Your Big Brother is Dying

Dearest Rachel –

There were a lot of factors I could point to that conspired to present last night’s dream. There’s been all the work that’s been done her at our house, and the issues involved with navigating around everything while it’s been worked on. Hand in glove with that is the current issue with the water heater, which, while still being out of commission (Michael was able to light the pilot, but the gas flow was such that it wouldn’t stay lit; he called a colleague of his whose business in this, and he suggested one or another part that might need replacing, and said that he’d be over some time today), is likely to be fixed before the end of the day. It might have been the call I got from Twofeathers, and I’ll go into that later, as it’s essentially the point of this letter. And maybe I’ve just been watching too much Gray Still Plays with Daniel (it’s one way to keep from discussing certain things we disagree sharply about), where the whole point is that the creator, Grey, powers his way through video game levels that are custom designed to be all but impossible.

The dream involved a house, with each room being a different level of the game, and I had designed several rooms for people to play as a custom design. And while the main point of it was for the players to deal with the many hazards within the room as the house was all but falling apart like the one in Poe’s story about the house of Ussher, I was getting all manner of complaints about my levels being too hazardous, and virtually impossible to survive.

Which is weird, because in real life, I would never make such a challenging level (let alone multiple one, as in the dream). After all, in order to test the level to see if it even worked, I would have to play it myself, and I have next to no skill when it comes to most video games. Indeed, you know from experience that the ones I enjoy playing are the ones that I could modify to cheat ridiculously on, so as to get and see every accomplishment in the game, which I could never get to even if I played on the lowest difficulty level. I have designed levels for a few games, sure, but that was when I was still single and living at home, and I would fill every square inch (never mind cubic – the games that were available back then were all only two-dimensional) with either loot, health kits, or power-ups for me to collect as the player. Not the sort of thing Gray – or even the average player – would find a challenge to play, let alone one to complain about.


That being said, I think I need to let you know about your childhood home. I’ve heard many of the stories about how your mom designed it herself in the Bauhaus style, bought the property from a lady who she rented from, which once belonged to the local pottery factory and served as a landfill for their discarded work; yes, it was a literal potter’s field once upon a time. I recall that she would pay the construction team in installments as they went along, and their progress was slow enough that she managed to have it paid off by the time they were done, thus avoiding ever having to deal with the pain and aggravation of a mortgage (granted, in those days – and in that location – the entire build probably came to an amount in the low five figures, which amounted to perhaps 15-25 percent of what it cost to re-do the kitchen and laundry room today).

The house was very much ‘her baby,’ almost as much as you were; you would joke about it being essentially an older sibling – the original Big Brother House, except the one from the reality show series was called that because of all the cameras scattered throughout the place. It was part of the reason you made such an effort to allow them to continue to live there even when it became obvious they weren’t able to take care of themselves (or, more to the point at first, that Bill was no longer able to take care of Jo, as her mental state began to deteriorate. That he passed before her by almost exactly two years just drove that point home). Certainly, they’d saved up enough to provide round-the-clock nursing care for themselves, but it was a challenge for you to persuade them to allow that sort of treatment, until your dad suffered his first, smaller stroke in December of 2016.

The team took care of them quite well, and it proved to not even be much of a financial hardship. Their savings were well-invested enough (and the market was thriving to such an extent) that the nursing team could be paid from the interest and dividends and their portfolio continued to grow. We were even able to, at the urging of Twofeathers, your parents’ nurse-coordinator, to make certain necessary major repairs to the house, as it was beginning to show signs of aging (and your parents frugality seems to have precluded spending on bringing too many outsiders in to repair it – more on the results of that later), and just needed the work. She took such good care of the place – as if it was her own, in fact – that we eventually decided to gift her and her husband with it once your mom passed away, and we had no need of the place (and you, despite my enquiries, showed no desire to return to your hometown).

I’m wondering if that was, in fact, a good idea.


I’m not saying the house was necessarily cursed – I may have felt uneasy staying there, sleeping in what was once your dad’s recliner (since your bed was made for a single occupant, and even if we tried to squeeze together on it, my back would be horribly sore by morning) after they were gone, but I didn’t grow up there, and only spent a week there at most in any given year, so of course I would never be able to get comfortable there – but in terms of handing the house over, it had a rather eerie history. As I recall, your parents had meant to leave it with an older gentleman, a friend of theirs named Gabby (I think – and with no one left to correct me, I’ll not be proven wrong) about ten years their junior. But one Memorial Day weekend, while we were driving down to Tennessee to see Kevin, we got a phone call from them. Evidently, he had been out riding his bicycle, and had been hit by a train. I don’t recall any other details – you were the one on the phone with them, and your phone didn’t connect to the radio speaker like most phones do now – so I was only privy to your side of the conversation, and whatever you chose to relate to me thereafter. Suffice to say, however, it came as a shock, and the question of what to do with the house was suddenly wide open.

Not too long afterward, and I don’t know who talked to whom first – whether she brought the subject up, and whether it was you or your folks who came up with the idea initially – but one of the members of their community of artists, a lady by the name of Dev (as opposed to Deb – I got that wrong for the longest time) was looking to move from her studio in Colchester (a tiny little town elsewhere in the county) into the ‘big city’ of Macomb, and set up in an old barn on the outskirts, close to the university. I know at one point she spoke to you about how she would love to move into your parents’ place, as she considered it a work of art in its own right. I don’t know how much input your parents had in this, but you apparently agreed to keep her in mind when the time came to sell it after they passed away.

Only, it never happened. A year after Gabby’s accident, and again while we were driving down to (or maybe it was back from) Tennessee for the Memorial Day weekend, Twofeathers called you as part of her regularly checking in with you about your parents’ (really, at this point, your mom’s, since your dad had passed already at this point) condition, and to fill you in on whatever else was going on in your hometown. It so happened that Dev’s daughter found her at her home after having fallen down the stairs; she may have been dead for a day or two already.

So, while Twofeathers and her husband were a natural fit for the house, seeing as to how they currently lived in a trailer park along with their daughter (whose family lived in a separate trailer in the same park), we were a little reluctant to offer it, given the history. It made our trips to Kevin’s place a little concerning, whenever the phone would ring while en route.


But up until this point, they seemed to have survived well enough. Oh, they’ve had their troubles dealing with cancer and an upcoming operation on Stan’s leg. Their daughter, and her kids, seem to have a love/hate relationship with their grandma, which is a source of heartache. And she still deals with her own aging parents, who are pushing the century mark. But she soldiers on, doing her best to trust Jesus, as she often puts it.

The trouble is, even after the repairs that were put in while your mom was still around, the house is starting to deal with the pains of aging – and they’re exacerbated by the ‘repairs’ your dad used to do. The bathroom, in particular, the hub of the house, is the source of a number of issues that Twofeathers and Stan have discovered. An odd smell led to them uncovering a jumble of electrical wires that had been jerry-rigged together, and the protective coating either worn or burnt off. It’s been observed by them – and previously, by the home inspector, when we were trying to render the house saleable in order to turn it over, that it’s an absolute wonder that your dad never was so much as injured by the electrical work he performed on the place – by rights, he should have electrocuted himself or burnt the place down somewhere along the line.

Also in the bathroom – or rather, underneath it, below the sunken tub – they found a length of pipe wrapped in towels. Evidently, there was a slight leak (at the time) that your dad sought to ameliorate by merely soaking up the water, rather than trying to repair or replace the cracked pipe. When Stan undid the towels, a fair quantity of water gushed out. I understand they have it under control, but there’s still work to be done. I know a house can be a money pit, especially after the last few months of work I’ve had put into this place, but we may really have burdened the two of them with this.

I remember, too, the song about the grandfather’s clock, that sat upon the shelf for ninety years: ‘but it stopped / short / never to go again / when the old man died.’ I wonder if your ‘older brother’ doesn’t sense the fact that the rest of his family is gone, and may be giving up ‘his’ own ghost these days. If Professor Lewis was right about all good things of this life not being destroyed in the next, is ‘he’ up there as your ‘mansion’? I wonder…

Anyway, keep an eye out for each of us, and wish them luck – for the time being, they may need it more than I do.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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