THE BED OF SNOW
Nobody ever knew what was wrong with him. Some hormonal imbalance that meant he didn’t quite mature sexually. He never had body hair and his voice changed late in his short life. Maybe now they would diagnose him with a learning disability, or call it autism. He was bullied mercilessly, to the point where he wanted to end his life because of the cruelty others wielded. There’s a picture of him in my mother’s office now from when he was 13 or 14, about ten years before he died. In it his chin is lifted with a grin, the frames of thick glasses resting on his nose. His vision was terrible. Letters would rearrange themselves upside down and backwards. I can picture his Pickwickian body, portly and wheezy, but I’m never quite sure how to imagine his mannerisms or movements. Clumsy, perhaps. Gentle, but annoyingly slow. It wasn’t easy for my mother to have a slow little brother, though she wasn’t the only one that lost her patience with him at times. Remorse weighs on her heavily. Each year on his birthday heaving sobs cleave her apart. After Alan died, my grandparents sold their house in Vermont and moved to the coast of Maine. They change the subject when I ask about him. They won’t say his name.
He was a sleepwalker from a young age. He shouted in his sleep, screamed that there were sharks under his bed and sometimes fell off the mattress after a fit of wild thrashing. I imagine my grandfather, a large farm animal veterinarian in rural Vermont, catching his namesake like a calf as the boy tumbled into the living room in the haze of a dream and guiding him back to bed. I imagine my grandfather returning to the living room where my grandmother corrected Spanish tests and shaking his head, wondering aloud what they could do about little Alan.
Little Alan lived at the Maple Leaf Motel after he left home, cleaning rooms in exchange for housing. Whatever terrorized him in the night hours had not relinquished its grip on him, even in adulthood. For Alan, there was a great design flaw in the architectural plan of the Maple Leaf: the bathroom door was right next to the door to the outside. One winter night, he grabbed the wrong handle, walked outside into a snow bank and slept the rest of the night in a bed of snow. He was hypothermic when he was found. His lungs collapsed and he went into a coma. They were about to remove him from life support when he woke up. He had lost weight while in a coma, but his short-term memory was gone and his lungs were like paper bags. The decline was slow. My grandparents slept on the living room floor with him during his final days, watched him deteriorate until his body shut down. One final sleep, quiet this time.