When I’m thinking rationally with my adult hat on, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that my brother fell “victim” to the family “disease”.
That, of course, removes any blame from his otherwise pretty broad and fearless shoulders.
It also removes me quite nicely from the guilt of not catching it.
From my mother’s account, he was difficult right from the damn start. She was married for the second time and had produced a (gasp) daughter the first time at age 32, so had to basically take one more for the team and try one more time for the heir apparent at the age of 34.
After suffering through nine months of hell, losing weight and puking her guts and stomach lining out daily ( according to her), my brother, Mark, came sliding into the world. Weakly, thin, blue, and in most desperate need of an immediate blood transfusion. He was given new blood and a shit ton of drugs to just keep him with the living.
I have read enough to understand that the statistics regarding traumatic births and the need for resuscitation and desperate measures immediately following a birth can lead to addiction in later life. ( See? Adult hat appearing once again).
But I can tell you right now, that I believe in my heart that a whole lot of other things conspired within my brother’s universe to lead to his addiction and eventual death at the age of 47.
He was dealt a shitty hand, I think, and I am just now realizing with survivor-like guilt, that there was really never going to be a “happily ever after” in his lifetime.
I got the Aces and he got the 2’s, so to speak.
Strike 1: Our Dad was a drunk. A lovely guy, really…but a drunk. Back in the sixties, when we were born, boys and girls modelled themselves by their gender-alike parent. Lucky him.
Strike 2: Our Mother was already up to the eyeballs trying to be the responsible one, keeping a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and teaching us morals, all while trying to keep control of a stealthy drunken hubby. She was angry 99% of the time, slap-happy, and tired. But never too tired to slap and swing a belt at us, as she desperately tried to raise us into “good people”. Guess which parent we chose to spend the most time with? The predictable one – two moods…drunk(happy)…and…sober(quiet/staying out of my Mother’s way).
Strike 3: Everyone was just too busy trying to keep their OWN heads above water to pay much attention to what my curious little brother was up to. Sorry. Not sorry. I had my own shit to deal with and quicksand to manoeuvre!
So, fucked he was, right from the start.
And though I make light of it here, I am profoundly saddened to the core that all of us let him down in the ways we did.
Towards the end of his life,he once looked at me with an unbearable sadness in his eyes, and joked that we grew up in the same foxhole. We were survivors of the insanity that our home life was. He would sometimes be pissy and say that I “got a pass” from most of our Mom’s verbal and physical abuse. I just learned really early on that keeping your mouth shut and flying under the radar was the easy route through the blitzkrieg.
He never learned those lessons. Ever.
And yet he was her favourite;her baby: him with the loud, look-at-me voice so much like hers; him with the natural affinity for physical affection, so much like her. I guess he gave her the cuddles as a child and the love and affection as a boy and man that she never accepted from dear old fall down drunk Pops.
I have a couple vivid memories from my brother’s youth. One was him being mauled by a neighbour’s dog when he was around 4. I had once again been forced to take him with me (goddamnit!) out to play and headed right over my friend’s place to play with her dog. I swear, that little dog chased its own tail around, let us all play around with it for about a half an hour, and then just randomly snapped and went right at my brother’s face. Fifteen kids at least standing in a yard, and the dog zeros in on my brother’s face.
I remember the skin and the blood and the screaming…and I remember my brother running blindly away,trying to find his way down the block back home, blood streaming down his face..skin hanging…and me running even faster…AWAY from him and his pain and fear. A lesson for him on that day, and a reminder for me of how damaged we both were already at those tender ages.
That’s a little something called fright or flight instinct and I was obviously already well versed in that by the age of 5 1/2.
The shit had hit the fan and I was getting the hell out of there before the hammer fell. I was supposed to be watching him. Keeping him safe. And I had failed. Abysmally.
He ended up with stitches all over his face. Came pretty close to losing an eye and most of his bottom lip, but he used it to his advantage for the rest of his life by telling people when asked about the scars ” You should see the other guy!” That instinct to turn tragedies into humor is something we both learned by osmosis.
A coping skill that served us both well.
The second memory digging at me today involves a harmless prank he and his gang of buddies pulled off when they were about nine. They had all stolen laundry soap from their homes and came up with the idea of pouring it into the fountain outside the hospital entrance in our fairly small town.
Looking back now, having raised two boys of my own, that is a pretty creatively, awesome prank. One I could have almost got on board with AS a Mom!
Unfortunately for my brother, our mother saw things much, much differently.
Being a small town, they got fingered and I.D.’d before they even arrived back home.
My mother met him, at the door, with a broom. She was swinging like Mickey Mantle before he was even all the way inside of the house. The shame he had brought on our family. The atrocious horror of the neighbours all knowing one of her kids had done such a reprehensible thing!
She actually broke the broom hitting him with it. I tried to stop her, first grabbing at the broom, then attempting to grab her swinging arm. Nothing stopped her, and my interfering actually ramped her up even more. She started jabbing at him with the broken end, practically using it like a spear. I caught a bit of that spear action to my side, just as she said in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get the hell out of the way, I was gonna get some too.
Left him to it.
Listened as he begged her to stop.
He wouldn’t cry.
I have so much respect for him today for not crying. I got accidentally speared once, not even a direct hit, and I was already bawling like a baby and can feel the hot tears sliding down my cheeks now, just in the remembering.
Afterwards, we sat on the floor of my room, and listened to some music, keeping both it and our voices down, so as to not start her up again. I remember washing him up the best I could, and telling him he should have known the natural outcome of a stupid prank like that. Telling him he had to learn to not piss her off. Telling him it wasn’t really her fault… she was just worried/tired/mad/overwhelmed/broke…whatever she was in that moment where she lost her mind so totally and completely that she would beat and stab at a nine year old boy with a piece of broken wood.
Looking back,I think that was the moment in time that we made the mutual decision/pact to keep each other as safe and out of harm’s way as we possible could.
The love we couldn’t express verbally, would be shown in loyalty to each other.
Like brothers in arms.