My brother and I were never particularly close.
Close in age, certainly. We are less than three years apart. In the photo above, that is me on the left. My brother is the chubby baby in the Giants onesie on the right. We are two years and nine months apart, yet you can never imagine two people so different.
My brother and I were brought up in a very abusive household. Our parents, well-meaning as they might have been, were a non stop source of stress and strife in our little lives. They fought constantly, every single waking moment of the day and night. She was a shrew, my mother. Nagged to the point where you could no longer stand the sound of her voice. (It still makes me cower a bit when she raises her voice.) My father, the man I have come to call “the sperm donor”, was a self-absorbed, egotistical hippie type who never quite grew up enough to understand that you no longer get to be a “free spirit” once you make the commitment to having a wife and children. Sure, you can be an individual, but you do not get to live your life as one. There are three other people in the picture. Three other people who matter, who count on you and who you need to give thought to before doing the selfish things that stop you from being a part of that family unit.
My father, in something so cliche it embarrasses me to mention, left my mother for his secretary (cringe) back in 1973 when I was merely 7 years old. Not that this was his first affair, mind you. This was merely the one that “stuck” and the one that finally took this man out of his home and into hers. There was a part of me that was so grateful when he left. For years, I had endured listening to their fights that would end up with punches thrown, furniture being flipped over, disgusting and vulgar things said right over my head and the endless tears that my mother would cry each and every time he walked out that door and away from “this bullshit”. I came to feel that I was a part of the “bullshit” he needed to walk away from and, as every child does, began to blame myself for my father leaving. This was further confirmed when my mother, in moments of distress and uncertainty of her future would say thing like, “he never wanted any kids to begin with.”
Great. Like I ASKED to be born into this?
For years, I resented my father. Years. Hated him with a fervor and a passion that no little girl should ever have to know. When I got stuck having to go to his house on the weekends, I was moody, irritable, out of sorts, angry. I felt deep venom for my mother for leaving me with this man who obviously did not want my brother and I there and truly made us, or at least me, feel like we were cramping his bachelor lifestyle. He had a girlfriend (the secretary) named Yvonne. She was a red head. Tall. Thin. Gorgeous. And their lifestyle consisted of walking around nude all the time. It’s just what they did. And while that’s fine monday through friday, it is probably something that should have been curtailed when your 9 year old daughter and your 6 year old son would come to visit. They smoked weed. A LOT of weed. We were never really “watched” or cared for. It would make me feel so uncomfortable being in that environment. I don’t think it effected my brother the same way it did me. He sort of found it all funny…that he got to see “boobies” at Dad’s house. But for me, a young girl on the precipice of my pre-teen years, it made me feel out of sorts. I used to sit in the loft of his apartment and just get lost in books. Reading for hours on end til my mother and whatever random flavor of the week she was dating at that time would come and pick us up from his place on the west side of Manhattan.
As I got older, savvier, I learned how to take the train back from Riverside Drive in Manhattan up to Queens Boulevard in Queens. I would run away from his apartment, letting myself into my mothers apartment with my key. (Those of you who were “latchkey” kids would understand why a 10 year old would have her own key to the apartment.) Most of the time, my mother would not be there. She’d be out, somewhere, with whomever she was dating. Sometimes, she would be there with her boyfriend and I would get stuck back on a train, heading back towards Manhattan after listening to my mother screech at my father at the top of her lungs about how the HELL he could not even notice his daughter had disappeared.
Simple. He was too stoned most of the time to even notice whether I was alive or not.
“I thought she was upstairs, reading,” he would stammer, trying to stifle his laughter.
“You’re an asshole, piece of shit,” she would continue. Blah blah blah.
This was my world. The world of the broken home. The world of having two sets parents who were so self-absorbed and involved in their own worlds that they never really saw the magnitude of what they were doing to their children.
Truth be told, I think the divorce took a much deeper toll on me than it did on my brother. My brother stayed in touch with “bio dad” long after I made the decision at 11 years old to never see him again. I hated him, all he stood for and his selfish ways. The last time I saw my father as a child, it was at my 11th grade graduation. He showed up, after the ceremony of course, with some flowers. I took a single photo with him and that is the only memory that I have of him that stands out in my head. I saw him again, when I turned 19, in a chance meeting at a Florida mall while I was on Spring Break with some girlfriends. We talked. Ironed out a few things. Said some things that needed to be said, but by this time, he was older…the age I am now, actually, and it seemed like life had beaten him up so badly, I couldn’t muster up all the venom and rage that 9 year old me wanted to throw upon him.
A mere 6 months after that chance meeting, my father was dead. Killed by a heart attack caused by cocaine usage. He was driving on the I-4 interstate when the heart attack occurred. He jumped the median and slammed into a Pepsi tractor trailer going in the opposite direction.
In my utter distress, in my lack of being able to wrap my head around this…I made a joke out of it. A morbid joke. Something to the extent of “this time, Pepsi actually beat out Coke.” No one appreciated the joke. I was called “insensitive”, but I had experienced such a disconnect between me and this man that all I could rely upon was a macabre sense of humor to get me through.
Fast forward to now. Right now.
My brother is having an affair. He told me about it. He didn’t need to. I knew it was going on. I could tell. All the tell tale signs were there. “My wife doesn’t understand me,” he would say. He sought my advice and was appalled when I told him to go the hell home and work things out with your wife. He thought I would have taken his side, told him to go…be happy! Do your thing! Live your life! But as I looked at him, all I could see was my father. He looks so much like him. He sounds so much like him. And in that, he represented everything I ever hated about my own selfish father.
Recently, his wife found out about his affair. She called me, crying, asking if he could come down here to stay with me for a few days. He wanted to “clear his head” before making a decision about whether he would be staying with her or leaving her and her three beautiful children for this girl who “understands him”. Of course, I told her. Let him come down here. Let him be with me and my family. Let him see what a loving family unit is supposed to look like. Let me talk sense into him.
He came…and it was the worst three days of my life in a very long time.
I have never seen such selfish, self absorbed behavior since my fathers existence on this planet. He spent the entire weekend texting this girlfriend of his. He ignored me when I tried to talk to him. He ignored my kids, my grandkids who he has scarcely seen since they have been born. All he wanted to do was go out and party. “What is there to do in this town,” he carried on. “What’s good? Where are the clubs at? Who’s coming out partying with me tonight?”
And all I saw was my father…and the rage slowly boiled in my blood.
“I thought we were going to have some family time,” I said.
“Yeah. Yeah, of course. We’ll have family time. But it’s the weekend. So, let’s get this party going! Where’s the Hard Rock? Let’s go gambling! I got a grand burning a hole in my pocket. Let’s do this.”
Not the faintest hint of moral dilemma in his eyes. No thought to his grieving wife back at home. No thought to his three children, ages 9 through 13, who are suffering right now, listening to mommy cry at night as they go to bed. The three of them acutely aware of what their father did…but having to suffer the consequence of his insanely selfish actions. There was a lot of arguing between my brother and I. I would try to talk to him, try to get his face out of his phone and off the texting that was going on between him and this random girl (who, incidentally, DOES know my sister in law and apparently, does not care about sleeping with her husband). I tried to keep my brother focused.
“Go to the mall with your nephew,” I told him. “He’s missed you. Go spend time with him.”
My son reported back to me that Uncle spent his entire time at the mall walking alongside him with his face buried in the phone. We went out for dinner. Same thing. Out for breakfast with family. Same thing. Went to go visit my husbands family. Same thing. Face buried in that phone…no consideration to any one else.
And I finally exploded.
My brother declared he had to “get the fuck outta here”. Apparently, the whore that he had taken up with was giving him ultimatums about coming home. He was pacing the floors, gotta go gotta go gotta go gotta go. Change my ticket change my ticket change my ticket now now now now now now. It was around then that I released the wrath of 9 year old me all over him. Everything that 9 year old me ever wanted to say to that stupid, selfish, piece of shit father of mine came flying out of my mouth. Only now, it was 45 year old me, screaming it at my baby brother…who looks like the man, acts like the man. We fought ferociously to the point where he was punching the dashboard of my car, jumping out of it in the middle of the highway and me, considering throwing my truck in reverse to run him over and leave him to join the same fate as his father…dying under the wheels of a truck. All of a sudden, that wild rush came through me…and the fury was too huge to fight. I couldn’t contain it any longer and in that instant, I wanted him to die…and I wanted ME to the be the one who put him in that box. I wanted him to suffer for the things he did to me, but it wasn’t him. It was my father. I wanted him to suffer for the things I knew he was about to put my beautiful niece through. She is now the same 9 year old little desperate girl that I was at the time, and I knew what lay before her. I walked this road before…and I felt so justified in just removing my brother from this world to spare her all the pain. Let her father die while she still loves him and still wants him in her life. Let him just die that way…before she grows up hating him, blaming him for every failed relationship in her life. Never trusting men ever again because she couldn’t trust the one who gave her life. I just wanted to hear his body under the tires of my truck as I rolled over him again and again and again.
Fast forward once more.
I am at home. He is gone, back on an airplane New York bound, on the way to ruin the innocent lives of my precious niece and my two nephews. On the way home to destroy whatever little is left of my sister in laws self esteem. He is going home to break everyone’s hearts. My parents. Her parents. All the children involved. And the last thing he said to me…”This isn’t about YOU, this is about ME! It’s always been about ME!”
Yes. Yes, “Dad”. It was always about you. And because it was always about you…hearts died in the process.
I turned on the song “Helpless” by Neil Young. It is off the album “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere” and was one of my fathers favorite songs. I put my head down and I cried. I cried long and hard from a place so deep within me that I knew I was no longer an adult woman, but that little girl whose father destroyed her self esteem, her sense of security, her trust and faith and most of all, destroyed her life. I wept so hard for this broken doll inside of me. The pain was palpable. I could feel her within me, so angry for never getting a chance to tell the real man who ruined my life what I really thought of him. Angry, that now my relationship with my brother, my one link to that time in my life is now irretrievably broken. I cried for loss. I cried from abandonment. I cried for the realization that I was left to my own devices by my daddy when I was only 9 years old, the same age my niece is right now. And wept harder still…because I know now, as a 45 year old woman, that I can never, ever get those moments back, nor can I save my niece from becoming a 45 year old woman who is going to inevitably look back with the same pain, grief and anger.
It’s been two days since my brother left town.
He sent me a text message. “Left my sneakers there. Can you ship them to me?”
No apology. No “I’m sorry” for hurting you. No sense of responsibility for the devastation he left in his wake. No regret. Just concern for his sneakers.
He is, after all, his father’s son.
And I sit here, my heart still torn wide open, trying to wrestle with the fact that I have all these open wounds that I thought were long gone, but realize now they were just scabbed up, waiting to be torn wide open to bleed, to fester, to become infected. It is a painful realization to find out that what you thought you were so far past in your life, you never really resolved after all. You just buried it deep down, burned it in a box and scattered the ashes somewhere.
Eventually, the winds of time blow them back at you. You suffocate in their thickness as they choke you and blind you. You shake your head to clear your thoughts, to gain some sense of vision and clarity. Then suddenly, you realize. The game remains the same…only the players have changed.
And like a lost little child on a subway heading to Queens at 2am…you brave it alone.
Home is only a few more stops away.