“What happened to the parrot?”
His former boss was shocked of course at the news, but she knew Mike loved that bird — probably more than anything else on earth — and she was concerned.
His union representative also asked about the parrot — and so did the cop and the coroner.
Finding Mike’s parrot and getting it home was not on the top of my list of things to do, but it was right up there.
There were a few other things I had to take care of first — like finding some paperwork in his apartment and finding a reputable funeral home to take care of the body.
It was a grim, grim business. Mike, my twin brother, hadn’t been found for a couple of weeks after he died in his tiny apartment in Vancouver.
He didn’t have any friends to look in on him or wonder where he was and why he didn’t call. It was only when his rent cheque was a few days late that his landlord decided to check in on him and discovered his body.
I hadn’t heard from him for a few weeks, but that wasn’t unusual. Michael didn’t talk to me very much. In fact, if I didn’t phone him now and then, I likely wouldn’t have heard from him at all in the last 10 years. Sometimes when I would call he would pick up the phone, often he wouldn’t. He never called back and when we did talk, it was like walking on eggshells. All he wanted to talk about was how terrible his life was in particular or how horrible the world was in general. It usually ended with him taking offense to something I said and either hanging up or otherwise ending the conversation abruptly.
Not to put too fine a point on it, my twin had issues and it was really tough to keep in touch.
Over the years it got worse.
But I kept trying. He was my twin brother after all and no matter how difficult he was I loved him.
Besides, he was there for me a couple of times when I really needed him. When I went back to school to get my Grade 12, he let me move in with him in his basement apartment. When I got kicked off Katimavik, it was to his tiny pad that I fled in distress and he gave me shelter. You don’t forget stuff like that.
Much to my surprise, he emailed me a few weeks ago. He had been in an accident, hit on his bike in the company parking lot. He had broken his neck and had been in the hospital for a week. He had been a fool all those years, he said, and he was sorry.
That was good enough for me, so that night I called him and sure enough, he picked up. It was a different Michael who spoke — lively, engaged, chipper, funny — like night and day.
Laying for a week in a hospital bed clearly changed him. Maybe he would get back in touch with the rest of the family, he said. I made a point of saying I loved him and he acknowledged he knew that. We were going to talk again and, when he could do it, he said he might even come over for a visit. He e-mailed me once again but then, as in the past, he stopped and my phone calls once again went unanswered.
“I’ll give him time,” I thought. “I hope he isn’t sliding back. I thought we were finally getting somewhere.”
I mentioned his injury in one of my columns, joking that my twin had hurt his back and I couldn’t feel my legs. Not so funny now. I’ll take that shame to the grave.
The reason he didn’t answer was because he was dead, likely killed by the same injury I joked about. He wasn’t missed at work because he was off on short-term disability.
Now, I’m left to wonder, was there something more I could have done?
The answer is maybe. Something, somehow … I don’t know what. But I could have surely tried harder, helped him in some manner. But I didn’t and my brother died alone and lay there for two weeks, with nobody on Earth knowing he’d gone.
So why am I telling you this? It’s more than to wail my grief to the universe.
Michael wasn’t the only person on this earth who has deep emotional problems and who has alienated himself from his family and friends. I’m confident there are many Michaels and Janes out there, miserable, unhappy and removed from human contact. Maybe he or she is related to one of you.
If that’s the case, I beg you, pick up the phone and call. Maybe you won’t get an answer, or the conversation might be unpleasant. Try again later. Don’t give up. It may never get better, but persevere anyway. Reach out to them. Try absolutely everything. You never know, something might click. It almost did with Mike.
Trust me. A bit of annoyance or disappointment now is nothing compared to how you’ll feel if your relative, your blood, ends up lying dead for two weeks with nobody to know.
Goodbye Mike. Don’t worry about your parrot. I’ll give her a good home for as long as she or I live. I swear it.