He took the personality and left me with the good sense. Mother often said we were like two sides of the same person, and it was true. We were similar, but my brother and I presented a host of paradoxical traits, none of which Mother was seemingly equipped to handle. He was full of mischievousness; I was not. His bad behavior only seemed to make her tighten my noose, while his “last night” stories were merely the spoils of boyhood.
My brother could make strangers laugh and fall in love with him, but he couldn’t be trusted. He loved lying almost as much as he loved talking. I hid anything of value, locking it away in my room, and I held the only key. That was the only way to make sure things didn’t end up at the corner pawn shop. Mother hid money from him, only to hand it over at the last second.
“You’re enabling him!” I screamed. “He’ll never get a job if you keep giving him money!”
“But he’ll go to jail!” she’d cry.
“Let him go!”
I was the baby, so everyone loved me, but no one really liked me. My appetite for nuance and imagination couldn’t be satisfied with their small talk and gossip. I learned to turn people off, endure the chatter, but never participate. Solace became my best friend.
I remember the day I told Mother that I wasn’t sure I wanted children of my own.
“You’ll never have much of a life, then,” she said, “but I think that’s a good idea for you. You’ve always only cared for yourself.”
Selfish. That’s what she thought of me, what everyone thought.
I didn’t dare give it voice, but I’m sure my eyes asked the question: Has your life been so grand because of us?
Was I to assume that by “a life” she meant sobbing while I’m in the bathroom? Whimpering as I do the dishes? Streaking my pillow every night with mascara? Was that the real test of selflessness?
After Father died and Mother remarried, my then middle-aged brother moved in with her and her new husband. She banished him to the couch for a few years, and then, finally, gave up her TV room to make a bedroom for him. Nothing ever changed. Pawn shop, job loss, whiskey, jail, Hep-C, free clinic, more whiskey… this was Mother’s retirement, a shouting match between she and her son, refereed by a (no doubt) hoodwinked man who had no mentality to deal with a troubled adult stepchild.
I always assumed she was miserable, and I’m sure that in some conversation or another, she admitted to it. I used to ask her, “What I am supposed to do with him when you’re gone? What will become of him?” She used to say she wished my brother would just move away, across the country, and stay there. That way, she didn’t have to deal with him, even if he did go to jail or lose a job.
Those conversations were held in vain. My brother died first. Several months ago, he simply fell over dead. Medics restarted his heart after 20 minutes or so and placed him on ventilation, but the doctors offered absolutely no hope, saying he shouldn’t have even been revived. Mother’d talk to him as if he were 40 years younger, leaning over his bloated face, strapped down in case his brain stem, the only part of his 300-pound body that worked on its own, decided to trigger the seizures again.
Mother had to agree to end the life support, but I’m the one who talked her into shutting it off. My brother would’ve cursed her for leaving him on it so long, for letting his friends come and see him like that. She didn’t seem to care, content to let a machine force air into his lifeless body for as long as the law allowed, even inquiring about admission into hospice care, until I told her I wouldn’t come back the next day if she wasn’t going to let him go.
So, she did.
I miss his laugh and his spot-on impressions. When things were good, they were extremely so, and I miss those good times.
When someone dies so young, you can’t help wondering what might have been. His death was tragic, but it could have been so much worse. He could’ve overdosed, or caused a highway pile-up, or shot himself. These were all ways in which I expected him to die. Instead, he died watching football with an old friend. One second, alive; the next, gone.
Because of this, I am able to move forward knowing that God called him for a reason, and He called him while he was happy, doing something he enjoyed. I can be happy, and there’s no shame in that. I’ve a good life with my husband and my two dogs, and we have a lot of living to do.
In spite of this, Mother is horribly depressed. She’s still sobbing, only now she cries at any given moment. I’m not sure what she misses, other than her favorite problem, but she’s clinging onto whatever she can. She totes around the nearly seven-pound box of his cremains when she visits me, and she even decorates it for the occasion. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mother ties on a small ornament of appropriate theme. For beach trips and visits to my house, a seashell. I’m not sure what she does on the other special events, and I really don’t want to know.
There’s no sense of closure. My brother wouldn’t care less about what she does with the ashes, but I don’t think he’d like knowing that she’s punishing the rest of us with her grief. And guilt. And fear.
Even now, she worries about my brother. I know Mother hangs on the belief that he drank himself to death, even though the doctors said the amount of alcohol in his system was negligible.
She found a way to blame him for his own death.
I wonder if she blames me for his ashes.