Circles, Chains & Old Men

He leaned close to me as he left my home 2 weeks ago, and I moved closer, as well, expecting his customary good-bye kiss on my cheek. With a rattly whisper that only the elderly have, he said in my ear ” July 1968. Look for me and help me understand.”

I said “of course” as I received the good-bye kiss and after making sure his coat was buttoned right, I sent him out my front door, wondering what he meant, and worried a bit about him, as I could sense his distress.

I met Moe almost 20 years ago, when he was speaking at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I was invited to attend to watch my friend pick up his 1 year chip. As I walked out of the meeting and to my car, Moe started walking faster to catch up to me and walk by my side. He told me he had sponsored my friend and had witnessed his many struggles, that he believed until my friend loved himself, and came to terms with his trauma from his childhood, he would continue to struggle with his addictions. We walked together, talking, and I felt myself warming to this wiry little man, who in his 60s, had me walking faster to keep up with.

When we arrived at the parking lot, he handed me what he called his “card” – actually a scrap of white paper with his name and phone number hand written on it, and told me to call him if I ever wanted to grab a coffee or chat. I think at the time, he thought we could work together as support for our mutual friend.

Over the years, he has been in and out of my life. We have gone years without contact, and then he will reappear suddenly or call me out of the blue and ask how things are going with me and my boys. When his wife died, he took over caring for her developmentally delayed daughter, who is a few years older than I am. Sometimes he needed advice on medical issues with her, or just someone to write a letter advocating for more care for her. He seemed to struggle with bureaucracy.

Shortly after I met him years ago, he shared with me that the last time he drank, he woke up in jail in Toronto, and suffered his last hangover there.  He spoke of the struggles he had endured, but didn’t share specifics and I didn’t ask, always cognizant of the A.A. code of silence and the promise of anonymity. I didn’t feel it was my place to start asking questions, as he was simply “old Moe” to me and had, within the short time I had known him, taken on a fatherly sort of role with me. He showed up for birthdays, holidays and even once to help me move. By then a 70-something year old man, he convinced my teenage son that knocking down the back fence was the smartest way to get the trucks as close to the door as possible.

A true rebel, with a twinkle in his eye and a wise cracker if you ever met one.

Every pet and every child or baby in the world goes straight to Moe. They sense his gentle nature and he sits quietly with them, frequently putting them so at ease, they fall asleep in his arms or lap. He talks about his love for his mother and how she never judged anyone. How I remind him of her. The Catholic upbringing and the altar boy stories. How once he had his first sip of wine at 7, he was at church so often, his mother thought he had aspirations for priesthood.

He told me so many stories, I wondered if they could all be true or were they just  ramble-bragging of the sort that old men do, once their virility is starting to fade and the days ahead are much more mundane and boring than the days past. Lots of war stories and hints of knowing “connected” men back in his Cabbagetown days. Stories of stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down- beer off the back of trucks, racks of women’s fur coats left unattended, and fruit and vegetables stuffed into pockets, for eating later, during the time of day that those more well off had dinner plates in front of them.

This past year, he has suffered falls and he broke his collar-bone 6 months ago. He is slowing down now at 83, and has lost 3 close friends in the last month. He blames himself for one of them, telling me if he had driven over to this place when he didn’t return Moe’s call, maybe he would still be alive.

It seems to me he has always loved to take the blame for things out of his control. I reassure him that life is like that- random, and that we all have our time on this earth and our stories are written before we get here, so basically fate or chance carries us along. I sense he knows the end is nearing for him, and while that eventuality has made him less impatient with the little things , and more accepting of his limitations physically, there is an undercurrent of urgency buzzing within him, like a hot electrical wire.

He has been visiting more often, laughing after our chats, with the comment ” how much do I owe you for the therapy, dear?” or “cheapest head-shrinker I ever saw!”

I gave him a key to my house, as he lives in the basement of his step-daughter’s house, and sometimes feels unwanted and expresses a need to “run away”. Hearing that broke my heart , so I quickly fetched a spare key I had lying around and tucked it into his tiny hand, the skin so thin and tissue-papery that I could feel the bones underneath like a baby bird’s. I patted his hands gently and told him to use that key anytime he needed.

I have the sense he is wanting to close his circle in a neat fashion and be prepared for when he meets his maker. He is cleaning house, wanting to make his peace, and in the twilight of his life, searching for answers to all the why’s he still has.

So when he left that day, I thought about his request and decided I would look up that date and his name in Google, and see what he was asking me for. I knew instinctively that it must have to do with his past and understood that if it could be found with a simple Google search, it must have been something fairly news-worthy.

I remember feeling a bit apprehensive as I typed his name into search engine. My hands were shaking a bit, and I felt uneasy, like a voyeur.

It was one of those moments that you know have the ability to change your life in an instant.

And it did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1977

We had been parked out at the camping spot outside our town for almost a week with our Dad in charge. The summers usually consisted of them taking turns with their holidays, her one week, him the next, back and forth like that, usually culminating in 2 weeks all of us together at the end. This plan was likely made with the idea of constant supervision during the summer break, and also with the intent to minimize the need to pay someone to watch us.

We always looked forward to the weeks with Dad, as he never bothered or nagged us, and by 4 in the afternoons, it was doubtful he even remembered he had 2 kids out rambling through the wooded areas and down by the river. By that time, he was well into his cups, and either snoozing off his uninterrupted day-drunk, or listening to his Johnny Cash 8-tracks and hazily formulating supper ideas.  He was never the kind of drunk who forgot to eat, or skipped eating in order to leave more room for the rye.

All the successful professional alcoholics I have known during my life have always taken the time to eat. In their minds, it keeps them within the “normal” zone on the barometer of boozology. Dinner may be rock hard from warming in the oven, or burnt to a crisp from idling in the frying pan too long, or even served at 11 at night, but they made dinner, didn’t they?

My mother, the warden, usually kept a pretty close eye on my pops, for good reason. We loved him to death, but his irresponsibility scared her to death. He never said no to us, but always deferred to my mother if she was present, and just wanted us to be happy and free. One of my jobs was to do dishes and clean the kitchen up after dinner every night, but if it ran late, my friends would already be ringing the doorbell wanting me to go out with them. My dad would sneak down to the kitchen, and grab the towel or broom from me and whisper “go- go- be with your friends, I can finish this up for you-shhhhh.”

I am sure, looking back, that he had been doing that with me since I was a very young child. He was always so affectionate with me, always pinching my cheeks softly between his second and third fingers. Always brushing my hair out of my eyes when I was reading, and he would notice it falling forward. Always such affection and adoration from my Dad. It made me love him so much and want to “cover” for him with my mom.

I’m pretty sure that is how it started- my covering up for him and his negligence with us. My doing my damnedest to make sure anything she left for him to complete, was completed by me if he was too drunk to do it. Everything from subbing in and taking my brother for his haircuts, while my dad drank at the bar, to stealing his own wallet from him to ensure he came home with the amount of money for bills she had asked him to bring home. He was always thankful for my interventions and assistance, and loved me even more, if that was possible.

He had a pretty good system going. My mother told him what to do, or what she expected from him and he let me take care of all the pesky details and also the worry.

More time to drink.

The only phone out at the campground was by the little store- a payphone.

People didn’t need to be in constant contact back then, so it wasn’t strange to go the entire 5 day work week without talking to my mother. She knew where we were and unless we called her from the payphone, everything was assumed to be fine.

I was standing in line for a slushie with some of my friends when the man who ran the joint said to me ” Call home, kid.” I was confused, as i didn’t know he even knew who I was. I asked him if he was sure he had the right person, and he nodded, his smoke hanging off his bottom lip, and said ” yup- your mom described you perfectly, right down to the bathing suit. Call home.”

I left the line and walked toward the payphone, already feeling a twisting in my gut. I pulled a dime out of my sneaker (where all smart summer kids kept their change), and dropped it into the slot of the phone.

My mom answered immediately and told me my Uncle George had died and we needed to get home immediately.

Now, this is where this story takes a humorous turn of sorts, in spite of the spectre of death hanging over it.

I had two Uncle Georges.

One was married to my mom’s sister, and was my favourite man in the world after my Dad.

The second was married to my Mom’s best friend, my godmother.

I didn’t think to ask which one died before my mother hung up the phone.

So, off I ran to the tent trailer to tell my Dad that we had orders to get home as fast as we could, as George had died and my mom wanted us home.

As I approached the camp spot, I could hear the train whistles and Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special, and knew my mission might take a bad turn. The louder the music, the drunker he likely was – of that you could always be certain. I was still 4 camp spots away when i heard the music, and felt even sicker….slowed my running to a walk. I tried to calculate how many hours he had been left alone by us. It was about 4:30, and we had taken off to go swimming around 9. Even allowing him an hour for coffee, he had likely been smashing it hard since 10 A.M, secure in the thought that it was going to just be one more lazy, hazy day camping, and we wouldn’t need anything until at least 6 or 7, as we packed bologna sandwiches with us when we left.

I saw him sitting in his lawn chair, with his head slightly forward, nodding along a bit to his music. As I approached him from the trees, I could literally see him try to focus his eyes on who was walking toward him. His eyes were bleary-looking and he blinked a couple times before he smiled at me and said ” Hey shishhhhhowshh yer day going?”

I told him we had to go home and it was like it didn’t even register. Nothing.

Once again, I explained that “George” had died and that we were told to get home as soon as possible, and he looked up at me with a child’s eyes, and shook his head a bit, muttering, “can’t, can’t drive”.

We were 20 miles from home, with direct orders from the warden to get our asses home, there’s been a death, and he was sitting there, like an errant toddler, shaking his head back and forth and telling me “can’t.”

It took me about 4 minutes to assess what would be our worst case scenario – my little brother and myself dying in the car on the way home cus he was seeing double already, or dealing with my mother, who gave us a direct order.

I chose death for all of us, and quickly rounded up my brother, packed anything outside the trailer into the trailer, turned off Johnny, and threw water on the campfire he had been half-assed playing with all day. All while he sat in the lawn chair blearily watching me. He almost looked like he was pouting- sulky. Like I was also pouring water all over HIS party by making us leave.

I got my brother to help me drag our father to the station wagon on his wobbly legs and stuff him inside the driver’s door. I remember my brother giggling during all of it. He thought it was like a game- an adventure- something that plopped itself into a boring summer day that ran into all the other boring endless summer days. The idea of his sister “bossing” his dad around seemed to really amuse him a lot, in retrospect.

I got myself and my brother into the car and we sat there. Sat there for what seemed like years, waiting for him to focus- to come back to his senses- to open his eyes to the fact that  he was behind the wheel of his car, us waiting for him to turn the key in the ignition.

He didn’t move a muscle, just slumped back in his seat and started snoring quietly- he was sleeping. Passed out. Blotto.

I suddenly felt more anger than I had ever felt in my life up to that point. My chest felt like it was going to explode and blow my heart right out the windshield and into the trees beyond the car. My head hurt, my chest hurt, I was seeing stars.

I jerked my door open and ran around to his side of the car and opened the door. Then I started hitting him in the shoulders and chest and yelling at him to wake up. He jerked awake and looked so startled and then sad that his little angel, his little girl, his little co-conspirator was striking him and yelling at him.

I told him to shove over to the passenger side of the car and then grabbed my mom’s little pillow she kept in the back for when she was driving and put it on the driver’s seat.

I slid in and shut the door. With my brother’s help, I got the car started and adjusted the rear view mirror. He talked me through finding the lever to pull the seat forward and even helped by pushing with his little legs from the back seat. It was a good thing he had paid attention to how the car worked, as I never had. I must have been secure in my belief that there would always be an adult around to take care of that sort of thing.

In that way, my brother was much more of a survivor than I was. His eyes and ears never missed a thing, whereas I was always doing my best to not see or hear most of what was going on around me.

As I attempted backing out of the narrow parking spot, I nicked a corner of a tree. I remember twisting the wheel back and forth, as I didn’t understand how to move it to reverse in a different direction, so it took us some time to get the nose pointed in the direction we needed to be in. In fairness to my young self, I highly doubt after driving almost 40 years, I could reverse that big old countrysquire station wagon out of that narrow spot!

As we drove along the bumpy gravel road towards the exit, I remember panicking a bit about the directions, as I never paid any attention in a car. I had my nose in an Archie comic, waiting for the car to stop at my destination. Luckily, my brother knew where we needed to turn and how to get us out of the country and back to town.

I remember driving us, my dad snoring beside me in the passenger seat, my brother leaning into the front seat in the center, telling me when to turn left or right, when to slow down, where the “coppers” hid in the trees to nail the speeders. I told myself that if I saw any “coppers” I would just run us all to our deaths straight into the nearest tree, as that would be better than them showing up to embarrass my mother at our home. (The neighbours!!!!!)

Someone was watching over my brother and I that day and it most certainly was not either of our parents. After what seemed like forever, I turned that big old car into our driveway at home, took the keys out and threw them in my father’s lap.

My brother and I went into the house and met our mother in the kitchen, where she was waiting. I remember falling into her arms and sobbing. She believed it was from grief, I suppose. She never asked me why, just held me while I cried and shook.

She asked where my dad was, and I told her he was still  in the car, but that was all. I had already sworn my brother to secrecy on the way home, promising him all the money I had saved and also any candy I had stashed in my bedroom.

I don’t know if she ever went out to the car and figured out what had  happened.

More likely, he just woke up and came inside and nothing came of it, as there was a funeral to attend, and people coming and going, which gave her no time to question any of it, and he certainly wasn’t going to open that Pandora’s box on his own.

I remember when I finally found out which George it was that died, I felt very guilty as there was a sense of relief it wasn’t my favourite Uncle George. The guilt came because the George who DID die, had a daughter the same age as me, and was a drinker like my dad.

I remember feeling so confused about my anger towards my dad, all mixed up with a sudden fear that HE could die, too. It all became very real to me that people can die any day, from any number of ways.

Kids could wake up on a lazy summer Tuesday with a dad and by the time they went to bed at night, he could be gone.

Cold and dead and maybe the last thing his daughter said to him was “I hate you!”

Or perhaps she really let loose and uttered her first curse word directly at him…something like ” you fucking DRUNK, give me those fucking keys, RIGHT NOW!”

It could happen. ( It wouldn’t for a few more years, but not many.)

So better to just shove it deep down inside and forget about it.

I was 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distance Makes the Soul Forgive

The place I called home was not typical and I have spent all my years since leaving there trying to assimilate the emotional damage done , while at the same time trying to put the pieces of myself back into some semblance of a “normal” human being.

It has not been an easy exercise, with much of the old one step forward, two steps back going on. I mostly try to focus on the steps forward and tell myself every day is a chance at a new start.

Distance and time has assisted in my work, and always brings to mind how when someone dies, suddenly all the bad they did during their lifetime disappears, with only the good memories remaining behind. I used to cynically scoff at that, actually.

I used to wonder how a sinner became a saint overnight.

In my jaded youth, I would think to myself that I was more than capable of reminding them of the shitty behaviours, moral ineptitude and sketchy actions of the dearly departed, if they only agreed to granting me 5 minutes of their time.

Now, I find myself in that same group I used to internally scorn, when remembering my family who have all left me behind on this mortal coil. I am not sure if it is the distance of time or aging, but something has softened the edges of the shards of pain that their memories used to cause.

My memories are hazier and softer and are mainly composed of times spent together laughing.

I have to try really hard to catch hold of a bad memory anymore.

Is it my own need to find peace or resolution that has caused this shift within me?

Is it the passage of time or is it a willingness to let go of resentments and grudges and laying blame for all the mistakes I made after leaving?

Maybe it is all those things combined.

All I know today is that I am grateful for the peace and I feel much lighter from letting the weight of bygone resentments disperse as I walk along the rest of my path.

 

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Eulogy for My Brother, Mark

What to say about my brother, Mark?

Well, we aren’t in church, so I can skip the part about telling you all what a Saint he was, because that isn’t the first word that comes to mind when thinking of him.

Everyone who knew Mark saw something different, I’m sure.

Over the course of his life, he was a son, a brother, a husband, an uncle and a friend.

I used to get frustrated with Mark’s inability to be tactful in his dealings with people. Rory pointed out to me that Mark did not HAVE that little switch in his brain that most of us have; the one that tells us to keep it to ourselves or stay silent when we should. Mark was so brutally honest about his opinions and his feelings that he was unable to keep anything to himself. I truly believe he felt that we all NEEDED and WANTED to hear every thought, good or bad, that he had about us. He wouldn’t feel true to himself or those he loved if he wasn’t being “straight-up” 100 % of the time.

One of his frequent complaints to my Mom when he was growing up was “Why am I always in trouble and SHE never is?” And my Mom would reply “She knows when to keep her mouth shut and you don’t.” Mark never learned that skill….ever.

He loved us all, with his whole heart for EXACTLY who we were at EXACTLY the moment he knew us. He took us flaws and imperfections and all and loved us not despite our flaws but loved the flaws just as much. The flaws to Mark were what made us who we were.

One of Mark’s greatest traits was his generosity and his amazing ability to forgive those who had wronged him.

Oh, don’t get me wrong- he had a hit“list”. And he usually referred to it once a year at a family gathering and would ask if any of us had anyone who needed to be added that year.

Mark hated to hear of stories of injustice occurring to regular folks. If any of us shared a story with him of someone we knew being wronged in some way, he was the first one yelling for someone to find his keys as he was going to go “make it right!”

And over the years, I watched him charge blindly into situations, some of them terrifying to me, without a thought for his own safety or personal freedom…he just knew someone needed his help and he knew if he didn’t deal with the situations, no one would.

So, he made some enemies along the way, but there is no one who will ever be able to say that my brother was a coward who sat back and did nothing when someone needed his help.

Mark was the most loyal person I have ever known in my life. That is something our parents taught us from a young age.  We could beat the stuffing out of each other daily (and we did as kids), but God help the person who came after either of us if the other one was around.

I will miss that now and also his incredible memory. It just isn’t fair that someone that put that many foreign substances into his body should still have a memory like an elephant!

We spent a lot of time in the last couple of years reminiscing about the past. I think he knew his time was limited and it felt good to relive some of his favourite memories all over again.

He told me, during one of our chats (when he was actually trying to prepare me, saying goodbye and telling me he was so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old & grumpy together as we’d always planned), that he believed he was going to a better place.

He had such a child-like wonder and inquisitiveness about what he would find on the other side…like it was going to be his next great adventure or trip. We had endless discussions regarding spirituality, morality and different belief systems. He wanted to know where he was going and if it would hurt at the end.

When the topic would become too much for me emotionally, he would throw in a joke about how chances were that I would die before him anyway, as I was such a shitty driver and also clumsy, so I could fall down the stairs any time. He was aware of his health problems; I was a ticking time bomb of clumsiness and crappy driving!

I have regrets that during those dark times for him I could not fully go as deep into the depths as he needed me to go. No matter how many times he told me during my life how strong I was, I couldn’t allow my heart or my mind to go to that place where someday he wouldn’t be here. I can barely do it now that it is a reality.

What I learned and take away from his illness, is how much was still left after so much had been taken away.

While he slowly lost physical ability, endurance and strength, he seemed to grow immensely emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. It was almost like he had to shed his old skin in order to be prepared with new tools when the time came for him.

Exactly two weeks before he died he was telling Rory they were going to be in the Okanogan in the summer jet skiing, while also making plans for a winter cruise with Cal and I.

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Infamous “smoking in his sleep” move.

I still don’t know if he was trying to remain optimistic for everyone or if he truly thought that if he had things planned, dying would have to wait.

The memories of Mark that seem strongest for me at this time are:

Mark as a typical pain in the ass little brother- always wanting to go everywhere I was going; me being held responsible for his safety. Removing slivers, wood ticks, leeches, bee stings, and trying unsuccessfully to remove his tongue from the clothesline pole the January he was 7 after I told him they tasted like cotton candy. He lost some skin that day but at least it prevented him from telling on me.

The two of us together in a room alone at the funeral home looking down at our Dad when we were younger than my boys are now. The absolute silence and togetherness of that moment and the strength we gave each other.

Waking up in the hospital room in the dark after my first son died to hear quiet crying and looking to my side to see my brother in full Gene Simmons make up with tears running down his face. My Mom had contacted him right in the middle of a hell of a Halloween party with the news, and he had come straight to the hospital to see me. We actually didn’t say a word to each other- he just held my hand and cried for me as I was too sedated and numbed out to cry for myself.

Mark on his wedding day- so handsome, so happy, so in love. I think that may have been one of the best days of his life, all his family and friends in one place celebrating their marriage and also the opportunity for a kick ass party when the formal stuff was over.

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Money-Drop Visit

Finding $100.00 bills all over my house after he had been to visit one time when the boys were babies.

In their piggy banks,

in the cookie jar,

in my coat pockets,

stashed in my car.

I even found one in a box of tampons in the bathroom. He had obviously noticed that I was struggling  financially and knew I was too proud to ask for help. So he helped and just went on his way without us ever talking about it again until I tried to pay some of it back.

He told me to shut up about paying it back.

Said he didn’t need it and he knew I spent it on something far wiser than he would have.

Hugging him close to me days before he died, in the middle of an acute episode of pain, hearing him cry for the first time in twenty-some years. He was hurting, he was afraid and he was finally allowing me to be the strong one again after years of him doing it. It was full circle back to our childhood with me rubbing his back and “shhhshhhing” him, telling him everything was going to be alright, and that I would make everything better. Just “shhhhh.”

 

 

I always knew in my heart that my big strong brother would not wither away. I told anyone who would listen that he would go on his own terms and his own timeline, which he did.

Watching as his life slipped away in the hospital that day, surrounded by his nephews and Gary and Jack, I was so very grateful that he had such strong loving hands upon him to ease his transition.

At the moment his spirit left his body, I physically felt it fly straight through me like a shattering burst.

1424320229906.jpgIt hit me hard enough to send me to my knees if Cal hadn’t been there to hold me up.

That energy was my brother’s soul impatiently dropping what he didn’t need any more- that tired, failing body and blasting off like a shooting star to whatever is out there- his next great adventure.

He took a huge chunk of me with him that day but also left so much of himself in my heart that will forever be with me until we meet again.

Safe travels, Muck – love you forever – Yaya XO

 

 

Brothers and Other Addicts

kidsThe Early Years

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.

Shots fired.

I retreated.

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.

Foxhole, indeed.