew he was going to die, we had talked about the end. It bothered him to think of leaving Mom and Dad with the sad task of sorting through his belongings in their grief. He must have realized that he didn’t want me to either, because he went to Lowe’s one day and brought back a half-dozen opaque tub containers. He loaded them with his drawings, video games, baseball cards, and other collections, and stacked them in his closet where he knew they could stay a long time.

He tried to give Mom peace about his short life’s fullness. “I wanted to fall in love, and I have,” he told her. He meant that he might have felt cheated if not for Mindy, a beautiful girl he met at the community college where he came into his own. Jeremy had found a new group of friends there, after the initial surgery to remove the tumor. Although his humerus had to be replaced with a titanium rod that made his left arm noticeably smaller, he gained confidence and new perspective from the ordeal, which deepened all his relationships. He didn’t take any of us for granted. His new friends loved him too, fearlessly.

When the cancer reappeared in his lungs during his second semester of college, Jeremy agreed to additional surgery, but having just regained his strength from a year-and-a-half of aggressive chemotherapy, he told the doctors he wouldn’t fly across the country to trial a new experimental sickening chemo.

I listened to him say Mindy’s name over and over as I paced the screened-in porch that Sunday afternoon, although it felt a little like I was invading his privacy. He sounded as if he had been lying down and alone when he recorded Mindy’s name, because his voice thickened with intimacy on “Min” and softened on “dy” like his eyes softened when he saw her.

He left notes on her car sometimes at school to make her laugh or to let her know whether he would still be on campus when she got out of class. In one he signed off with, “I will wait for you,” which she would have tattooed on her forearm in his handwriting after he was gone.

The morning that he died, minutes after he had taken his last breath, his phone rang. Though I couldn’t speak yet, I pulled the phone from the pocket of his shorts. “Did you call me?” Mindy asked.

I looked at Mom and Dad who were standing behind Jeremy’s recliner. Dad still had his hands on my brother’s shoulders from where he had leaned down a moment before to whisper into his ear: “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.”

I carried my brother’s phone into the other room, told Mindy that he was gone, and we cried together.

“My phone just rang from his number,” she whispered.

Neither one of us could say anything for a long time. I cradled his phone, warm as a hand, by my ear.

Dad’s words echoed in my mind, but I wasn’t sure if we would be okay, or if they would be. If she would be.

“He loved you so,” I managed to say.

“I know,” she choked out, “I’m very lucky.”

“So was he,” I said and meant it, in that moment, not counting anything else.


Amy Wright is the author of two poetry collections and five chapbooks, including the essay collection, Wherever the Land Is.  Most recently, her essay “Specimen” won first prize for nonfiction in the Writers at Work contest. She is the nonfiction editor for Zone 3 journal and Zone 3 Press.

Artwork by John Gallaher