Growing up my brother and I struggled to stay in the same room together without World War III breaking out. When I was younger I never understood the struggles we had with each other. We grew up in a nice middle class neighborhood and never wanted for anything or maybe I should say all our needs were met, I still had the wants real bad.
One benefit of my ungraceful aging is that over time I have gained some comprehension into the dynamics that were at work as my brother and I grew up. This insight is from my perspective only and my brother may run from my babblings like Pac-Man runs from his non blinking multi colored ghosts. Growing up my brother and I didn’t just fight each other, we both fought birth defects. His are his own business and if you are curious you can ask him yourself by calling 1-800-get-a-life.
Mine is my business and I don’t mind sharing them with you to help quench your thirst for useless knowledge. I was born with multiple holes in my heart along with other cardiac abnormalities that, during my fifty years, have disappeared, reappeared, or transformed into several differing diagnosis in a magical dance that probably will only be cleared up by a heart transplant or autopsy, and yes I have a preference for which method they use for this discovery.
When I was born I was a nice healthy blue from the lack of oxygen in my blood due to the unoxygenated blood mixing with the good blood going back out to my body. I was small, frail, weak, and several other debilitating adjectives. In 1962, when patients were born with the type of defects I was born with, doctors prescribed medications that slowed all the bodies systems down in hopes of lowering the strain the heart was under, told us kids to stay inside and not do anything active, and then waited to see if the patient lived for four years before they would do the corrective surgery the patient needed to recover.
Notice the slip into a third person narrative as I near the more sensitive parts of the story I am telling. It was sometimes scary back then. I’ll try not to let it happen again.
I can not imagine the stress my parents were under at that time. They worked hard to get me through my open heart surgeries and my medical issues weren’t the only ones they were dealing with. When I was older my mother would tell me stories of rushing my limp body to the emergency room while I was in cardiac arrest. I never recalled the episodes she told me about. My earliest medical recall is from my fourth birthday when I was in the hospital and I couldn’t blow out the candles on the cake because I was in an oxygen tent, though they did let me have a piece of my cake. The stories she told me had a big impact on me and after realizing what sympathies my condition aroused I, narcissistically, took full advantage of this…..shall I say opportunity?
That’s right I figured out that as a small fragile child struggling with heart disease I could get almost anything I wanted simply by getting people to feel sorry for me. It was a selfish greedy behavior like being an evil Willy Wonka in charge of my own daily Make a Wish. It worked great except I learned no boundaries or respect for anyone including myself and my older brother was constantly thrown under the bus by me where he suffered great inequities and I can’t stress inequities enough because that’s probably way to pleasant a word for what I did to him.
This selfish behavior of mine lasted right up until, ohh, right about now. That’s not to say my brother and I have remained mortal enemies since childbirth, we haven’t. Sometime around the turn of my fifth year of highschool we started connecting. There was no come to Jesus moment where we laid out our garbage and apologized for past transgressions. I can’t remember how the process of reparations started or when we turned over this new leaf. I can’t even say how it began. All I know is that sometime during or probably even a little before I finally was dragged over the highschool graduation line by teachers and people who cared a lot more for my future than I did, the cold war my brother and I waged on each other began thawing and then magically and happily melted away. We celebrated countless times with a special peace pipe said to have magical friendship powers. It was the beginning of my most loving, true, and lasting friendship and it was with a brother who I had done all I could to make him hate me. He chose not to. Isn’t life awesome.
As I look back at the chaos, mayhem, and destruction I wreaked as a child it dawns on me that I am a lucky person. Despite the trail of carnage I left, both my older brother and sister not only still talk to me they have become my two best friends. They are the people I turn to when I hurt, need help, or have something good to share. I trust them to be honest with me and they help me figure out what I need to work on. They even offer ways for me to get better. Not all their suggestions are met with pleasure, but most eventually make sense.
My wife is still my soul mate and I owe her everything that I am. My younger brother, the youngest child in our family, was born six years after me and seemed to be raised in a different family than my older siblings and I were. I have two grown boys that I love more than anything. All this brings me great happiness, joy, and fills me with as much love as I need. Then about a year and a half ago my Mom was diagnosed with cancer and everything began to change again.
She got sick quick. Last January she passed away barely five months after the diagnosis. During my mother’s illness we were on the phone constantly trying to find the best way to care for her and helping each other make it through a difficult and sad time in our lives. We spent more time together than we had since childhood as we each tried our best to ease our mothers suffering.
My brother lives just around the corner from my parents home and was there every day, not just supporting my Mom and Dad, but helping to do all the dirty tough work that comes with a person that is quickly slipping away. My sister lives an hour away and still was there almost daily by the end and she reminded me of Florence Nightingale. Her and my brother’s tender, loving care helped to make my mothers passing as easy as it could be.
Through this time my Dad seemed unsure of what to do. None of us had been there before and we all struggled with figuring out how to best care for my mother. As my Mom’s illness quickly took her down none of us knew if we should push her to fight harder or let her rest and give her comfort. We all wanted the best and we didn’t know what that was. It was a very difficult time, and, as it is for many people, this time of pain and sorrow brought us closer together.
So now my Dad seems to be happily settling in with his life, content to do as he pleases, and only hoping that no one tries to tell him what to do. He seems willing to shut out anyone who does. My siblings and I are confused by this and struggling with our insistence that he do as we wish. It has made for strained gatherings and resentments over unfulfilled expectations.
The saving grace is that there is love. A deep love formed by years of life’s struggles shared together and the knowledge that with time there will be healing. I am positive of this because even my sister and brother, who I let down and disappointed for years, offered me forgiveness and hope. I am sure since that happened that many things in this world may be healed.
My confidence comes from the realization of what a bastard I have been throughout my life and how I’ve changed and how the people I love have come to accept the new me. In childhood I used my congenital heart disease to take advantage of people and to steal from them their trust and faith in me. By the time I got to highschool I was a raging alcoholic, selfish, destructive, and I didn’t care. Not about anything. Not about my life or the lives of anyone else.
I couldn’t be trusted, counted on, or held responsible. I went into marriage in this state and raised what turned out to be two exceptional boys while deeply consumed by my second and more destructive disease, alcoholism. There is three reasons why I say alcoholism has been more destructive. The first is that as much hurt and damage as I caused when I was a kid by using the sympathies of some to take advantage of all, that really pales in comparison with the super storm I kept raging for over twenty years of binge drinking. The second is that my alcoholism lasted well into my adult years and as an adult with more responsibilities I was able to do more harm. The third is that with alcoholism I was destroying my body every time I drank and as a kid even when I was doing damage to others my body was healing.
So how does this come into play with my brother and sister as an adult? Well that answer is easy. As I stated earlier I was a prick growing up but after high school a bond grew with my brother that I had never had with another person. This in turn led to a closeness with my sister. Because of this we shared our lives spending time together and enjoying each others company. My sister was raising a young family at the same time as my wife and I were and that created another special bond. I mostly was a functional alcoholic in those earlier years and I could be relied upon to do what I said; usually.
As the years passed I changed. At twenty-eight I thought that since I couldn’t find anyone to pay me enough and give me an appropriate job for the brilliance I thought I possessed I would start my own business and what better business for an alcoholic to start than a bar. That’s right. This alcoholic opened a bar and now I would never worry about running out of liquor again.
After opening the bar slowly but surely things got worse. I started opting out of family gatherings, claiming the business needed me. I believed that and as any small business owner knows the business did take up a huge amount of time, but it wasn’t the business that separated me from my extended family. It was my binge drinking. Eventually after refusing enough invitations and canceling at the last-minute enough times the invitations stopped and the fissure I created started to grow.
I can’t blame anyone for giving up on me. For a while I gave up on myself. And it’s not that I wasted all that time. Somehow while I was a complete mess I still managed to do some good works. It’s just that good works don’t make up for empty promises and continuing disappointments.
When I finally got my act back together I tried to reconnect again. This time I was honest and good intentioned, but I still wasn’t done with not meeting the expectations of others. As the cardiac problems I grew into as an adult got worse I had, and have, times when I get into trouble and end up unable to do things I commit to. When this happened my brother and sister both assumed that I was still being the selfish, self-centered bastard they new and loved and counted me out again.
I tried to work my way through this, but my past transgressions were so many and so hurtful to my brother and sister that they just gave up on me after giving me yet another second chance. I can’t and don’t blame them, what the heck, my own mother gave up on me years before and wanted nothing to do with me. At this point we drifted apart again. After I ended up in the hospital for a variety of reasons to do both with my mental and physical health, my Dad and brother came to spring me when it was time to go home. On the way home we stopped for pizza and a long talk of what life is. Their reassurances and encouragement that day gave me hope that I could do and be better. And if I wanted more of that medicine I knew I would have to reconnect with my family.
And so it began my quest to get back one of the good things in my life that I gave away, the love and support of my birth family. To my astonishment, in spite of all I had done, my Mom, my brother and, before long my sister took me back with open arms.
It was shortly after that my Mom was diagnosed. It was terrible to watch how quickly she deteriorated. It was a sad time for the family, but my Mother, as her last gift, gave to our family something neither money nor time can provide. Our family became closer and a stronger love developed and grew. That gift seems to get bigger every day. Each time our family talks we grow together just a little more and I think that’s all my Mom would ever have asked for. God bless you Mom. We all miss you much.
Hey!!!!! I apologize for going on so long this time, but even at this length I left out more of the story than I included and it is a big part of who I am.
All you people who have subscribed please leave a comment. Let me know if you think this was too long. Let me know if there are other topics you would like to see. Feed back, I crave feed back. Give me feed back and I will live. Let me know if a passing in your family caused the family to come together or if the passing caused a rift. Maybe over a contested will or what someone’s last wishes were, the juicier the details the better. Go ahead and make it up if you want, I won’t care as long as it is interesting. We all should have interesting lives.