March 2010


Listening to: Pangea – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

This is a weird thing to have to write about. My brother, my Luke, died on the 26th of February. He was 23. He lived on the 25th floor of a Surabaya apartment building and he fell from a window. Just like that. I was sick the night before; I was working up the courage to call work and take the day off when Mum rang at five to seven and said “Did Tabi call you? Luke’s been killed.” And I called my dad to let him know, because they still don’t speak.

I feel like I’ve gone over and over the facts of Luke in the last two and a half weeks, I’ve looked at a million photos, everyone’s talked about what a terrific person he was; how kind, how funny, how easy-going, how helpful. I hate it. I don’t want to have to put him into words. I don’t want to have to turn him into a story.

So far I am coping with this by just not letting it be true in my head. I mean, I know it is. I went back to Adelaide last week and I saw his body twice – the first time was horrifying and I wasn’t at all prepared for how dead he would look, and the second time was much easier and I could really see him, my little brother, that face, that long body, Indonesian slippers perched on the ends of his big feet. But he smelt strongly of formaldehyde. His face was impossibly white. He had gauze on his hands. He was lovely but he did not, as my mother claimed, look like he might wake up at any moment. Still…that was a week ago and since then I’ve been watching videos of him and listening to recordings of his voice, and it’s all too immediate, too Luke. How can that be gone? Those hand gestures, that laugh, his quiet way of making fun, all that stuff he knew and understood. What it felt like to hug him. I keep waiting for a text message; I keep seeing things to tell him about. It’s easier just to imagine that he’s still in Indonesia.

I don’t even know how to begin to approach what it feels like to not have a sibling anymore, in an abstract sense.

I can’t seem to stop intellectualising my grief. I have the odd moment – it’s 4.30 in the morning and I haven’t slept yet and I might still be jetlagged because I flew back in from Australia on Tuesday, and I just had my first spontaneous cry in days – but mostly I can’t give in to it; I’m superconscious that nothing I do or feel will make this any better. Even if I do let go, even if I run out into the middle of Barnes Common and start screaming “No, no, no” like I want to, I will eventually have to stop and Luke will still be dead. And how would I pick myself back up again after that?

Sometimes he was annoying, a lot of the time he was tired, and sometimes he just wasn’t interested in the same things I was interested in and he wouldn’t bother to engage. He could be really frustrating. We had such an awkward age difference; he was born exactly a month before my sixth birthday. I was an incredibly lonely only child, but he arrived too late for me to make much use of him then and he was so much like Mum that we rubbed each other the wrong way for years. We had our moments, though; sometimes, out of nowhere, he could be really affectionate and we had a mutual understanding that our parents were crazy and at some point we started to make each other laugh. When we moved back to Canberra, when Luke was six and I was twelve, we had a massive backyard for the first time in ages and we started playing soccer out there – for hours. It’s still the most fun thing I can think of to do, ever. We’d up-end the trampoline at one end of the pitch and mark the other end with jumpers, and we’d play first-to-ten-goals…or -fifteen…or -twenty, or we’d start another game straight after the first.

When I first moved out of home when I was seventeen, I missed him and we suddenly had all this stuff to talk about on the phone. And when I was nineteen and I went overseas for the first time by myself, he suddenly grew up and started being someone I could relate to as an equal. I told him at some point, after months of only listening to the BBC World Service (because there was no one to explain British radio to me and after rejecting Radio 1, I didn’t know where to go next), how much I missed music and then in the post arrived my first two Luke mix tapes: one with all Australian music and one with random tracks from my own CD collection. It was momentous. Up until that point, he had resolutely refused to listen to anything I liked and didn’t have any particular musical interests at all. But suddenly we had this thing! We had Custard and the Fauves and the Titanics and Spiderbait and You Am I. And, cheesily, we had each other and we started to be friends. He was still a moody teenager for a while, but then came Tabi. L&T were my absolute favourite people.

When Luke was on my team, we would always win at Taboo because we’d get each other’s clues with only a couple of words or a facial expression. When I lived at home, he was the person I cooked for (and the reason I became vegan, after a weird conversation about animal cruelty in which he accused me of hypocrisy for being against slaughter but ignoring other forms of exploitation – he was never vegan, though) and the most enthusiastic consumer of my culinary experiments. (God, I’ve missed that, living alone. You don’t cook for yourself, no matter how much you enjoy it, you know?) He was my favourite person to share a belly laugh with. Our musical taste overlap got bigger (we used his iPod at the memorial service last week – half his mp3s were stolen from me! And vice versa) and even where we differed (he was never a folk fan and he didn’t listen to much angry music, and there are limits to my appreciation of Australian indie pop bands) he was nice about it – when he had his radio show, he used to play requests for me all the time and he’d search their record library for obscure albums for me (Glenn Cardier! Velveteen!). We went to gigs together – Stephen Malkmus, Belle & Sebastian, Youth Group, the Lucksmiths. He wasn’t the most demonstrative person but he was thoughtful, and sometimes out of nowhere he’d reveal how well he knew me and he’d have gone out of his way to do something specific and nice. And when Mum and Dad split up…man, I have never appreciated him (and Tabi) more; the very fact of a sibling as your partner in crime, as the person who best understands these strange people you come from because he comes from the same place.

And that’s not everything, but I don’t want to write everything. Twenty-three years is too much to write down, even though it’s not enough of a life.

In a lot of ways, there are no regrets. He had an amazing life. He was happy, I think. He had Tabi (and we have Tabi – and thanks for her, Lukje). He did so many of the things he set out to do! He lived in Indonesia (do you have any idea how long he’d planned that?!). A lot of people loved him. I loved him.

Mum got to see him in Surabaya a couple of weeks before he died, and our cousin Raph was there a bit before that, and Dad saw him in the middle of last year. I have a million text messages and emails and postcards from him and T, but by the end of this year it was supposed to be my turn and they were finally coming to see me. I’ve saved so many things to show them and tell them about. Fuck, Luke hasn’t been to Europe since he was two-years-old and I’ve wanted to share it with him so badly I thought I was going to burst. I wanted him to see what things were like when and where he was born (Amsterdam, 1986) and where Mum and Dad spent their formative years, and to show him the cool things and the weird things and the crap things about where I live now. We’ve been living in (on?) separate continents for two and a half years, and I wanted my turn to get to know this adult Luke (Tabi says he’d started drinking coffee and wearing collared shirts to go out! What a weirdy. Oh, and see, who else uses words like “weirdy” and “weaky”?). I missed him already. This is too fucking unfair.

Mum was really keen for me to write an obituary or a eulogy or contribute something somewhere along the line last week – when things got quiet at the memorial gathering in her backyard, she started imploring me to sing something (because she’s insane). Dear god, Luke would have found that at least as embarrassing as I would’ve (our major conflicts when we were growing up involved me singing aloud with the headphones on, which drove Luke up the wall). Anyway, I couldn’t. The only reason I’m writing this is that I can’t ever write anything else in here without at least saying this much first.

So I don’t have any public goodbyes to say. Just – there you go. Huh.

P.S. Once, we were browsing in Big Star and I found a CD by this guy (and Luke bought it but claimed he threw it out before ever actually listening to it – such a waste! I don’t see how this can ever get old). It’s absolutely fucking dreadful music but his existence is my favourite thing ever:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpjyXljWSvo]

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FlWsGgzfww]