April 19 was my little brother’s birthday. I haven’t talked to him in a couple months, but I tried to reach him every day during the week preceding his birthday to see if he wanted to watch the A-day game together or go out to dinner. He lives about an hour north of the city in the land of crystal meth and strip malls, but we try to stay close regardless.
But how do you “stay close” with someone like my brother? How do you keep some semblance of normalcy to a relationship with someone whose phone is liable to be cut off at any moment or who never lives anywhere longer than a few months at a time or never keeps a job for more than a couple seasons? How do you explain how upset it makes you to a 14, 3, and 1 year old when Uncle K comes over and is the last to leave the birthday party and talks really loudly and rambles too much before knocking over trash cans while backing out of the driveway, only to return an hour later, ringing the doorbell after everyone’s gone to bed, saying he forgot his lighter, but instead snakes a bottle of gin from the cabinet and tosses it into the bushes while his flavor-of-the month girlfriend uses the powder room, and then acts like he has no idea how a full bottle of Beefeater ended up by my front porch?
So I left a bunch of messages, asked my parents if they knew where he was, wrote on his Facebook wall to give me a call. Then I got a message from one of his friends from home: “do you really not know where he is?” Well of course not…why would I leave “happy birthday…have been trying to reach you all week to no avail…call me” on his wall if I knew where he was? He says “Ask your folks.” Which, of course, I’ve done, but they are silent.
Then I called the cops in the last town in which I’d heard he’d been staying, and I learned he’s in jail. Has been for several weeks; will be for a few more. And I wrote my folks back to say “never mind, I know where he is until May 10,” knowing that they knew damned well where he was and chose not to let me know.
A day later, my mother wrote back to say I was kept in the dark on purpose, so I wouldn’t “write about it on Facebook” or “make fun of him” to my friends. Cause apparently, my admonitions over the years and attempts to get him help are only to exploit and entertain. The jobs I’ve set up for him. The lodging with good roommates. The DUI defense lawyers. Thanks, mom. Glad to know I’m not the good son, but instead, just the dick who exploits the hurting.
About the same time as the above events, a friend I met on a trip to Destin with my church nearly a decade ago found me on Linked-In, and we met for lunch to catch up; his name is Phil. Phil quit alcoholism 20 years ago and has been to AA meetings every week ever since. He asked if I’d given up hope on my brother, and I truthfully told him I had. He told me people can tell when we give up on them and that I shouldn’t do that. Sorry. It’s been 15 years, I tell him. I can’t hope any more.
But Phil doesn’t give up on hope. Instead, Phil’s going to visit my brother this Sunday afternoon to see if he can be the first person to get his attention and his respect. Phil thinks telling his story and offering to help my brother quit might actually work. Phil thinks he can make a difference and is willing to give up several hours of his weekend to give me an attempt at the greatest gift any friend has ever given me: my little brother back.