Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh Brother...Here Art Thou

Sometimes brothers are born into your family. And sometimes they just show up, hiccuping, sprawled on your living room sofa surrounded by crumpled Taco Bell bags and mumbling, "Can you help me up? My stomach hurts." No matter how many times I tell him not to eat spicy tacos and wash them down with rum and Pepsi at 10 in the morning...still, he doesn't listen. And that's how I know, The Neighbor and I, we're stuck with each other.

Last week, he told me that before Second Edition pulled up in her fast car and decided to stay, those were days filled with both darkness and light. Light? Okay, I get that. Because although we take turns cooking, climb trees together, walk the beach searching for agates and buy matching t-shirts at rock concerts, we also argue about which brewery makes the better beer, who gets to be the black kid on Wii, taking out the trash and getting fat (he is, I'm, na, na, na, na). It wasn't that much different when my brother, Edward, was alive. I big sistered him. And he ignored me.

Now, of course, I still have my brother R, and together we have another he loves and I don't. Let's call him Bird. Because he's always high and shitting on others. Oddly, when we were little, Bird was my best playmate, the one closest in age and just as cunning, as full of small town itch as I was. While R was at football practice and Edward was locked in his room listening to music and strumming his guitar, Bird and I were shooting each other with BB guns and blowing up ant hills with firecrackers. He'd hold me down with his knees and smear snot on my face; I'd use his toothbrush to clean the toilet. Yeah, we were tight.

And then something happened when we got to be teenagers. He couldn't stop being bad. Drugs. DWIs. Jail. Emergency rooms. Impregnating a minor. Guns. Car wrecks. Jail. Rehab. Theft. Jail. Alcoholics Anonymous. Seventh Day Adventists. More emergency rooms. Jail. Now, he lives with R who keeps an eye out, feeding and watering him, but impossibly, can't keep him out of Jail. He was last arrested September 28th. How our father managed to stay in public office all these years is a miracle...or a tribute to his unflappable ability to change the subject. Bird is our Billy Carter. Gary Hart's yacht, Monkey Business. Geraldine Ferraro's husband's family. A Mexican Monica Lewinsky.

When R and I had dinner together two weeks ago in Portland and he was giving me the update on Bird, I realized something rather stunning. For the past 20 years, I've carefully managed the 12 steps of Coping With A Family Drug Addict: disappointment, sadness, anger, resentment, pity, embarrassment, repulsion, disappointment...rinse, repeat. The last time I spoke to Bird, he was draped over Edward's coffin, sobbing and sputtering, "It should have been me. It should have been me." Without hesitation, my fists clenched, I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Yes. Yes. It should have been you."

But now. Now. I'm on Step 13. Nothing. I feel Nothing for the man. Less than if he were a total stranger. I'm done being angry and disappointed. I don't wish him ill or wish him better anymore. I don't wish. I'm a white sheet of paper. It's as if someone crawled inside my head, my heart with a bucket of bleachy water and a sponge and scrubbed me clean.

Probably I should be worried that a neighbor is more dear to me than my own blood. Maybe I inherited Dad's unflappable ability to change the subject. Or maybe The Neighbor has shown me that sometimes...your faith...can be restored.

1 comment:

Mich said...

3 states away is a good way to deal with crazy family members. Trust me (the former Californian who lives in Seattle).