On Turning Forty: Memories of Them

I’ve written ad nauseum about my brother Stephen’s death. For the past five years or so, my thoughts more often than not move away from his schizophrenia, away from the rough years before and after his diagnosis, before the attempt and the completion of his voluntary death. Before we lost him to the slow, indifferent insidiousness that is mental illness.

It should come as no surprise that I waited as long as I did before finally seeking a diagnosis beyond “bordering on clinical” depression given by a GP. My family tree has a lot of nuts. As far as I know, I am the only fruit.


Today I read that Dischord Records has digitized its entire catalog and made it available cheaply, with more proceeds going to the artists than with other services. That will come as no surprise for those who have followed Fugazi, fronted by the founder of Dischord Records, Ian Makaye. This dude.

ian mackaye

The album Repeater was on nearly constantly; we had it on vinyl and both of us were learning to play guitar. Steve had a black and white Fender Telecaster; I had a Strat in the same color scheme. We fought a lot. Usually it is both guitarists wanting to play lead that is the problem, especially with brothers. Most people want to be Angus. Not us. We both wanted to be Malcolm, and bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi are rhythm guitarists’ dream. In the cramped bedroom that now houses the cat boxes, Stephen and I filled tape after tape of extended, excruciatingly inexact songs, riffs, arguments, and conversations. I mean, there are dozens of them.

We also did comedy skits. Really involved things with recurring characters, like Chester and Leonard, two old men who, looking back on it, appeared to have a homoerotic relationship; Jimmy and Billy, two Cartman-like characters a decade before South Park with a proclivity for knocking over Entemann’s trucks and eating a Duff’s, a local smorgasbord. And then there was Billy-Bob-Joe-Frank and Cleetus, two hucklebucks who liked to ride motorcycles and take trucks mudding. We would do routines for our parents, who would laugh hysterically, and we would take it into the world doing street theater before we even knew what that was.

I miss him so fucking much.

Cleaning out his storage space about five years ago, I found all of those tapes with the songs and the skits. And I can’t bring myself to listen to them. It has been almost 14 years since he died, and I still don’t think I’m ready for the sound of his voice, to hear the life in him, to remember how much I loved him. My life would have been so different if…

I hate ifs. But I love this:

graduation day

Steve is on my mind today because this is the three year anniversary of PaulE Schenk’s murder by the State of Ohio, not two blocks from the above mentioned room. This is Paul:


Now Steve and Paul didn’t know each other real well, and I didn’t know Paul nearly as well as some of my very close friends. But until today, I had forgotten–completely forgotten–about the time PaulE, Steve, and I talked about Dischord Records. If I remember, PaulE was more into Minor Threat, while Steve and I were partial to Fugazi. But in an atmosphere in which there were not a whole lot of people listening to Straight Edge or Dischord, it was awesome to talk to someone who got it.

I’m thinking today that both PaulE and Steve are gone. Both souls too powerful and complicated and beautiful for this world. I wish I remembered more about that conversation than the bonfire and beer. I want to say we sang. I hope we sang. I’m gonna think we sang and laughed and punched other other because that’s what boys do and that’s what we were, we were boys. Boys who became men who are complicated and passionate and sometimes misunderstood.

So today I’m going to turn the stereo up to 11, scream like they can hear me in the graves,* and I might just cry because sometimes you realize that special moments come and go without you realizing their importance.

*I actually think they were both cremated, but it was too good a line to leave out 😉