Mikey had never really believed that Frank or Ray could be called the same title of brother he called Gerard -- until the boys get caught in a deadly fire.
The Other Brothers
I had always wondered what Gerard might do without me. And I, without him.
Yes, we were both married. He to Lindsey and myself to Alicia, both of whom were fantastic women. And neither of us were anywhere near lonely or without close friends. Yet, I still wondered.
Gerard and I had always been as close as two brothers could be. We were each other's best friends. We understood each other more than anyone else could.
Sometimes, I worried that if something should happen to Gerard, all the other people in my life might not matter anymore -- that Gerard would leave a void that I couldn't replace with all of them combined.
I wondered if Gerard thought about the same thing.
And yes, I am aware that we both have two best friends that we call our "other" brothers just the same. We insist to every interviewer, every fan, and even to ourselves that it's the same bond that Gerard and I shared. We regarded Frank and Ray to be the same level of brother, to have the same relationship.
Yet, I always felt that that was a bit of a lie.
I didn't think, at the very least, that Frank or Ray would ever lose as much as I would, emotionally, if Gerard were to just disappear one day.
But one night, at drinking gathering held by friends, I may have been proven wrong.
It was the night of the fire.
It had started from the first floor, while myself, Frank, Ray, and Gerard were so fortunately hanging around the 12th floor. We were with friends from a mix of settings -- from work to previous parties, to the random people we just meet on the street. We were all buzzed with booze, and our thoughts were far from potential dangers.
The sprinklers didn't even go off right away. Another guest even managed to mention that they could smell something burning before the alarms had a chance to go off.
Then a piercing siren noise exploded throughout the penthouse, originating from the inside and penetrating onto the outside. I screamed as I heard it, it's sudden arrival shocking me. Following three repetitive siren screeches came a mechanical imitation of a man's voice, reciting the words "Fire, evacuate immediately. Fire, evacuate immediately."
A martini in my hand, I could, at first, barely comprehend what the words meant. Once I collected myself, I merely took another sip, and made to continue with what I was saying. The others seemed confused -- I think many of them thought it might be only a drill. But Gerard, ever paranoid, sprung into action immediately.
From his position seated on a leather couch, he bolted to the gigantic windows behind him. He pressed his face up against the glass, then his hands. I glanced at him, and he appeared to be squinting into the darkness, trying to see.
He backed away a moment later, clapped his hands for attention, and then bellowed into the room, "We have to go!"
Some didn't pay attention, and some just looked more nervous, but still hesitant to move. Only myself, Frank, and Ray broke away from our conversations to approach him about what was happening -- all of us knowing that Gerard does not screw around about this type of thing.
I barely reached him before the sprinklers went off.
And then, finally -- panic.
The resounding shrieks of the girls (and some boys) who were suddenly drenched in water almost drowned out the noise of the siren. A wave of movement overwhelmed the room, as everyone started heading for the door. It was only then that we all noticed the trickles of smoke that seeped in through the top and bottom cracks of the doorway.
The four of us were behind everyone, unwilling to join the crowd of desperate people who were trampling over each other to get to the door. Of course, they found that when they opened it, a surge of smoke was waiting for them on the other side.
The black fog began to fill the room, and this was the last time I could see clearly for the entire ordeal.
An arm scooped around me. I could already tell it was Gerard's, but as I looked to check, I could only see a vague outline of him through a dark haze. I began to cough, the stuff reaching my nostrils. The body that the arm was attached to twisted, and Gerard placed a handkerchief over my nose and mouth gently. I wanted to ask him if he had one for himself, but with the combined noise of the panicked crowd and the sirens, I doubt he would have been able to hear.
The arm pushed me forward, and I knew Gerard was beckoning us to start moving. The smoke was making my eyes sting, and I tried to close them from time to time while still walking. I cursed myself for not bringing my sunglasses for once.
Occasionally, I felt myself step over someone's foot. Or someone would step over mine. Soon, Gerard guided my hand to cold metal, and I was able to put together that this was the railing for a staircase. I was grateful for this, as the sensation of my foot plummeting down a step when I expected to continue straight ahead was not a heart attack I needed at the moment.
I wondered if he was seeing any better than me. He seemed to have more of a sense of where things were, but at the same time, his arm was pushing me downwards slightly. I could only glimpse his white t-shirt from time to time, but I could not see past him to the other guys.
Now and then, I glimpsed the threatening glow of a flame glaring through the blackness.
The walk through hell seemed endless, but Gerard's grip on me did not loosen. In turn, I tried my best to grab onto him. I could hear people crying out names in fearful tones, looking for those they had separated from. These moments made me grab whatever I could of Gerard -- an arm or a shirt, it didn't matter. I just wanted to remind myself that he was still there. It was easy to forget, as the downstairs floors seemed to be packed with much more people. Our progress downwards was slowing, and it felt like we were all shoulder to shoulder. Even though I had not felt Gerard remove his arm, it still could have been anyone's.
As we went lower, it also got hotter. And as the heat would increase, the heavier my heart would thump. I also began to feel dizzy, and although I kept the handkerchief pressed firmly against my nose, I was certain that the smoke was seeping through anyway. If we didn't get outside soon, I was going to pass out -- and I'm not sure how well Gerard would fair if he had to carry me the rest of the way.
I barely heard Gerard yell words of encouragement, as though he detected my weakening resolve. He had to come close to my ear to say them, and each time he leaned in, I would be certain he had collapsed. And then I would hear, in his anxious yet comforting voice, "We're almost there!"
He eventually stopped saying anything at all, and again I had to reach out and touch him to make myself feel any better.
There was a little while when we stopped moving, and I figured the crowd was at a stand-still.
Then, just as I was sure I wasn't going to make it, someone else grabbed me.
The arm that had been holding me fell away, and I was pulled forward by a new hand --- a gloved hand. It led me away quickly and roughly. I slammed into many things, fleshy and solid, on the way.
The smoke was lifting -- cold air was taking its place.
Before I knew it, I was outside.
The only blackness was contained in the night sky, and through watery eyes, I could see trees and road ahead of me. There was a crowd of people out here too, but scattered around the area. Many of them just bypassers, stopping to observe the burning monstrosity.
I saw the yellow outfit of the fire fighter that had pulled me out -- he still led me until we were, at what he called, "a safe distance."
I turned around, looking back towards the building. It was only then I could admire the grand horror of it all, the big picture. Things or people were falling out of windows on the highest floors. The fire had consumed the place whole. Glaring flames danced around it, celebrating their victory. They consumed everything inside it like a feast.
Frank and Ray were coming towards me, but distracted by the lure of the fire, I only noticed ontil they were standing directly in my view.
I looked at them, and they looked at me, their faces covered in black. We had a few seconds to take in each other before we simultaneously uttered his name in the form of a question:
But it was instantly clear that Gerard was not among us.
The panic in me returned, ten-fold. On Ray and Frank's expressions, the fear was evident. We only spent a few minutes searching before we began to assume the worst.
I went to seek out the firefighter that had rescued me. When I did, a plump white man with very heavy eye bags, he seemed annoyed by my approach. He commanded me to go back to their designated "safe distance".
"Please, sir." I begged, "My older brother was with me when you pulled me out. He had his arm around me, and he let go just as you grabbed me -- so I think there's a good chance you may have seen him. He has long, cherry red hair. Um, he's white, and kind of short --- he has a small hunch in his back. I really have to find him."
The firefighter sighed. "Yes, I saw your brother. He seemed to be caught on something when I saw you two. He looked right at me and he sort of gestured at you, so I went for it. For now, our job is to evict as many as possible. The ones who are trapped or stuck will have to wait until we can send in more help."
"What?!?" I screamed louder than I intended to, both anguish and anger twisting my stomach. "Caught on something?!? You have to go help him! Please!"
"What did I just tell you, kid?" The firefighter said irately, "I know you're upset, a lot of people are. This is a very upsetting ordeal. But you're not the only one who can't find a loved one right now."
"I'll pay you!" I declare suddenly, desperate for action to be taken. "I'll pay you all the money you want! I'm the bassist of a really famous band, and I'm fucking loaded! You can have any of it, just do something about this!"
"Kid, go back to a safe distance." The firefighter growled, "..Or I'll have you arrested for interfering. And that won't save your brother any faster."
I paused, ready to yell and scream, but I agreed that I would be no use to Gerard if the firefighter made good on his threat. Defeated, I sulked away.
Meeting up with Frank and Ray, I explained to them what happened. They both seemed as appalled and disgusted with the situation as I was. And I was horrified to find that I was on the verge of crying by the time I finished talking.
There was a silence of dumbfounded exasperation between us before Frank casually announced, "I'll be back."
Ray and I speculate what else could be done, not even paying attention to where Frank was going. We were both too worried about what was going to become of Gerard. I couldn't bring myself to look towards the building, because the idea that my brother is trapped in such a menacing image might just kill me somehow.
We didn't see Frank walk into the flaming entrance of the building, sneaking in through a crowd of exiting bodies. We didn't see him run towards Gerard, using all his strength to push away the flaming rafters that had fallen on his torso. We didn't see Frank battle through vengeful burns as he tried to get them both out.
We only saw as Frank carried him, unconscious, towards the ambulances.
And that night, at the hospital, I saw Frank sitting at Gerard's bedside.
Gerard was semi-awake, sedated by painkillers and drugs. His legs had suffered severe burns, as well as a broken ankle. He was scheduled for surgery the next day.
In the meantime, Frank held onto his left hand, stroking it gently. He was seated on one of the uncomfortable plastic hospital chairs, a comic book resting on his lap. Using his free hand, he turned the pages and read it to Gerard, acting out each line with humorous emphasis.
I saw Gerard manage a smile at his antics, and suddenly, I found a new gratitude for them -- our "other" brothers.
At the very least, I never doubted their devotion again.