I Choose to Remember the Bike Ride
Hoping to help my brother beat his alcohol addiction, I set up a two-wheel road trip through the scenic terrain of northeast Kansas. As usual, he was funny, endearing, maddening, and burdened by problems I couldn’t solve.
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Warning: This story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, visit niaaa.nih.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP.
My brother, Chris, was somewhere between his bedroom and the morgue when my plane took off from the Denver airport, headed for Las Vegas. When I landed, my stepdad was there to get me. We drove to my parents’ house, in Henderson, Nevada, in silence. That morning at 9:30, my mom had walked into Chris’s room and found him dead, lying faceup on his bed, his mouth, neck, and chest crusted with blood.
My mom started screaming, first at Chris and then for my stepdad. He came running, saw Chris’s body, and dialed 911. When he called and told me what had happened, a sound came out of my body like nothing I’d ever heard before, and it kept coming as I crumpled against the wall. My eight-year-old and her friend were playing on the grass outside the kitchen window. I texted the little girl’s mother to come get her. Within an hour, I was on my way to the house where my brother had lived for the past three years, and where, on the morning before he died, he’d taken his bike out for a ride.
It wasn’t a long ride, just a half-hour spin through my parents’ neighborhood. Later I’d learn that he did this almost every morning. He’d leave just after dawn, before the desert heat rose up and paralyzed everything. He’d pedal three blocks in one direction, then turn and do four, then back across five or six, then home to my parents’.
By the time he had adopted this daily ritual, there weren’t many things that made him happy. But my mom said that he was happy when he rode his bike. And though our relationship had become strained by then, I have a text from him dated March 18, 2020, that reads, “When this pandemics over lets plan on riding a little of the Katy Trail out near St. Louis.”
Chris died the following May, as COVID-19 raged. That message is hard for me to read, because it shows that my attempt to help him wasn’t in vain, just too late.