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Still point, or the beauty of symbolic links1

Since 3:20 am on Tuesday, 6 June, my servers allowed three pieces of email to be queued for delivery. Thanks to procmail, two of those pieces of junk email never made it past /dev/null. The third piece of junk email was delivered this afternoon straight to my inbox and, surprisingly, surprised me. The volume of my email traffic reminds me of what email was like in the mid 1990s, back when I used Eudora, and I'm already getting used to the idea of only getting email that matters.

The day after I returned from Indianapolis—Tuesday, 6 June—was the eleventh anniversary of my brother’s suicide. Houston was mentally ill when he died, so it’s not entirely clear the young man who died at his own hands was entirely in control of those hands which killed him. While I can't say I love him better than when he was alive, I do love him more. We often related to each other as rivals, rarely expressing affection or kindness. We did sometimes have fun together.

Though I wouldn't call a visit to one's father’s grave fun, Houston and I were too young in this picture to know enough to be sad. I think the emotion I was feeling at the time was respectful. Houston, on the other hand, is busy being a fashion maven. It's hard to tell because of the small picture, but Houston's on the bleeding edge of haute couture with his sunglasses on upside-down. Authoritative line below the eye and graceful, almost playful, semi-circles above, the upside-down sunglasses have the added benefit of encouraging even the unhip to hold their chins up and look down their noses just to keep their specs on.

After my father died, my mother moved us to Marina, California, where she still lives. In 1971 when she bought her home, it wasn't worth all that much, beautiful though the avocado (Joyce would have said “snot”) green linoleum and friendly the bilious orange carpet were. The carpet was especially nice because the white folks (read: non-Korean) who lived there before us had used straight pins to keep it down. Good things Koreans don't wear shoes indoors because finding those pins was fun!

Just as I remember we moved into that house with almost no furniture, I also remember the orange binky and wicker laundry basket Houston fell asleep in. I think Houston slept inside the laundry basket with some regularity. The laundry basket cradled him and kept him safe, something his later life could never do.

Houston fell ill when he was eleven and nearly died. “Doctors” at the Silas B. Hayes Memorial Hospital and specialists at Letterman Hospital dubbed it “Devic's disease,” a rare form of multiple sclerosis that attacks the optic nerve. Why Houston went from 100 lbs. to 56 lbs. in the course of a month was never explained.

After puberty, Houston began gradually recovering his physical health, though his eyesight never fully returned. Even given the hellish aftermath of his autoimmune system or whatever the fuck befell him, Houston had a sense of hilarity. In his early teen years he made many friends. His guy friends were usually trouble makers. Even before becoming ill, Houston was a bit of a disruptive presence in school. Houston also had more than his share of girlfriends though photogenic is not exactly the word that comes to mind here.

When Houston moved from his pre-teen years to his mid-teens, his bodily health (excepting his eyes) and musculature were excellent. We were nearly exactly the same height but I always felt he was maybe half an inch taller. Houston's rambunctious friends matured into juvenilely delinquent friends and together they started what was perhaps Marina's first gang, “HBO,” for “Home Boys Only.”.2 Houston was a badass and he found himself verging on adulthood and in trouble with the law. He was never caught with product, but he did beat a number of people up. At this point, the only reason I ever messed with him was because I was his dumb, self-righteous big brother. My familial proximity and self-absorption didn't let me see that in addition to possible drug problems his mental health had been shattered.

On one level, I know I am not responsible for whatever Houston did or did not decide to do to himself. Sure. But on another level, I also know that I could have been there for him more than I had been. I wish I had spent more time helping him cope with his handicap. Instead, I mostly lectured and reprimanded him. I only remember one time telling Houston that I loved him. It was a Christmas morning when he was still healthy. We were maybe eight and six. I think I might have told him again sometime when he was sick, but I don't remember it clearly.

Now that he's gone, in some ways I can pick and choose the Houston I know. I do it in my sleep. I dream that Houston and I are talking while visiting friends or just sitting around the house. In my dreams, Houston is always healthy and we rarely argue. I am probably kinder to him in my dreams than I was in real life, less aloof. In my dreams, Houston looks much as he did before he fell ill: handsome and healthy, irresistible.

I miss you, Houston. Rest in peace. end of article


1 I started this entry thinking I was going to write about cognitive harmony and symbolic links in UNIX file systems. Shows what I know.

2 Not that any of them would have said it this way, but that name was an admiring and ironic reference to a structure of power much stronger than their own collective and to which they had access through thin coaxial cable



Thank you for writing this, Johnnie. And maybe you were steering towards UNIX, but I think you did just what you set out to do: "write about cognitive harmony and symbolic links".


Mister Squid,

Right now, I don't know what to say about your brother.
I am glad that I found your blog today for many reasons.

I quit the E-Text Center [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/japanese/] as of 6/6/6.
I am still in Charlottesville, VA, and will be for a while.

I just would like to thank you for writing about your brother and sharing your feelings and thought with the rest of the world who lost their siblings in a similar way.

p.s. I LOVE my PowerBook G4.
Have you seen Mac's new commercial, the one "Network"?
I have a new co-worker (I am not used to use the past tense about my job and co-worker) named Bess Sadler. She is very cool, and she writes a blog and she added my translation of the Mac "Network" commercial to her blog!
The URL is not on top of my head, but will let you know ASAP!


Thank you, Mandy and Sachiko, for reading and your kind comments.


Dear Mistersquid-

Thank you very much for what you wrote. I wish that I could be in Athens right now. Your words about your brother were beautiful, and I'm grateful to read them.

Sarah O