I received a disturbing telephone call today. I am the oldest of six children, as you may know by now. Through some odd Catholic sort of rhythm thing, the three of us who are older were born within three years of one another, followed by some strange gap that I do not want to explore, then followed by the eruption of three more of us, in the same pattern. Don’t ask me, I just live here.
The end result, of course, is that the three of us who were born first are very close. We slept in the same bed when my dad came home wasted late at night looking for a fight (and got one). The Hank Williams would kick in, and suddenly my sister and my brother were in my bed with me.
I was not the brave one, by the way. I would talk my sister into going downstairs and talking my dad into going to bed. We figured that she had the best odds of surviving that, and she did.
It’s not that he was a beater. He was just a selfish man, especially when he was drunk. He would pour his affection on me, for example, if I went downstairs, when I didn’t want it. His affection smelled of alcohol and guilt and stupidity.
At that time, my dad was in the US Navy, trying to succeed, and doing well at it, as it turns out. My mom had grand mal epilepsy, chronic anemia, and, I now suspect, depression that was associated with panic attacks and social anxiety.
No one had heard of some of those things at the time.
I know my dad hadn’t.
But this is not about my dad. It is about us, the six kids. My sister and my brother, we grew up together in what might be considered an austere environment. We still laugh about the jumbo bags of puffed wheat, puffed rice, for breakfast. We still recall the treasure that was going to the commissary and getting to pick one box of cereal each to last for a month, and then eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until it was gone.
But this is not about that.
My brother, my sister, and me, we grew up in a different time, in a different world. We never knew it was not a normal world, and to be honest, I am not sure it was not a normal world. I would not trade it for anyone else’s world. I enjoyed my childhood.
However, the younger three of us, they grew up pretty much in a different world. I went to college, my brother joined the service, my sister got married, all while my dad was moving up on the very fast track, to becoming vice president of a prestigious development company.
These three, the younger three, they grew up in the lap of luxury. There is no doubt about that. Even today, I cannot match the environs that my dad built around those kids.
All I ever did, really, was try to build a family. If my brother got into a fight and lost, I had to go find someone and whip his butt. And did. Sometimes the guy was twice my size. Really. And I was not a tough guy. I was a thinker and a lover (as today 🙂 ). But my brother had to know that I had his back. If you grew up in the city, you know what I am talking about. That is just the way it was. And we did not grow up in the city. We had, simply, each other.
That was passed along. I am honored by that. My family is a family. I think that many believe that my dad made this happen. I used to think so, myself. He did not. I did.
It was disappointing, therefore, when my youngest brother headed for the border more than three years ago when I announced that I had cancer. He did a magic act. He disappeared and took his family with him.
If you know me, you know that I understand that. I have learned enough about grief to know that we all handle it in our own ways and that it is really unfair for others to even question the way we handle it, at least to my mind.
You also know, if it has happened to you, that it doesn’t hurt any less simply because you think you know why it happened.
No, it still hurts.
You feel abandoned.
You might not care. I did not think I did. Once I realized that I was not going to hear from this little brother, I simply crossed him off of my list. Out of sight, out of mind, that sort of thing.
And it worked, to be honest. I am a man, and it may be that we process things a bit differently, but it worked. It really did. I heard about him and his family, of course. How could I not? I would ask. I would be told. I would leave it at that.
He called me today.
He probably would not like for me to be sharing this, but he came in to my world, not the other way around. And it blew me away.
He was crying. Really crying. I am not sure that there are many sounds more grievous than a grown man crying. There are! There are! I know there are. But not too many.
He was hard to understand at first, and finally I got it: he wanted me back in his life.
He said it several times.
I said: I love you. You are my brother. I love you. Nothing could change that.
He said: I’ll call you back when I have my stuff together.
I still do not know what that is all about. I wonder, frankly, if he has changed his mind 🙂 .
I wonder if he was just escaping from Guantanamo Bay, sleep deprived and half crazy. I wonder if he was half in the bag, or even three-quarters in the bag.
I wondered, for a while, if the police were outside his house using loudspeakers to beg him to come out. Really, the thought crossed my mind. You never know these days.
I do not know. He said he would call back.
He has not done that. It is probable that he needed a deep sleep. We will see how this goes in the days to come.
I wrote to him, to let him know that I love him and always have and always will. We are family and all of that. It has always meant something to me, and I hope that it was passed on to him.
He is a good man, and he should not be racked by guilt about my experiences and how he reacted to them. He did what he felt he had to do: take care of his family. I understand that.
He DID leave me, and my family, hanging out there to dry. I think that cancer does not fit into the tidy Truman-like life he is trying to maintain for his family.
I have other things to worry about. I am glad, though, that I was able to resist some other temptations and to, rather, let him know that I love him, as I do, and to let him know that he is entitled to his actions. It is his life.
Still, I was perfectly content in mine.