I Had a Brother

Sometimes it’s the little things that trigger the memories.  A few weeks ago, when those young women who had been abducted in Cleveland were found, almost by accident, my father said to me, “I don’t believe this story.  It’s impossible that these women could be locked up for all those years and no one ever heard them, or saw them.”  I lashed out in anger, “Dad, there are BAD people in this world, whether you want to believe it or not!”  I went on, “Don’t you remember when Joel and I were little and you and Mom would be getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, and you sent us across the grocery store parking lot to the drugstore soda fountain to get dinner?”  My father was a plastic surgery resident then, and we lived, the five of us, in a two bedroom apartment in a complex next door to the A & P.  I was seven and Joel was five and I had a job–no, a DUTY to make sure that the server did not put mayonnaise on his hamburger.  He wanted it PLAIN and that was that.  I said, “Something TERRIBLE could have happened to us and you and Mom didn’t care.  You just wanted us out of the way so you could get ready.”  My father had no recollection of this whatsoever, and it occurred to me that perhaps he wasn’t even there.  Perhaps he was still at work, sewing up lacerations and dog bites and victims of car accidents.  There were no actual memories of him, only of my mother, sitting in front of her vanity, applying her make-up.  She was beautiful, my mother. While she put on her make-up, my little brother stole candy from the drugstore.

My brother spent his life between drug rehab facilities and prison, with brief moments of hopeful sobriety in between.  We stopped speaking for a very long time after he cashed in the ticket my parents sent him so that he could be best man at my wedding.  He spent the weekend in Las Vegas gambling.  He didn’t bother to call.  When our grandmother died a few years later, we met in Chicago at her tiny apartment just before her funeral.  When my father asked if there was anything of hers that we wanted, he replied, “I checked the silver.  It’s under the bed.  It’s plate.”  My brother survived car accidents, a bad marriage and the AIDS epidemic.  He was handsome, smart and charming.  You just wanted to believe him when he said that things were better, that he was getting along  fine.  His eyes were cornflower blue, and my favorite picture of him was taken when he was eighteen.  He was sitting on a ferry boat on the way to Anacortes, wearing a blue shirt.  In the picture, the sky is gray, and he looks young, and sad.

In 2003 my brother died of an accidental heroin overdose in a flop house hotel in Portland, Oregon.  Apparently, he had been shooting up with a friend, who was recently released from prison and was on probation.  The story I got was that the friend knew that my brother had overdosed, but fled rather than call 911 and risk going back to prison himself.  It was a few days before they found my brother’s body. I don’t remember much about the funeral, except that it was late fall, and turning bitter cold.  I still miss him.

The other day I was rifling through drawers in my office, trying to find an article I had saved about melanoma.  I had to pull out some old framed family pictures that were taken off my desk top during some construction in the office, and put in the drawer for safe keeping.  I showed the medical student the pictures of my kids and we had chatted about my sister and he asked, “Do you have other siblings?”  I replied, “I had a brother.”

14 thoughts on “I Had a Brother

  1. so very very sad that a life can take a turn like that and never recover despite so many chances and so many efforts of others. Perhaps the peace he found in eternity is enough. Or like in life, it will never be enough.

    • Emily, I am hopeful that he finally found peace. He did have the support of his family and many chances for recovery. But the drug addict must truly desire to recover, otherwise it cannot happen. M

  2. Such a hard to journey to witness especially when the roots of it were so seemingly innocent. Addiction is a horrible disease that robs more than just the addict – being present for your own children may be the most beneficial and important quality you gained from the pain of watching your brother’s life fall apart.

  3. Thank You For Sharing Such An Intimate Family Story….It’s Amazing How These Heartfelt RecollectiOns Automatically Trigger Our Own Childhood Memories…

  4. Wow. So very many different kinds of lives. Difficult to open to his suffering that drove him to such lengths to blot it out. I am very sorry, and sorry doesn’t help. I am flooded with complex emotions ignited by the poignancy of your writing….
    You had a brother.
    Sending love

  5. What a difficult piece that must have been for you to write…I had no idea that you had a brother. This story is similar to the story of Alice’s son …
    Thank you for sharing something so close to your heart…

  6. As you said to me a few months ago “I wish I could say I don’t know what you are feeling – but I do”. I am inspired to write about my sister, now. Soon.

  7. I can’t believe it has been 10 years!
    Your writing is so beautiful.
    It is very difficult to understand that we have no power on what others do to themselves. The most we can do is keep mayo off the burger when they are still young & innocent. It is so sad that some of us have to die to get sober.
    We can’t erase the good memories just because there were some bad ones.
    Remember him as the handsome young man on the boat.

  8. I am the mother of an addicted son who has been in and out of several rehabs. As recent as this last Friday he was given a pink slip to leave the rehab he has been in for 1 month. So we look for another. I hope I never have to say “I had a son”

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Addiction is painful for both sides…the addict and the addict’s family/friends. I had a cousin, a lifelong drug addict who finaly succombed to his devils two years ago by his own hand. Still wonder if there was anything that I could have done to prevent his suicide.

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