CHAPTER 1 TRYING TO FIND THE BEGINNING
It wasn’t me doing those things. I’m only watching someone else’s memories.
1. I sit at my desk in the office and stare at my laptop. That’s how I spend most of my days. With the mouse in my left hand, I lean forward in my chair, propping my right elbow on the desk. My left index finger rests on the left click button of a right-handed mouse, never straying from its spot. I don’t use the scroll wheel or the right-click button because, realistically, I can’t. Doing my work and writing my thoughts and stories — even pushing my laptop away to make room for a book — are balanced with repeatedly scrolling a handful of sites and evenings of streaming entertainment. The onset of winter, and ongoing pandemic, have combined to narrow my world even further. In 2019, almost fifteen years after I signed my first lease, I moved back in with my parents. It’s a different house, in a different town than the one I left midway through college. Very little remains from our lives in those days. I was twenty years old on the first day of 2005. I’d spent the past two years shuttling back and forth between dorm rooms and my parents’ basement, getting my first taste of freedom in that opaque space between childhood and adult life. I’d been feeling optimistic; I was getting an apartment. I was finally ready for things to get better. Our lives had changed tremendously in the short time since I’d gone off to college. The house I grew up in — the holidays, the family dinners, and every nagging moment — was perpetually quiet and empty. There was an unrelenting weight in the air; my family was one person short.
Nicholas John Methot was two years my senior. He had fair skin, covered in freckles, blue eyes, and a head full of reddish-brown curls that tightened with age. He was always a head taller than me, but small for his age, nonetheless. In some ways, we looked alike — in our noses and ears, and thick, often wild heads of hair — but mostly, we were different, in both looks and temperament. Nick was quiet and shy, curious, creative, and introverted. He wore glasses as a child and was, in stark contrast to me, well-behaved — a parenting dream for the most part. We were always together — Nick and Nate, to the neighborhood kids — we rode bikes, caught frogs, and found sledding hills in the winter. I was always the instigator with Nick. If we didn’t have something to do — on a rainy day in the house, torturing our mom with cries of “I’m bored…” — I’d poke the bear. I was such a little asshole. A handful is the polite way to put it. Strong-willed and independent makes me sound like less of a villain. By the time he went off to college (he attended the University of Vermont [“UVM”] and lived in the dorms), we’d found our own interests. I hardly remember seeing him in the high school hallways. I spent nights and weekends at the family restaurant, bought my own car, and moved my room to the basement. He found a passion in running, hung out at his girlfriend’s, and spent his summers doing almost masochistic levels of physical labor for a small-time contractor. (I worked with him for one day, digging a drainage ditch through clay and mixing bag after bag of cement to repair a foundation. It made days at the restaurant seem like a breeze.) The four of us were back in the house — a postwar ranch on Dumont Avenue by the Burlington International Airport — after my freshman year at Villanova University. I’d already decided not to return, applied and was accepted to UVM, and had a carefree summer ahead. My parents had finally decided to rip out the brown, poodle-haired wall-to-wall living room carpet and have the hardwood floors refinished throughout the house. My mémère (French Canadian for grandmother) was visiting her sister in Manchester, New Hampshire; we stayed at her house around the corner. Asleep on the foldout (legendary) blue couch in the sunroom addition at the back of the house, as a clock radio alarm continued its call in the background, I was awoken to screams from the bedrooms. I’d never heard such a sound. In the morning light of Friday, June 6, 2003, we discovered my brother — half slumped off the bed, an open book by his side, his face blue and cold. His heart had stopped beating after the house went dark for the night.
My laptop is a touchscreen model with tablet mode, though I’ve never used it that way. My gradual loss of finger strength, dexterity, and coordination almost perfectly coincided with the proliferation of touchscreens. Perpetually corded and unmoving, it sits atop an old Bostonian shoebox that I recently learned, to my surprise, contains an all-but-new pair of cordovan leather shoes. Its screen falls just below eye level, a vast improvement over its natural, neck-pain-inducing placement on the desk. I also don’t use the keyboard. With the assistance of a factory on-screen keyboard equipped with an auto-fill function (a standard feature of Windows), I point and click my way through every sentence. It’s tedious but reliable — far more than any talk-to-text function paired with my weak, often unintelligible voice. For several years, it’s been my only real option. I sit on a Purple brand cushion on a well-worn high-back wooden chair that once served to seat my pépère (French Canadian for grandfather) at the top of the booth he built in the family’s kitchen. The desk is, in fact, a 9-by-2 ½-foot live-edge slab of butternut resting on twin file cabinets. To my left is my cell phone and propped open to page 323, The Tender Bar, a memoir by J. R. Moehringer. To my right is a 500 milliliter Cuisinart immersion blender base that I use as a water glass and a plate of food my mom sets out after dinner. Each night since I moved in, she makes me a fourth-meal — of fruit, cookies, cakes, breads, nuts, granola bars, bowls of pudding, ice cream cones, or anything else in the house. Tonight, I have a banana, granola bar, and a coconut and maraschino cherry Christmas cookie from the freezer. We’re trying to keep my weight up. My 370-pound, battery-powered Permobil M3 wheelchair rests quietly behind me. If I need to leave the room — to use the bathroom a few steps across the hall, to go to the kitchen for dinner, or my bedroom at night — I stand, slide my stocking feet on the hardwood floor, and plop down in the chair. Using my heel, I push down the folding footrest — usually only the right one for short trips — and use it to reposition myself in the chair. They’re not so much footrests as anchors. Pushing against them keeps my body from falling forward. I’ve had plenty of time to get used to this life. It’s been a slow, almost unnoticeably gradual decline. I haven’t kept track of the signposts; I didn’t record each of my losses. It’s been tough to see how it matters where I am on the journey.