Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Brother, Can You Spare the Time?

My brother is on the left, looking towards the future.
My brother and I were both adopted. We are not blood brothers. We’re not part of a brotherhood or fraternity, but we are both sons of Norman and Ruth. We never threw the baseball back and forth, or went camping together. I was the bullying older brother, calling my brother Lippy Hollow-Head, and drawing caricatures of him in my sketchbooks; putting Hersey's syrup in his underwear, and leaving it outside on his window, only to be found that spring by my parents when they were doing yard work. "Brian must have been embarrassed and threw them out the window,” said my mom upon the discovery.

Brian was the oldest at the time of his adoption. The rest of us were babies. He was starting to walk and talk, and grow a personality. He hated to have his picture taken and would start to ball whenever the camera came out. We shared a bedroom when he was a toddler. Late one night, I was awoken by his labored breathing. I woke my parents up and they brought Brian out to the kitchen and filled the room with steam that smelled like camphor. I returned to bed with the impression that I had saved his life.

When we were children, Brian had two epileptic seizures. I witnessed both of them. It was frightening, especially when the nurse, who lived upstairs, used a kitchen knife in his mouth, to keep him from biting his tongue. (A kitchen knife?!) His second seizure occurred on a chilly fall day, when my father was doing yard work. Brian was sitting on some concrete steps and my dad told him to put a jacket on. Brian was non-responsive and seemed almost catatonic. My dad picked him up and ran into the house with him. Brian vomited on himself, so my dad changed his clothes before running him to the hospital. He never had another seizure that I know of; just the two.

He has never married, although he’s had girlfriends on and off. He was a regular on the Karaoke circuit for a while, but as his drink started to take its toll, he was less able to maintain a relationship with anyone except the bottle. He’s been arrested multiple times for drunk driving, once getting off by using the Binaca Blast defense. He no longer has a driver’s license in Massachusetts. He once lit his kitchen on fire, while living in a dilapidated trailer by a lake. He has called me many times over the last few years, always drunk and usually incomprehensible. One night he fell asleep while on the phone with me. I found out the next day that he passed out against the radiator in his house. He was so inebriated that the pain from the heater never woke him up and he now has burn scars on that side of his face.

I was visiting the east coast while he was in the midst of a prison sentence. He spent nearly a year and a half in jail on a charge filed by an ex-girlfriend. I went with my mother, who was using her walker with the tennis balls on the bottom. After an unexplained delay, Brian arrived at the visiting booth. I could barely see his face through the scratched layers of security glass. There was only one phone, so I talked to him and then passed the phone to my mom. He went through some hard times, being in jail with some genuinely dangerous criminals. Brain was just a drunk with a really bad choice in friends. Friends don’t come back to your parents’ house after the party and rob the place.

This is not a memorial. My brother is still alive, but not well. I cannot imagine the emotional pain he must feel inside to want to commit slow suicide by drinking. He has admitted his death wish to me. It breaks my heart, but I cannot talk to him when he is drunk, never mind that I can barely understand him. We are three-thousand miles apart. I am four years older than my brother, but we have both gotten older on opposite coasts. When his liver gives out, and his other organs start to break down, there will be no family nearby to hold his quaking hand. No family to reassure him that our love for him has never lessened, even though he has felt abandoned and hopeless. The only hope left is to start again tomorrow.

I love you, Brian.

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