When I was a little girl, I had the most wonderful big brother. I depended on him like most kids would depend on their fathers- if I were at a friend's house playing, and I wanted to come home, I would call home and ask for him. Without a moment's hesitation, he would drive his velveteen van straight over to pick me up. In the summer, he would cheer me down the green bean garden rows with promises of an afternoon at the beach when my chores were finished. We'd finish off those hazy days, burnt and sandy, with a pizza pop and ice cream cone at the drive-in greasy spoon that was on our way home. In winter time, he'd pack up his skis and my crazy carpet and we'd head off for a day on the hills. Money was never an issue. I had none, he had what we needed.
He helped me put together my covered wagon bedside lamp from Yellowstone National Park, and never criticized when I mistakenly cut it in the wrong places. He patiently taught me the difference between inches, feet, and centimeters. He let me drive the big tractor when I didn't know how, and remained completely calm when I jack-knifed the thing trying to turn a corner. He read me the funnies on Saturdays. When I was about four, he bought me a blue elephant for Christmas. None of my sisters got an elephant that year, and no one was jealous. It was just assumed and accepted that he and I shared such a special friendship.
Then we grew up. I'd see him occasionally when he was manic and on a road trip to the city we lived in at the time. He'd rent a hotel room, invite me and the kids over for a swim, order us all chicken from KFC. The kids thought he was terrific. He'd let them style his hair with plastic barrettes until he'd pass out in their crib. He'd offer to take them for cab rides all over the city. He'd laugh and talk and play. They never recognized him as the same morose, quiet uncle they'd met before at grandma and grandpa's house.
The last time we shared a swim with him, he got booted out of the hotel some three or four days later. His behavior was wildly inappropriate. I went to see the hotel manager, tried to explain his illness, apologized for his actions, told him I understood. I told my brother to go home. I insulted him. It cut me deeply to have this role reversal, and to do so with less patience than he'd shown me in the plastic wagon nightlight days.
I tried to establish a peer relationship with him. However, his years poor choices, alcoholism, and deviant interactions with women had seeped into his character by this point. My children felt that God-given sense of discomfort in his presence. I felt it also. I began to suspect that he no longer had a truthful perception of sexuality, and my sense of protectiveness as a mother had to override the love I had as a sister to a brother.
There is no peace in his eyes. He no longer hears words as they are intended. He begins sentences with; "Women..." . And you know its not meant to build us up. Conversations are initiated with the intent of getting into a well heated disagreement.
I mourn him. I remember him. I sometimes want to hate him.
And my heart bleeds with terrible, bottomless sadness.