The End

December 30, 2020

My brother is the only remnant of my childhood left.

The parents who raised us are dead. Relatives live who have met us or known us to some insignificant degree, but no one knows us like we know each other.

Try to imagine who in your life knows all your stories, your weaknesses, and understands you utterly. If you’re honest with yourself, and them, you can probably count them on one hand.

My brother’s problems have been the one constant in my life.

My last conversation with him was fraught with mentions of people he believes will handle things; people who he considers friends.

“Jeff will take care of that.”

His response when I tell him that if he dies, the debt collectors will come for his wife and kids.

Jeff, whoever you are, I hope you understand he thinks you will abide.

“My friend [whoever] killed himself and his family still collected insurance.”

“You don’t have insurance,” I remind him.

I had determined not to be his wake-up call that morning. I wouldn’t remind him of his 9:30 AA Zoom either.

When you hit rock bottom because you’ve made bad choices, and someone takes away your choices, you’re letting them decide your fate. You’re letting them do all the work. You’re off the hook. My sober friend told me to remember that as an alcoholic, he doesn’t have a choice.

I know I’m supposed to accept this, and I respect every ounce of her beliefs, but this one is just too much for me. We always have choices, even if they are all terrible. My final choice for him was breakfast, which waited outside the door as he finally roused and showered around 9:20AM.

My dead mother always said pho could heal broken bones. I hope it heals a broken will.

At 11AM he is in my living room, dressed well in a clean shirt, jeans, and his favorite shiny boots. He looks fantastic, with his armor of artifice intact. He wants to go home, as he has threatened many times over the last two weeks, whenever I ask just a little too much from him. I always protest, assure him he is safer here, and that he needs rest.

On this day, I simply say, “OK.”

He is not expecting it.

Quietly, he says, “I’ll pack up in a minute. I just can’t breathe well…can’t catch my breath.”

“OK.”

“It may take me a couple of trips to get my bags to the car.”

“OK. I’ll pack you some food.”

“I’m sure I have some food at home I just…need a minute.”

I pack a bag of frozen shrimp and noodles and meatballs and tiny hot red chili peppers.

We are silent for a long time.

“You missed your AA zoom at 9:30. You need a meeting every day. And if you start drinking again, there are residential rehab programs…the VA…”

“HOW CAN I PAY FOR THAT!?! I NEED TO FIND A JOB TO MAKE MONEY FOR THE KIDS!”

I quietly remind him of the obvious, that this is precisely what should motivate him not to drink. And I tell him I believe in him.

After the car is packed, he hugs me awkwardly and says he’ll call when he gets home.

“You don’t have to.”

“Fine, then I won’t.”

I look around the room he has occupied for the better part of two weeks. He left the space heater on. And he forgot his meds.

It has been 9 days since my last confession.

I’ve been thinking about that scene in The Dark Knight Rises, when Bruce Wayne escapes the pit. When I saw it in the theater, I had only one immediate reaction: safety nets are dangerous because they are distractions, and not only from the invaluable fear of failure. They distract us from focus.

Only when Bruce Wayne forewent the rope, did he jump hard enough to make it to the other side. Only when he knew that another option was unacceptable.

I think my brother’s problems have been my safety net, a distraction I could always depend on. I left my perfect life in Chicago 3 years ago to come home and help.

I’m changing my phone number and disconnecting Facebook.

Because my help is not helping.

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