For our 40th birthday, Aaron and I spent it together in San Diego. As always (just like the tradition of watching Big Brother together), we find a way to be together for our birthday. So I drove down to his house, and we rang it in together. The day included a lot of work (typical…the day I want the load to be light, it’s all funky), Aaron painting me a picture, eating Mediterranean food and ending the night at our favorite pizza joint, Paesano. A random hodgepodge of activities, but so quintessential Farmer Twins.
Up until that day, I never had any issues with turning 40. In fact, I still don’t feel 40. I feel 32. Which also makes my comprehension of Aaron’s death so hard: we just turned 40. I mean, that’s not old. And we even rang it in celebrating at a pizza parlor.
I have said from the moment that Aaron passed away that August 10, our birthday, is going to the hardest day of all of this. It’ll be hard for mom, dad and Bob, too, but for me, it’s going to be a very surreal day. My birthday without Aaron? Just typing that word is very, very, very strange.
So I told myself that on August 10, I wouldn’t be anywhere familiar. Not in Long Beach, nor San Diego. Not in San Francisco or even California. My gut tells me to be somewhere where there are no ties to Aaron, so I can get through the day. I will honor Aaron in my heart and mind, but being somewhere so different will help me begin to find a new normal. After all, our birthday is the last of the “firsts” I have to go through.
Aaron died of a heart attack.
After three days of not knowing what killed Aaron, we finally found out that it was a heart attack. It’s not the medical term, but it’s the type of heart attack that doctors commonly refer to as “The Widow Maker.” Alex filled in the details: it’s when the left artery becomes fully blocked, resulting in a catastrophic heart attack.
The knowledge of knowing what had happened to Aaron helped us get out of that purgatory. There was a sense of relief in knowing what it was, but now we moved on to the harder part of figuring out what to do next. I think of all of those families who deal with missing children or those missing during war. The knowledge of knowing what happened does add a weird sense of closure but opens the door to the next phase of grief. Whatever that may be.
I replay Bob’s phone call in my brain often. I replay the call I had to make to my parents often. I sometimes think about what that scene must have looked like with Aaron on the ground. It’s almost like I’m just hovering over him, while he lays there on the bathroom floor. I’ve asked Bob not to ever, ever, ever tell me what Aaron was wearing when he died. For years, my brother and I were obsessed with what people are wearing during climatic/suspenseful scenes in movies: Elisabeth Shue’s scarf in “Adventures in Babysitting”; Martha Plimpton’s scarf/hoodie in “The Goonies”; Kate Capshaw’s robe in “Temple of Doom”; Kim Basinger’s pink dress in “Nadine.” At the end of any mystery novel or horror book we both read, we would dissect the storyline, but there was always talk about what the hero or heroine was wearing. And it usually involved something like “Gwen got tore up in the end of that book! And yet somehow she had that purse strapped across her torso the entire time.” I think it was a weird twin thing that neither of us could understand.
Not that Aaron was involved in some edge-of-your-seat situation where he was running to stay alive, but knowing about the clothes he wore that morning when he died would scar me, and I never want to know the answer. Not that Aaron was involved in some edge-of-your-seat situation where he was running to stay alive, but knowing what clothes he wore that morning when he died would scar me, and I never want to know the answer.
I know that I take Southern California for granted. Sometimes I overlook the beaches, the sunny warmth on my face, the shallowness of Los Angeles, and forget that for all of its annoyances, it’s pretty spectacular. It takes one out-of-town visitor to make me want to soak in all things SoCal like the rest of us. In fact, I’ve lived here in Long Beach for two years and never walked over to the house used in the filming of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So the day before Aaron’s passing, Dr. Alex and I walked over to the house, also since it’s one of his favorite movies (in all reality, how can one not like it!?!?).
So Alex and I made it and took some photos out in front of the house. It was kind of fun to see a piece of film history (yes, I use that term) there in the flesh. Knowing that Jennifer Grey kicked the shit out of Principal Jeffery Jones in the side yard of that house is pretty cool.
Later that evening, I took Alex to a going away dinner for my friends Ron and Katie. It was a great evening where Alex hung out with strangers and Ron and Katie told us that they were expecting…before they’d told anyone else. For his part, Alex had already guessed it, though. He said she radiated pregnancy.
Looking back at that day through the lens of Aaron’s death is fascinating. I remember my other friend, Adrienne, ordering a hippy-sounding beer and the vintage, half-naked women featured on posters in the men’s restroom. It’s weird what stays with me regarding that day.
The morning of Aaron’s death, I was playing host to Alex, my visiting doctor friend from Scotland. Sitting on the foot of the guest room bed, I was talking with Alex, who was comfortably laying under the sheets. I do not remember anything we were talking about right before the call, but it must have been about our trip to Hollywood the day before. Since this was Alex’s first time to Southern California, I wanted to make sure he got to see all the good (the weather; the beaches) and the bad (grimy Hollywood; traffic galore) of where I call home. He had been staying with me for eight days when I got the call from Bob regarding Aaron.
I know that recalling certain events, especially under the pressure of extreme fear, grief and confusion, can be a little bit fuzzy at best. My favorite crime shows will tell me that 60% of what a witness actually recalls seeing is muddled by a host of mental, physical and arbitrary circumstances. Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton’s fascinating detective in the Alphabet Mystery Series, has always dealt with unreliable (or surly) witnesses. But, as I’m sure any real life detective will have heard a gazillion times before, really do remember that morning’s events very well.
My phone vibrated at 6:00 a.m. with Bob’s picture displaying on my iPhone. It was weird to have him call me, especially that early, so I answered. “Bryan, it’s really bad. It’s really, really bad” was what he told me first.
I guess I should stop for a second to mention that none of this is easy to write about. I’m a writer, and I’ve written about a ton of difficult situations. But they were always someone else’s situation. Never my own. Never about my own twin brother’s early death.
Bob spoke to me for a few more minutes: Aaron was unconscious, being transported to the hospital, with Bob in tow. I called mom and dad, perpetuating that idea that calls happening after midnight but before 7:00 am are never about good news. Having mom pick up that phone in San Mateo, California, some 350 miles away from me, and telling her that Aaron might not survive this whatever the fuck happened to him, haunts my mind to this day. She hung up with me, called Bob where the doctor at the hospital told them both that my brother had died. Mom called me to tell me and I hung up and crawled into Alex’s bed.