Thursday, August 22, 2013
I was chatting with a family member this summer. I learned some things. I learned that my brother J. honestly believes my parents had a solid, loving, quiet marriage. He asserts, very angrily, that they never fought. I had to tell my family member that J. is dead wrong. He wouldn't know, for one thing, because beginning in the sixth grade he began spending every single night away from home. The moment he got out of school, he went to some other kid's house. Half the time he'd eat at their house, and then spend another three or four hours there until nine or ten at night. Then he'd come home, and go to bed. When he did eat at our house, he'd rush home, eat, and then leave again for another friend's house. It was very, very rare for him to have friends over at our house. When he did, it was usually a Saturday in late afternoon, and they'd watch music videos for two or three hours and then leave. On weekends, my brother J. would invariably stay out on Fridays until 1 A.M. or so, then come home to crash. He'd sleep until noon, and then leave again. Half the time, he spent Saturday nights at a friend's house, and half the time he'd come home at 1 A.M. or 2 A.M. and crash and then leave. Essentially, J. was never around to see my parents have the knock-down, drag-out, violent, screaming fights that they did. J. never understood that, by the time he was 14 or so, my mother wanted to divorce my father. She never did it, because she was horrified at facing the public shame of having her marriage disintegrate. She also felt that it was important to "stay together for the children" -- although I suspect she'd use that excuse for the rest of her life. My mother had a good friend (let's call her "Naomi"). Every Thursday, she and Naomi went out to lunch together. Every time, Naomi brought my mother a yellow or red rose -- because my mother craved flowers, and my father never bought her any. My mother often went to Naomi's home (just a few blocks from ours) to cry and moan about whatever selfish, horrible thing my father had done. Naomi counseled my mother to leave him, but she refused. The shame, the children... My brother J. simply refuses to acknowledge this. (Side-note: When my father remarried, Naomi talked to the woman he was going to marry. She told the woman what a horror show my dad was, and said to not marry him. The woman ignored her. J. thinks this is a humorous story told by two old biddies who don't like each other. He doesn't want to see it as a serious caution by Naomi.) I learned, too, that my brother J. had to have his stomach pumped when he was a teenager. That I did not know. Now, it was common knowledge that J. began drinking when he was in junior high. Parents of his friends often let their kids have a beer or two during a summer cookout, or while watching a football game on TV on the weekend. J. would guzzle, and then sneak more beers, and get shit-faced. He had no control, and got a lot of attention from people when he was so drunk he had trouble walking. My parents blithely ignored all this, because he was never around. They never saw it, so even though other parents cautioned them about his drinking -- well, "we never saw it, so it never happened". (In fact, my parents believed I was a drug user. Me. Mr. Clean. That's because I was homosexual, moody, depressed, isolated. I also happened to read constantly. They believed I was stoned on something constantly, and routinely tore apart my bedroom to try to find my "stash". About the only "stash" I had was a bunch of Playgirl magazines hidden among some records in the closet -- ha ha, literally in the closet. They remained adamant for years that I was drugged up and hiding it from them.) In high school, J.'s drinking worsened significantly. He obtained several fake I.D.s, and was able to obtain beer frequently. It was not uncommon for him to show up at a football or basketball game on a Friday night shitfaced. He got caught by school personnel when he was a junior and suspended for two weeks. My parents had a huge argument with him in the kitchen, but he was so drunk and incoherent that after 10 minutes they just let him go to bed. In the summer of my senior year, J. got so drunk one night at a friend's house that he got alcohol poisoning. He drove home (!), and stumbled inside. My parents, realizing he was almost unconscious, freaked out. The son of a close friend had died in his sleep of alcohol poisoning a few years earlier, and they were terrified that J. would die, too. They rushed him to the hospital, had his stomach pumped, and then kept him there three days. They told me that he'd gone with a friend to a ranch up near Choteau... The following week, they packed me off to North Dakota ("don't you want to see grandma? well, you're going anyway") for five days while they held an intervention with my brother. It did no good, of course. I'd never known the reason for suddenly getting packed off to North Dakota. But I learned it this summer. My family member said J. had gotten clean in the military. I scoffed at that. J. was aboard a submarine, I said. He wasn't clean and sober; he just had zero access to alcohol. He used the military as a crutch to solve problems, but the root of the problem never got dealt with. My brother had zilcho ability to deal in an adult way with his emotions, and the slightest bit of frustration led to screaming, cursing, and physical violence. J. continues to deal with his emotions and any frustration in the same way. I told my family member that when my mother died, J. got so drunk for three days that he could not stand and had trouble seeing. His friends -- many of them heavy drinkers -- were so worried that they almost hospitalized him. What saved him was the funeral, where he had to show up sober. So sober he was, for a day. He drank heavily again for the two more days he spent in Montana, and then went back to his submarine. Problem solved by enforced lack of access. My family member was horrified to hear that. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my brother has had to have his stomach pumped due to alcohol abuse. He's done so much else that is insane, freakish, and self-destructive. But I am, still, nonetheless, surprised.