Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Brother

The biggest personal tragedy in life is wasted potential. What holds people back? At the root of it all is self-doubt, insecurity, the belief that others can do it better. My brother has always had the heart of two men. He was a lot, and I mean a lot like Tanner of the Bad News Bears, full of sauce and a never-say-die attitude. When he was knee-high he took on kids twice his size—he was afraid of nobody. My dad once coached a Little League team while my brother and I helped. John was younger than the boys on the team, and eventually attracted the older boy’s attention, in a negative way, and before long he was picked on. John slugged the biggest of the bunch and ran away. My father and I watched as the entire team chased him from infield to out and back again. Dad laughed, and he was so proud. His boy was a scrapper. He had heart.

As a big brother, in the short time that my brother and I shared the same residence, I give myself a C. I never hit him, no matter how badly I wanted to sometimes. Whenever he got in trouble with the local neighborhood kids, I was there to break it up. But I picked on him mercilessly about girls. “Oooh, you like her don’t you?” Noooooooooooo! He would scream to my sheer delight—daily. I always stood above him, keeping him in place. I was always top dog, and he needed to know.

As we got older, I stopped growing and he didn’t. I enjoyed a five year head start on him, but around 21 or 22, the size difference erodes like the sandy shore. We stood upon a rooftop, both of us wearing tool belts atop a plywood sheeted roof. Block layers surrounded our building on scaffolding; their hard-helmeted heads floated around the building like beach balls. I was irritated with my brother for being lapsidaisical. I had learned to run, and he was slowing me down. I threatened him like I always did. He straightened both arms to his sides and balled his fists.

“I’m not back down to you any more.”

My heart rattled in my chest as I realized he was serious. I lashed out and slapped him across the face—not hard, just enough to show him I was boss, desperate to hang on to my status that was already denigrated. “Ok then, let’s see what you’ve got,” I taunted.

He just stared at me, unblinking, still as a cobra. He repeated, “I won’t back down any more.”

I hollered some ridiculous challenge, but he only stood there. I finally walked away. One of the brick layers chided me later for picking on the small guy. I could only say, “He’s my brother.”

It changed between us after that. I apologized to him that night, something to the effect of, “John, what happened out there… I was wrong.” And of course he agreed.

He beat me at arm wrestling five years later, and any illusions I had of being his big brother were gone, at least in any definition I had to that day understood. He was bigger and stronger, and I had nothing left.

We share the same father, John and I. John has our father’s name, but I always had my father. John had his mother, who divorced our father when we were kids, when she was pregnant with our sister. Dad never paid a penny of child support, often not having a penny to support himself—but that was his own damn fault. My brother and sister grew up without a father and got stuck with the controlling, fire and brimstone, God fearing mother, the one who beat me for the short time I lived with her. I was glad to be rid of her. But John never recovered from losing his father. To make things worse, Dad never called him and still never does to this day. Why? Because dad is fucked up, thinking that he needs to have something of value to say to his son, something to offer, placing no value on the sound of his voice or in his love.

Houston is the capital of drugs, the test market for the latest mind altering substances. Drugs and God are the culture. There are gangs and violence, and now the jails are overflowing with the poor and desperate refuges of Katrina. Houston’s murder rate has more than doubled since the hurricane, and the crime rate has spiked off the chart. My brother got caught holding an exorbitant amount of ecstasy, or X if you will, a few years ago, and barely avoided going to jail as a dealer, and has been on probation, reporting monthly to deposit a jar of piss. He has a daughter and an ex-wife, and just found out about another daughter that he supports but never sees.

My sister knows about the life my brother leads because he parties with my sister’s ex-husband, who she left because of his insufferable cocaine habit. It was just a matter of time before the piss test yielded a positive result.

I don’t know what is going to happen now. John has a lawyer that feels good about his chances to be allowed to undergo rehab. John is financially responsible, having just bought a house, and an employer who will pay for the rehab and hold his job for him. John is number one in his company for what he does, and that is no mean feat. John has always been the one with the heart to do it better than anybody else, and that isn’t just the intense love that I feel speaking. I’ve said that I don’t know how I feel about God, but he heard from me last night.

I said goodnight to my own son last night. When I look at him I see my brother as a little boy again, and I can’t help but wonder if someday Jackson will have the same problems. I kissed him on the forehead and asked him for a hug, which he was all too glad to grant. I can’t help my brother now, but I’ll be for goddamn sure that I can give to my boys what my brother so desperately needed. I held Jackson tight and told him, “I love you more than anything.” I felt unimaginative at that as I searched for something more prolific. He didn’t break away like he sometimes does, sensing something deeper than the usual good night routine. I turned away from him lest he see the tears forming in the wells of my eyes and managed feeble see-you-in-the-morning.


Bailey Stewart said...

Oh Scott I am so sorry. Perhaps the lawyer is right and things will work out okay. I don't know, drugs are so unforgiving, they get a hold of someone and just won't give up easily. He has a fight on his hands, not just with the courts but with the drugs themselves. I'll keep him in my prayers.

About the big brother thing - don't be so hard on yourself. I don't know the entire story, but based upon what you said, you weren't much different than a lot of older brothers, that's what they do - they tease the younger ones unmercilessly. By supporting him now you are doing what every sibling needs to do. Take care.

jenbeauty said...

Scott know that you are doing the best and giving your best. Those people in your world/life are lucky to have you.


Jada's Gigi said...

I've often told my "thinking of divorce" friends and my "I can't believe I got pregnant", unmarried friends that almost any father is better than no father...speaking as one who knows both sides. I don't think kids should be subjected to horrible treatment but then sometimes bad circumstances are worth enduring, just to have a father (call me crazy)...God knew what He was doing when He made mothers and fathers for kids...
I'm praying for John....

Toni Anderson said...

Maybe you could have done more? Hard to know isn't it? I have a little sister who I taunted in similar ways and she's f**** up. I have two older siblings who taunted me in similar and other ways and (hopefully) I'm solid.

I don't think it is your responsibility but you always wonder if things could have been different. Good luck to John with his drug problem. You can still tell him you love him.

Parents can do terrible things to their kids without even thinking. Hope yours & mine grow up safely and happily.

trinamick said...

Hindsight is 20/20. We always want to take back our actions once we already know the consequences. But sometimes we have to accept that things may have turned out the same no matter what we did.

It's tough dealing with a family member with an addiction. Hope things turn out for the best.

Moni said...

Scott, you should not even remotely take the blame for your dad's mistakes. I sense that you feel as though you should have taken on a fatherly role with your brother. You were and still are his brother.

The same thing happened to me, although I was never involved with drugs, my father left me when he married my stepmother. He disowned me because my stepmother who was not that much older than I, was jealous of me. I was a good child and didn't deserve it. I have a stepsister, a half brother, a half sister, and an adopted brother who live with my father, and I don't see any of them. I have extended the olive branch many times and still they won't include me. The reason I'm telling you this is that a father's conditional love is to earned so to speak, and a lack of it can mess with your psyche. For years I tried to reach my father and then for years I felt that I wasn't good enough to have earned his love.

And then I had an epiphany and that is this, my heavenly father loved me enough to send his son to die for my sins and unlike earthly fathers he will never leave me. So regardless of whether my earthly father wants a relationship with me or not, I am worthy of a heavenly father's love. I know it sounds hokey and idealistic, but it has helped me tremendously.

Maybe you could help your brother know that he has done nothing to cause his father to not love him. That he is a worthy person, that he is an individual with something of value to offer this world.

Don't worry about your sons, you are there and as long as you are there for them and love them, you'll love away the social ills that seek to destroy them. I'll be praying for your brother.


Erin-erin-bo-berin said...

As a former drug addict myself, I know that it's a rough lifestyle to break away from. I am now 16 years clean and sober, and I am so very thankful for my only sister, who prayed for me during that dark time.
It's not just a boy thing, either, to tease mercilessly. My younger sister and I pushed it too far - sending each other to the ER more than once before we reached our teens. As adults, we are now close friends.
Scott, you are doing the best you can with what you have available. Prayer is powerful. Keep on talking to God. {{{HUGS}}}

Mrs.T said...

X is not an easy drug to drop, once you've decided to keep doing it.

I had a talk about drugs with Jay yesterday in fact. He didn't understand why people smoke, if they knew it was addictive and that it could hurt you, why do it?

That was not an easy conversation to have.

You can only do, the best you can do, with the resources and information you have in your hands at the time. I'm sorry about your brother, I think you're right to understand that it's just not something you can do anything about.

magnetbabe said...

I'm sorry you have to go through this. It is natural to think of what you could have done better even if you were the absolute ideal brother (whatever that is). But the truth is the perfect parents and siblings raise drug-addicted kids. And the most horrible awful situations beget upstanding citizens. Sure, people are influenced by their environment but above all they are led by their own free will. The key is what you do once you know what your brother is going through.

mr. schprock said...

Wow, what a post. And you hit the nail right on the head when you led it off by asking what holds people back. Your answer is 100% correct. I really hope things work out for your brother. I hope your dad someday acts like a dad to him too, even at this late date.

Shesawriter said...

This is truly sad. Bud, you can't beat yourself up. You've done the best you can do. Nobody can ask for more than that.

Kathleen said...

There was nothing else to say to Jackson. And I hope Jackson won't have those problems because he knows his father loves him.

I hope your brother gets another chance and does his best not to blow it. Drugs are evil, though, and if you have the wrong personality though they can take control. Look at Robert Downey Jr.

I thank God I don't have that problem. Good luck.

Sadie Lou said...

Hey Scott.
The ending of your post here really grabbed me. Those of us that lived a great childhood have big shoes to fill and those of us that had crappy childhoods live our whole adults lives wondering if we're good enough.
I fall in the first catagory--my parents loved me and I knew it.
My mom falls under the latter catagory. Her mom treats her like poo and she still thinks it's her duty as a daughter to take it--not only that but wonder if she's being a good mom to me and my sisters.
Have you ever met those people that look like they have done everything right with their kids and yet, they still have one of those kids that is a total screw up?
Parenting is the hardest job out there.
Your story reminds me of that scene from Parenthood--
Kevin Buckman Age 21: Thank you. When I was 9 years old, I had kind of a rough time. A lot of people thought I was pretty mixed up. But there was one person who got me through it. He did everything right. And thanks to him today, well I'm the happiest, most confident and most well adjusted person in this world. Dad, I love you. You're the greatest
Girl at College: Someone's gone to the roof of the bell tower with a rifle!
Dean at College: It's Kevin Buckman! His father totally screwed him up!
Boy At College: What's he yelling?
Gil: [Yelling through a megaphone] Son I'm sorry. I did all the best I could.
[Kevin shoots the megaphone from his hands]
Gil: Nice shot son! It's important to be supportive. Come on lets sing one of the old tunes. "When you're sliding into home and you're pants are full of foam, Diarerra - "