My brother is one of the few people in my life who I feel understands me. The distance that grew between us in the months following his stay with us created a bit of a hole in my heart. I have never been very good at letting people go – I understand that people change, but when I feel as strong of a bond as I do with my brother – it is difficult for me to let things be as they are and go about my day-to-day life without thought or worry. I watched, mainly through pictures and emails from my mother, my brother breeze through the initiation into the Navy, graduate first in his class, and thereby taking the privilege of choosing where he would take on his first assignment. He chose Spain, and thus, he fulfilled a dream. He’s always loved Europe and never really wanted to settle down in the US. So, his move to Spain was something that I both admired and feared. His entry into the Navy was something I’d feared for many reasons, the obvious ones and the not so obvious ones. My worry proved true as he continued ignore his alcoholism because he entered a world where drinking alcohol came with the job, much like it came with being his father’s son.
When he called me to tell me how scared he was about unexpectedly becoming a father, his voice was rattled and heavy with reality. He spoke with conviction and desperation and I did what I knew I had to do… what he had done for me so many times. I had to validate him, encourage him, and allow him to feel everything he was feeling without judgement. After he admitted to me that he is an alcoholic, I immediately told him that this was the first step in his recovery – and I don’t mean that in a 12 step program kind of way. My brother isn’t one who would benefit from AA. He was trained very well not to accept such formal treatment. After all, he was the one who got to hear my dad’s reaction on the day I sought formal treatment for my disease. I didn’t use the word recovery, either. I did encourage him to consult his commanding officer and reach out to someone for help. I explained how helpful therapy has been for me and that I, of course, would not suggest he join “something like AA” but I did highly recommend that he give himself the gift of an objective listener so that he could work through is feelings and grow and change as he was so desperately telling me he wanted to. His response to me? “I’m doing that now. That’s why I called you. You are my therapy.” Few things are more complimentary than that. While I was flattered, I immediately told him “Thank you, but I am involved in this, honey. I am not an objective listener, as much I want to be, it’s impossible. You are my brother and I am emotionally involved in this situation.” But, at the same time, I took such incredible comfort in that comment and I clung to it… thus allowing myself to believe that this meant I had a little piece of my brother “back.” I thought, as I had a couple of times in the last two years, that he was coming back to me… that our bond was rekindling, that my friend was mine again.
The next time we spoke, his voice was once again, less familiar to me. He spoke with authority and an almost robotic confidence and conviction. My heart sank a bit, as I knew there was no way I could reach him in this place. I had written him many things in the aftermath of our conversation, including what I thought was valuable information for him to consider. I explained to him that he should wait as long as possible before telling mom and dad. I told him that he should probably tell them in a letter rather than face to face or over the phone, as their immediate reactionary words could be almost irreversibly cruel and hurtful. I still have the Skype chat…
Hey hon… need you to touch base with me, please. I really wish we could make a date to Skype – I know weeks are hard for both of us but if you can just drop me a quick line so I know that you’re okay. I really want to talk to you before you tell Mom and Dad – just to give you some advice. I don’t want to alarm you or make it even harder – but I want to caution you to give mom and dad as little details as possible about this situation. I hope that you will trust me on this and that you will also trust me when I tell you that you must not internalize anything that they may say to you. In fact, it may be better for you to write them a letter so that you cannot hear their first thoughts because they could potentially be very, almost irreversibly hurtful. You know that I’ve been through a lot with them and I’ve shocked them and challenged them in many ways. I really want to make sure that you know that regardless of anyone’s reaction – I am here for you and I want and need you to communicate with me and stay focused on my support because you need to know that you have it. Just like I knew I had yours – knowing that kept my heart beating at times.
Prior to that, I’d sent him many message in my immediate reaction mindset… looking back I realize it is fairly intense, but I know why now. These “My brother” chapters are obviously eventually going to come back around to me. Here are pieces of what I told him after finding out about my new niece/nephew:
I have to be truthful here as well… as much as mom and dad love us and their grandchildren, they are far less involved in their little lives as your sister and I both imagined. This has been extremely painful for both of us and it’s something you probably are very surprised to hear… but it is true. Mom and Dad are very much in their own world and visit the cabin more than they visit their grandchildren. They make excuses for why they can’t make it to birthday parties – mom rarely wants to leave dad’s side so she hardly ever (and I mean once or twice year) comes on her own just to spend time with her daughters, and when she does, it’s almost always when dad is traveling. Two reasons I’m telling you this: so that you know that this is how they are and when they are this way with your future wife, you’ll know it isn’t just because of mom’s fears about her. This is just the way they are. The second reason is because you won’t be able to count on mom and dad’s help and support like you may think you can. Because your sister and I have both been shocked, humbled, and hurt by how often they have been absent. When Dad is with mom on the weekends, they are rushed because dad is anxious in a crowd and can never wait to leave. (when I say dad is anxious in a crowd, I mean anxious outside of his own house… anxious even when it is just our families that are present. He can only handle being away from home/mom for so long and it changes even the way mom interacts with the boys when they are both here.) We have told Mom how we feel more than once, and nothing changes. Our feelings are ignored. This is probably way too much to put on you, but I just want you to have a realistic picture of what things are like – so that you aren’t shocked or disappointed when you don’t get the support that we should all expect from our parents/grandparents of our children. It’s just the way it is.
Here is what he wrote back to me:
Yes, the message I just got was WAY too much. I wouldn’t like to have any other way. We will have to speak, and I wish it could be in person…….. my frickin brain is overflowing. It is my fault that we have not been able to communicate enough. My fault. But, the energy that you just stirred up in your brother, I have told my father once, only once, twelve years ago, that he better not say another fucking thing about this girl, and he got the message. Mom was there. I am truly lucky to have you in my life. I consider you as one of the best influences, and simply one of the best human beings the world has ever seen. And you don’t have to apologize to me, sweetheart. I am the one who has laid this crazy news onto the planet. I’m just lucky to have a great sister that I can spout my mouth off too… they will support us. That is what families do. They do not have a choice. And neither do I. There will be another life on this planet because of me. I just hope it has my last name. The fact is that I am a sailor in the US Navy and my future wife has to go through this all by herself. I know you will be a part of the support structure that she needs and that i can’t give from 3000 miles away. I know you support me, so get on board. I know you already are. goodnight, sis.
And, as our chat continued, this is what I wrote back to him while he was sleeping in Spain:
I love you so much. After talking to you and realizing the incredible bond between sister and brother and how powerful it is, I feel the need to have another baby. Because your little nephew shouldn’t be alone in this world. All I think about is you taking me on that date when we lived in Europe, giving me that rose, showing me that I was human when I felt so very far from it. I remember you walking into the hospital and hugging me, despite the fact that our sister, Mom, and Dad all walked past me like I was an insect. You were the only one that didn’t. And you know what the counselor said to me? She said, “You aren’t the one that needs to be in here… your whole family, save your brother, needs to be in here.” Because what kind of family doesn’t support their own DAUGHTER when she feels so incredibly sad that she wants to end her life? Remember dad’s reaction?? He said it to you. So, remember, above ALL ELSE, that Mom and Dad are NOT perfect and they DO NOT know it all. You are about to feel the wrath of this family – and I have only felt it like you are about to feel it. My advice to you is to tune out as much of it as you can. It does come from love but it will eat you alive if you listen to it. I have had time to think and really reflect on the whole situation and I feel SO much better having talked to you and hearing your voice and knowing that I have my brother “back.” I have missed you.
You need to stay focused, stay strong. No. Matter. What. I am here for you. Fuck religion, fuck tradition, fuck judgement, fuck presumption. Fuck the past. I want more than anything for you to do the same. I have so much faith in you that I know you will rise to this – I know you will be who your dad never could be. I know you will face your worst fears, you will fix your demons, you will face yourself – and you will conquer everything that attempts to defeat you. You are one of the strongest people I know. You can do anything you set your mind to, you’ve already proven that. Alcoholism is no joke and you, more than anyone I know, can squash it like a small bug that lives in my house and is very, very annoying. All it needs is a little vinegar down the drain and a LOT of discipline. You know a little something about discipline, ey? I already love this baby and I already love his/her mother, because I know that if you love her, I will too. Whatever happens in this, I am with you.
And, that is that. That is the last time we spoke from the heart. It saddens me that I miss who he is when he’s drunk, because most of the heartfelt things he said were said when he was drinking. No wonder it is harder for him not to drink that it is for him to drink – that is how he described alcoholism to me. My confession is that for part of that conversation I had consumed a fair amount of alcohol as well. I rarely do so, but in familial stress especially, it just comes natural to me to deal with that particular anxiety with the old familial remedy more commonly known as red wine. I’m never particularly proud of that fact, but it is a fact; and I only do it once in a blue moon. As you can see, our bond is one that only sister and brother could share. The fear and confidence we exchange is incomparable and irreplaceable, and unfortunately, also happens once in a blue moon.
So, my brother is now on a plane back to Spain. He was just here for a week. He flew home on Thursday, came to our house for dinner on Friday, had lunch with Rachel (not her real name but it’s getting difficult to leave names out) and her parents on Saturday afternoon, went to my parents’ cabin to have dinner with them on Saturday night, got engaged on Sunday morning, drove back to town that night to have dinner with us again… but never showed up. He called to say they’d had a long day, told me the ring fit, and apologized for waiting until 8:30pm to call and tell me he wasn’t going to make it. All day I’d been telling my son that his Uncle was going to come back. All day I’d been preparing food and anticipating the time with him. When 6:00 came and I hadn’t heard from him, I called and texted Rachel. No response until 8:30. This is the brother that I don’t know, the one I’m not bonded to, the robot that seems almost void of connection and affection. On Monday, he obtained a marriage license, they were married in a courthouse on Tuesday (while the rest of us worked) and left for their honeymoon. They returned to town on Friday. I didn’t hear from him all day on Friday. Apparently he had dinner with our sister that night. He had told me on Monday night that he’d call me when he got back to town. He didn’t. I didn’t hear from him until I called and texted again, on Saturday. When I finally got to hear his voice again, he explained to me that they had a busy day of running errands ahead of them, furniture shopping and such. I told him that I’d really like to see him before he left because I had something to give him. His response cut a knife in my heart, reopening the hole that I thought was full again. “Okay, well, do you guys live near any furniture stores?” In fact, we do. So I explained where he could buy furniture for Rachel, and how to get to my house from the stores. I asked what their plans were for dinner… again his response all but broke my heart. “We don’t know yet, we may go out, we may just order in.” He had no desire to see me again. I practically had to beg him to just stop by long enough so that I could give him what I had for him. I had a card for him, that was it. I didn’t want to mail it, I thought I was going to get to give it to him on Sunday… and if not then, when he had returned on Friday. I had no idea he was content leaving town without seeing me again at all. That’s not the brother I know, that’s not the brother that is my best friend and one of the few people on earth that understands me, and vice versa.