I don't know how I made it through to this point. I shouldn't have made it through the first night. After yelling at him like I did, I realized I made a mistake. I should have been more understanding, more gentle - especially after watching him become more and more depressed over the past couple of months. Jeff didn't need me going off on him like that, it was obviously hard on him, too. I finally realized this when I heard the front door slam. Feeling guilty, I chased after him. I had no idea where to find him, so I just started jogging and yelling after him. By the time I got to the creek - which, I know, should have been the first place I looked - I'd almost given up hope. And that's where I found him. Falling from the bridge, right onto the rocks. Instinctively, I ran into the creek, but I knew I was too slow. He looked at me, making eye contact as he fell. His eyes were wide with surprise. And he landed right at my feet.
It took a minute to register. I had watched him for that minute, waiting for him to get up. I mean, it was Jeff Hardy. Jeff Hardy always gets up. He's fallen off lots of things, he always gets up. Why the fuck wasn't he getting up? I had knelt down beside him, to help him up. That's when I noticed the water I was kneeling in had a red hue. His eyes were that same warm hazel, but some how different. I had grabbed his shoulders, trying to help him up, but his body was heavy. Deadweight. I finally understood. I had lifted him to my chest and hugged him. His body was completely unresponsive, but I held him. I could feel gouges where the rocks had sliced into his back. I don't know how long I knelt in that creek, holding Jeff, crying on his shoulder, and forming this little ball of hatred for myself that has been growing with every breath I took from then on.
It's my fault. There's no way around it. I didn't have to yell at him. I didn't have to swear at him. I could have explained it to him like a rational person. Why did I freak out like that? So, he loved me. That was understandable. I love him. Why couldn't I have seen it like this when he told me? We could have talked through it, and I could have gently shown him that he wasn't really in love with me. It would have been a good joke for the both of us down the road, when we were married with our own families. But because of my stupid fear of... whatever it was, I snapped. And I yelled. I drove him to the brink, and I shoved him off.
Dad could have used my help planning the funeral. I was too selfish for that, too. Every time Dad asked for my help, all I could do was cry. The wake was miserable. All these people came up to me, shaking my hand, telling me how wonderful Jeff had been and how no one had seen this coming. No one knew why he would do such a thing, everything had been going great for Jeff. I wanted to stand up and tell them it was my fault. I wanted to tell them that Jeff hadn't wanted to die, he just wanted to love. And be loved. But I just stayed silent, wiping away tears as they came. I don't know how I made it through that night, either.
This was hard on Dad, too. He had no idea why his baby boy would want to take his own life, either. It was hard on me because I did. That's why I couldn't help. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't deliver the eulogy. That'd be like Lizzy Borden giving the eulogy at her parents' funeral. Hell, I couldn't even be a pall bearer. So I sat in the front row with my dad, in a suit I'd never wear again, blubbering like a baby while Adam gave the eulogy. I'm sure it was nice, but I couldn't repeat a word of it if you paid me. Then we began the procession. After I gave the grey casket one last look, I followed Dad with my head down. We went to the cemetary and I watched them put my little baby brother in the ground. I had finally stopped crying. I was angry. As everyone was leaving, I stepped up to the edge of the hole they had dropped Jeff into, contemplating how wrong that was. That's where I was now, remembering how quickly everything had happened. I closed my eyes and imagined myself in Jeff's place. It should have been me, not him. He was peaceful and loving, I was the hateful one. I might have jumped into that hole myself, if it wasn't for Adam.
"Come on, Matt." Three words and a hand on my shoulder reminded me that life was continuing with out me. And without Jeff. I looked up to Adam, angrily.
"This shouldn't have happened."
"I know. We all know that."
"No, no one knows. No one understands -" I stopped, realizing how close I just came to admitting my crimes. Adam didn't notice.
"I'm sorry, Matt. I don't know what it's like to lose a brother like that."
I didn't say anything, just turned my eyes back to the hole in the ground. There were a few flowers tossed down on the casket. The red one, I assumed, was from Shannon. I should have thrown a red one. I felt tears welling up in my eyes again. "I want t'go home."
Adam took me in his arms and let me cry again. I didn't know I could cry so much. After a moment, he lead me to the parking lot and opened the passenger door of his car for me. I sat down, silently, and noticed Jay sitting in the backseat.
"You ok, man?"
I nodded weakly, and Adam drove us back to my dad's house. I opened the door only to be confronted with the confused faces of my extended family. Adam and Jay went over to talk to my dad, but I just headed right for my old room. Funny, that was where I ran to after that conversation with Jeff. I didn't get much time to myself before a I heard a light knocking on my door. I didn't say anything, I just kept staring out the window.
"Matty? It's Aunt Lori. Are you ok, sweetie?"
And those people. They were all standing in my living room, pretending to feel bad for Jeff. None of them really knew him. The door opened and my aunt smiled at me cautiously. "Matt? Don't you think you should come out and talk to everyone? It'll make you feel better."
I swallowed a lump in my throat, trying to form words. "No."
"Oh, but, sweetie, we just lost Jeff. Don't keep you away from us, too."
I turned slowly, surprised at that. "Y'really mean that?"
"Well, yes, I suppose," Aunt Lori stuttered, "mean what?"
I got up quickly and went back down the hall to my living room. Everyone stopped talking when they saw me, and I balked at the sudden silence. They were watching me as if they wanted me to give a speech or something. I saw Adam and Jay next to my father, all watching me, slightly surprised. Then Aunt Lori came up behind me and set a hand on my shoulder.
"Go ahead," she whispered. "Say something."
"Y'all think y'lost Jeff?" I started, angrily. There were some surprised gasps. They hadn't expected that. I continued, getting angrier and angrier. "Y'can't lose somethin' y'never had. No one could ever have Jeff. An' what's worse is y'people didn't know Jeff. How many of ya knew he was gay?"
My family fell into a shocked silence. Not one of them had known. I saw two blond heads looking down with recognition, and amended my statement. "Well, I guess you did, Jay..."
Jay turned a slight shade of red and took a step away from my surprised father, but I didn't care anymore. "None of ya knew. None of y'cared t'know. None of y'bothered t'get close t'Jeff. Jeff was a truly special person, an' none of ya will ever get a chance t'find that out anymore. No one will. Standin' aroun' in a big group talkin' about what little y'knew of him is no way t'mourn Jeff. Anyone who truly knew him - an' loved him - knows that. So I apologize f'not bein' able t'mourn Jeff's death with y'all. I'm still thinkin' about his life."
Leaving no response time, I left, and walked the long road that Jeff must have walked that night he stormed out of the house. I tugged at my jacket and tie, throwing them both to the ground and loosening the top button of the dress shirt. I hated suits, and I think today would only increase that aversion. I kicked off my shoes and socks, now covered in dust, and walked barefoot, leaving my clothes in a trail behind me. Finally, I reached the bank of the creek, vividly remembering how Jeff had fallen. Flinching momentarily, I continued on, up the hill that lead to the road. Jeff must have done the same thing, I realized, sighing. How natural it felt to come here. I sat down on side of the road, dangling my legs off the bridge between the rails, and tried to figure out what Jeff had been thinking those last few minutes that would push him to jump. It was me. It had to have been. I ruined and ended my brother's life. My vision started to blur again with tears. I'd been crying for almost a week straight now. Busy trying to bite back tears, I just barely noticed someone walking down the creek bank. It was Adam, and he was having trouble keeping his balance on the rocky bank because of the dress shoes he was wearing. I watched him struggle, but he didn't look at me. I saw him sigh when he reached the bottom of the hill that rose to meet the road - that wasn't going to be an easy climb, either. Instead of trying it, he looked up to me.
"I thought I'd find you here."
Considering how ridiculous he looked, standing on a muddy creek bank in a three piece suit, I couldn't help but smile slightly. "D'ya even know where y'are?"
"North Carolina, I think," Adam deadpanned. I just shook my head, and went back to looking at the water. Adam continued. "So, are you going to tell me how to get up there?"
I just pointed to the hill, and he sighed, then went back to try and climb. After a few moments of grunting and cursing, Adam, covered in mud, finally strolled across the bridge to stand next to me, like it was nothing. "How's it going?"
"That was, ah, a nice speech you gave in there."
"Meant every word of it."
"Jay about had a coronary when you pointed him out."
"I'll apologize nex' time I talk t'him."
There was long silence before I spoke again. "How'd y'find me?"
"You mean beside the trail of clothing?"
I looked at him dully.
"Your dad told me to look here," Adam confessed. "Is this where Jeff...?"
A few minutes passed before we spoke again. Adam tried to change the topic slightly. "I guess they're going to tell the public that Jeff was in a dirtbike accident."
"Why don't they jus' tell 'em th'truth?"
"I don't think -"
"Jeff Hardy murdered by callous brother."
That knocked Adam into a stunned silence, and I just looked down to the water below.
"Uh... Did I miss something?"
"I thought Jeff... well, jumped."
"If y'want t'get technical, sure."
I heard Adam's dress shoes click on the road as he walked around me. "Matt, you're getting cryptic."
"No one jus' jumps off a bridge, Adam. Not even Jeff, crazy as he was. Y'have t'have a reason t'do somethin' like that," I sighed. "I was th'reason."
"Don't say that, Matt," Adam said, crouching next to me. "He's been depressed for a while. You know that. No one knows why he finally did it."
"Jus' cause no one bothered askin' me."
"You know why he jumped?"
"Because of me. Because I told him he couldn't love me."
Adam sat down next to me now. "I still don't follow."
I turned to look at him, my eyes filling with tears again. "Y'want t'know what happened that night?"
"I, uh, guess so."
"We were housesittin' for m'dad while he was visitin' his brother, an' we had rented a movie. While we were watchin' it, he jus' suddenly turned an' kissed me," my voice started shaking as I remembered. Adam's brow creased, confused, and I continued. "Not like a normal kiss. Like, an 'I love ya' kiss."
"Oh," Adam leaned back, surprised, and I leaned up against the rail in front of me, turning away from him.
"I knew he'd been depressed. I knew it was hard f'him t'tell me how he felt, 'cause he must'a already known how I'd respond. So, when I got m'chance t'tell him that it was all right, an' we could work through it, I snapped. I yelled at him. I drove him t'this bridge. Right here."
Adam didn't say anything for a minute. Then, taking a deep breath, he whispered, "Wow."
"Matt," Adam started, "you can't blame yourself for that. That's a lot for someone to throw on his brother."
"But it wasn't jus' someone. It was Jeff. I've learned t'expect anythin' and everythin' from him. I've jus' kind'a let him do whatever he wanted t'do. This was th'first time I ever put my foot down an' told him he couldn't do somethin'. An' y'see how it turned out."
"You can't blame yourself, Matt. There was no way for you to know."
"But there was, Adam. All th'signs were there! He jus' wanted me t'love him, that's all. It's it really so fuckin' much t'ask f'your brother t'love you?"
Adam pulled me to him and I held onto him like my life depended on it, crying again. I was always crying lately. Adam let me cry, stroking my hair and trying to calm me down. "Shh, Matt, don't cry, it's not your fault. It's not your fault."
"How... how not?" I asked, shakily.
"It was out of your control, Matt. Jeff needed more help than any of us could give him," Adam assured me.
"I could'a done it. I could'a stopped him. I was too slow. Too... cruel."
"Don't say that."
"What am I s'posed t'say?"
"Don't say anything, Jeff wouldn't have wanted you to beat yourself up over this. He loved you," Adam consoled, then hesitated. I fell silent, taking deep shaky breaths. "I'm sorry."
"No," I sighed, taking another deep breath, and letting go of him. I leaned against the bridge rail, again, looking out. "Y'right. Jeff wouldn't want me t'act like this."
Adam set a hand on my back, reassuringly. I took another shaky breath, composing myself. "He loved me, an' he wanted everythin' t'be happy. He always did. Prol'ly 'cause he could never do it himself."
I turned to Adam, raising a brow. "But y'know what Jeff really wanted?"
"What?" Adam smiled crookedly, mirroring my weak smile.
"We used t'come out here when we were little, an' play this 'What If' game. I'd ask him a 'What If' question, an' we'd answer. So, this one time, I asked him what'd he'd do if he had five minutes t'live. An' he said..."
"Fly?" Adam supplied, as I faltered and trailed off. I smiled, as my eyes filled with tears again.
"Yeah, he wanted t'fly. I told him he couldn't do that, either."
"Well, you see how well he listened to you."
"Yeah." I smiled at him softly, then turned and looked back at the creek. "I do love him, y'know."
"I know," Adam smiled. "I'm sure Jeff knows, too."