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dysfunction

As long as I’m sifting through memories and talking about family, I think it’s time that I wrote about my brother. He’s eight years older than I am, and we never really had much in common, but we did share hearth and home for 14 years.

He suffered a concussion when I was about 8. That would have made him 16. He was horsing around with friends, sitting with someone else on the back of another kid’s car. The idiot with the car started up, and the first guy landed on his feet. My brother landed on his head. He had a hairline fracture of his skull, and he missed a lot of school. He was never a stellar student, and he was lucky to graduate with his class in 1969. I remember him spending a lot of time after school, lying in a darkened room. He suffered from severe headaches as a result of the concussion.

Shortly after High School, he was drafted into the Army. This was back when they were sending young men to fight the war in Vietnam. He was slated to become an MP. He was doing his basic training and was suffering blinding headaches. I remember my Mother writing to our congressman and other local elected officials. My Mother’s writing campaign allowed my brother to get an honorable medical discharge from serving his country. His childhood skull fracture likely saved his life.

He met wife #1 in a bar. That should have been a clue. He married the first time when I was 14. His marriage lasted 7 years, and she decided she’d rather go out drinking with her girlfriends. She didn’t want to be married. They were in the middle of divorcing, and she was living with another guy. She went out bar-hopping with her girlfriends one night and never made it home again. She drove home drunk and crashed her car into a pole.

He met wife #2 at a work summer picnic. She thought she was a gourmet cook, and apparently she was too creative to follow basic recipes. I ate at their house a few times, and she was a terrible cook. Unfortunately, she was also a terrible person. That marriage also lasted around 7 years. She told him he’d been a “reclamation project”, and she’d brought him as far as she could. She moved on to “reclaiming” one of his buddies at work, and she took that buddy away from his wife. I fielded a phone call from the buddy’s wife who was calling to chew my brother out for not hanging onto his own wife. I hung up on her.

Wife #3 is the one that stuck. I’ll leave it at that. They’ve been together since my Father was dying with leukemia, and he’s been gone for 27 years this year.

My brother’s main problem is his inability (or perhaps his desire) to have more than one social situation going at a time. Every time my brother was married and happy, he had no time for his original family. My father used to despair because he never heard from him. After Dad died, my brother promised he’d change and he’d spend more time with my Mother. My Mother used to just drop in on him unannounced every so often, usually with my Grandmother in tow; otherwise, neither one of them would ever have seen or heard from him.

I am not my Mother. I am not comfortable just dropping in uninvited at people’s houses. I usually call first. I know why she did it, but I can’t bring myself to do the same. When Hubby and I had our apartment and son #1 was small, we used to do holidays together. I’d invite my brother, wife #3 and her daughter, and they’d come. Once we bought our house, I committed the cardinal sin of getting a dog. Wife #3 doesn’t like dogs, and she was fearful every time they came over. Then I made the bigger mistake of adding cats to the mix, and that was the end of her ever coming to my house again. I never heard of anyone who’s terrified of cats. My cats are very loving and normal. I have never had a psycho cat; they are more like dogs. Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like those either.

My brother continued to visit on his own until he lost his job. He told me he couldn’t come anymore because he couldn’t afford to bring my sons presents. I told him that was ridiculous, and they didn’t expect presents when he came over. They wanted time with him, and that was the most important part of it all. He didn’t listen. He stopped coming. We stayed in touch on the phone, but it was always me who made the effort. I’d call him on birthdays and holidays, and I’d do most of the talking.

When my mother got sick, he and wife #3 were very supportive and helpful. He was there with me every step of the way as we saw her life end. Maybe he was resentful that she made me (the younger child) her power of attorney and healthcare proxy. I got to make all those awful last minute decisions. I never asked for that and I hated having that responsibility, but I honored her wishes. Once she was gone and the funeral was over, it was as if we suddenly had no reason to speak to or see each other. Mom died nine years ago. I called several times as the years went on, but I either got his answering machine or the phone would ring and no one picked it up. When I left messages, he didn’t call back.

I tried again a few years ago. I called before Christmas and got wife #3 on the phone. She wouldn’t call him to the phone. I think he was sleeping. I asked if I could stop over for a few minutes. She said no. She was tired and didn’t want company. She then told me my brother’s stepdaughter had had a child of her own, and she was spending her days watching her grandbaby. No one had told me. I didn’t know that my brother was a step-Grandpa. I asked if I could stop over some other day, and I was told no. It wasn’t a good time for them.

I called him Wednesday to tell him my Aunt had passed away. We were all once very close. I got his answering machine so I left a message. I didn’t say “call me” because I knew he would not call. I explained what had happened and just said “goodbye”. He hasn’t called me, and I know he won’t. My fear is that he could pass away himself, and I won’t ever know it.

It’s a shame how some families can seem so normal yet be so dysfunctional. My Dad always said, “I used to have a son.” I now know how he felt. I used to have a brother.

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