I set out late last week to write an entry about my ex in Seattle, who stubbornly – but in a good way – kept popping into my consciousness over the week. The one relationship I’ve had that doesn’t make me look like an embittered old man and I choked.
Couldn’t do it.
It was surprisingly emotional for me, so it remains a draft that quasi-haunts me…Xtopher’s Rib.
Meanwhile, my number of blogs in draft status has crept back up to 23…just under 50% of my total posts, so I committed to myself to crack out a couple this week and get that number more in line. One-third of my content in draft status just makes me feel like I have issues completing things. I don’t need that, I have two partially completed novels to make me feel like a failure…they don’t need any help. As a matter of fact, my blog is the reason I use for not working on my book ideas.
Then, I saw on Facebook earlier today – while stalking a friend’s page – that I had missed National Sibling’s Week. Well, even though I got you the same thing for NSW as I typically do for your birthdays – nothing – I wanted to apologize to Chuck and Lizard Breath for missing the opportunity to tell them that I love and appreciate them.
Every week, too.
Not just some random week that the internet made up.
Which brings us to the awkward fact that I have three siblings and one is estranged.
Oh, sure…that set up doesn’t make this sound like it could possibly be any less painful than writing about the one boyfriend I’ve had in my life that I still value. Yet, the two are similar in that Rib was the first people to point out my Early Onset Grumpiness when we started dating back in the aughts while my brother was one of the first people to get EOGed from my life. I don’t think he was someone I would call a family member in good standing much after the turn of the century, so there was a good almost ten year stretch of me just being a grumpy old man and not owning up to it. That bothers me, I like to be a little more on top of my shit than that.
That’s sad, because for nearly another set of ten years my brother is someone I would have called my best friend. Which is the context of the Facebook post that sparked the completion of this blog entry: The Second Son.
That post read something along the gooey lines of “Your brother is your first best friend…yada-yada-yada” and that’s as far as I got before I barfed pure insulin. Like I said, he was my best friend for about 10 years. I was well over 10 years old at the turn of the century. But when us kids were young, I was the weird sibling. I was the bookish, studious type. Mostly because I sucked at sports. My siblings didn’t, and kids aren’t so great at developing interpersonal relationships with someone they don’t have a sturdy common ground with…outside of a blood relationship. We came to value that blood bond strongly as adults – in our own unique ways – but as kids it was pretty much hell for me as the outsider and The Second Son was the sadistic ring leader of my torment.
So, little break to call out my ability to grow and find forgiveness…we became friends.
Brothers, you might even say.
So much so, that when he was facing his decision to retreat from the family into estrangement, he came to me as a sounding board. Not that he would tell me why he needed a break, aside from the ambiguous “I just need some time away, it’s all getting to be a bit much”.
My advice to him – as someone who had taken a good decade or so off from the family when I was coming out – was to make a graceful and purposeful exit so that the door was firmly open when he was ready to come back. Maintain contact. Be respectful of other’s feelings. Own that it’s you and not them.
Somehow that morphed into him painfully laying it at my mom’s feet and cutting the family out of his life.
On Mother’s Day.
Oh, the family, except lucky me. When I pushed him on it, he made the equally-ambiguous statement, “She knows what she did” and then proceeded to cut me off.
She didn’t know.
My boyfriend at the time – The Sucks At Cheating Ex, I still haven’t completed that blog…perhaps because I’m not totally happy with the name – had lost his brother in a senseless bro-tastic stunt involving Mount Hamilton and the words “Hey, watch this!” and a video camera. His mother was devastated at the loss of a child.
My mother made his mother’s loss look like Mardi Gras.
The knowledge that you have no control over the intentional hurt a child is causing you…I could see him haunting her, just behind her eyes. Always present. Existing an entire lifetime in the pauses in her conversation when he came up in conversation. Just like what I assumed was the hope that he would undo what he had done and return existed in every word she said about him.
Sure enough, when I reluctantly moved to Seattle – just where he happened to be living at the time – my mom and my sister drafted a schedule of who would bug me about doing a drive-by/drop-in on him. That sister of mine…she’s a planner and an organizer.
I held out for about a year. But in 2007, I bent to the force of their united front and drove north to Mill Creek. I sat in front of his house, in an insanely nice BMW M3 convertible that was definitely not worth the cost given that I drove it an average of 30 miles a month, receiving final instructions on how to manage the conversation.
Knowing that he had a toddler, I was sensitive to the fact that ringing the doorbell might be disruptive…not that I was feeling particularly courteous to my younger brother, but I was being the bigger person.
First knock: Nothing.
Second knock: I see said toddler toddling across the far end of the hallway.
Third knock: Back to nothing.
Well, since the toddler isn’t sleeping…I rang the bell.
My brother appears at the end of the hall. I see him moving toward me through the eyebrow window at the top of the door. I think, wow, this glass must be really old…he looks distorted, like seeing him in one of those circus mirrors.
He gets to the door and in the final feet before he stops, I hear him mutter, “Unnnnngghhhhh”.
You know this is a door and not a cement wall, right? I ask loudly, getting him to finally open the door.
It wasn’t a circus mirror effect. I’m estimating my brother’s weight to be in the low 300s.
I can’t help but make a decision about how happy he is based on his weight. Well, his weight and his hiding out.
We small talk awkwardly at the door for about 25 minutes before his wife shows up and demonstrates how to be a good host and invites me in. I don’t want to go and he certainly doesn’t seem to want me inside, but his behavior has my stubbornness flaring up. We stand around talking inside for another 10-20 minutes about how he doesn’t want to talk about our family before his wife brings the toddler into the hall and introduces us and invites me to sit with my brother.
That’s how I met the second of my three nephews. I’ve never met the third, not to give away the ending…
So, we sit and I ask him if he remembers when our first nephew was born. How he scolded me for not making more of an effort to go visit where they live, about 20 miles and 25 years outside of town.
Doesn’t it seem like you’re making that decision for your own kid? Cutting him off from this side of his family? Not to mention how much it hurts mom. Ok, maybe I did mention it specifically. Following that up with telling him that not only does she not, in reality, know what she did…no one has a damned clue what prompted his departure.
He asks me if I remember his DUI, of course I do.
It seems that he had had a second one a while later. A short period of time where my brother was out of contact clicks into place. Sadly, it had also been what we joked about the cause being…him being in the drunk tank.
“Well, it’s what she said to me when that happened”
I make and exaggerated eyebrow lift to prompt him to fill in the blank.
“She said, ‘I’m just disappointed in you, I expected more from you'” and he stops.
I make crazy eyes and give him a palms up gesture to get him to go on.
Well, I guess, A) So mom knew about your second Dewey and you somehow swore her to secrecy about it?
“Yeah, her and Chuck.” He’s referring to our Insurance Agent, not my youngest brother’s blog-name. Also, I believe his girlfriend was also made to promise that the incident would go into her vault.
Ok, so, B) What the fuck is wrong with what she said? It was your second DUI, Dummy.
“See, that’s why I didn’t want anyone to know!”
Because you would be appropriately shamed for being a dumb ass twice?
“Because I would be judged by everyone.”
Ok…I do actually get that reasoning. There’s things I don’t want my family to know about me…but I just ignore them like a good white person.
The dumbest thing was that a second DUI wasn’t even the weirdest, most embarrassing or most fucked up situation he would ever have had to deal with the family about. His relationship with his wife would be a colorful tale. But what I really didn’t get was his decision to leave the family versus owning up to his bullshit behavior. People could have gotten hurt. He could have gotten hurt. But instead of living like a man and just being accountable, he swears people to secrecy and then leaves the family anyway…and blames my mom for driving him out of the family.
And this is where I kind of wash my hands of him. The thing that makes me a grumpy old man is people not living an existence within – or in my brother’s case, anywhere near – reasonable social and societal norms. These aren’t arbitrary behaviors I am expecting people to indulge. Things like making your words line up with your actions. Or, you know…not making other people pay the price for your mistakes.
Low bar stuff like that.
Because I’m so unreasonable.
Shaking my head, I leave Crazy Town and go back to Seattle proper. His parting shot to me was something about how the life he’s made for himself allows him to live his life proud of who he is without worrying about how his family judges him. How he’s not ashamed of his weight for once. Odd qualifier. Particularly given that he initially stood during our conversation and once he was pretty much forced to sit, he covered his stomach with a pillow.
A really big one.
Of course, I pointed that out to him.
The behavior, not the pillow size.
I find the only way to effectively combat denial is to call it out. If you don’t, you’re giving tacit approval to the lie.
A few months – not entirely sure about the time frame, since I let him fall off my radar completely after this episode, outside of an unacknowledged “Happy Birthday” text I sent him on his work phone because that’s the only contact information he would give me – he packed up his family and moved to Texas.
Famously known as the cradle of sound reason in our country.
I pretty much abandon contact after that. Mom would still ask about him. I was always pretty torn about informing her of things that I knew of his life: friend requests I would get on Facebook from someone with an insane name that claimed to be my brother, rumors of my third nephew’s birth.
To quote a friend and former colleague’s advice after the Sucks At Cheating Ex left me, “Fuck ‘im”. That was my mindset on the matter.
Then his wife starts reaching out to me.
Facebook friend requests.
Late night phone calls…where I was the more sober person.
I start remembering the things that I appreciated about her. Liking her fucked up messiness once again. Appreciating her trying to mend my brother’s fences while he slept.
But then she would retreat. Cut ties again. I assume, of course, because my brother found out what she was doing and put the kibosh down.
Eventually, though…after years of estrangement, my brother actually calls. Asking my advice about coming back into the fold. He’s come to the realization that he wants his sons to know both sides of his family.
Happily, I agree to facilitate.
Then he drops conditions.
Not that man, though. No way. Not after what he did.
OK, short-handing a story with a pretty sweet ending…my parents were divorced for 20 years and then remarried. They’re actually celebrating their unofficial 50 year anniversary right now in Costa Rica, so happy Gold Anniversary to my parents both of whom are amazing humans and I love very much.
I don’t even want to go into his blame shifting BS, so I just clarify with him that mom’s ok now and all is forgiven but now dad is in the doghouse.
Well, good talking to you. I’m not doing that. Call me when you’re serious.
I may – totally did – explain to him why that was not actually demonstrating forgiveness and acceptance to his kids. In a totally non-Julia Sugarbaker manner, I swear.
Then he unfriended me on Facebook. Presumably executing the same social ostracism on his wife’s behalf, too.
And you know what? Sometimes when I tell someone that they aren’t treating me the way I expect a friend to treat me, I wonder if I’m not acting just a little bit like my next youngest sibling. Then I remember that I give people the chance – or several – to be better friends. Clearly and openly discussing with them what my minimal expectations are…and realize that I’m nothing like him.
But it doesn’t make the reality of not having my best friend around any longer easier to stomach.
Thank god for The Silver Fox and my other great friends that stepped in, making Portland truly feel like home despite his absence. Yes, Rib included, even though he’s in Seattle.
Maybe I’ll finish that post someday.
For now, I’m happy that at least mom has a Facebook friendship with The Second Son so that she can see pictures of the second and third grandkids, even if she doesn’t have an interactive relationship with my brother. That gives me some peace.
And some hope…