I finally walked today in the muggy, wet laundry on your shoulders, New York City second day of summer. And now I want to blurt. I do not want to edit and construct.
My brother, my little brother died on Saturday. He was 57. He was difficult and by his own design he was ridden hard and put away wet. Meaning he lived a hard life, lots of drugs, lots of partners, lots of fights, and by the end, he had very few folks left who could even stand to be close to him.
He has a long suffering partner, lover, a man with whom he lived for decades. It was he who called me weeping saying that Peter was dead. In fact his name is Peter as well, but called Pete.
My first reaction was a kind of sad relief. My brother had abused and tortured me and did the same to nearly every woman with whom he came in contact. He was fired from all the jobs he had. 20 years ago he got a shrink to declare him unemployable and he has gotten a subvention every week from Social Services for his disability. It’s true. So he lived and painted and gardened and randomly painted his house crazy colors and ranted on his web site and wrote me nasty, horrible jeremiads designed to enlighten me. Then when my daughter was old enough he wrote them to her. He wrote them to all his ex-girl friends.
And still we all loved him because he was a luminous painter and a witty writer and creativity poured out of him in equal measure to his venom. And so it is difficult to parse an end to him.
His partner found him in the bed and thought he was taking a nap on Saturday afternoon. Hours later he realized that was not the case. When the paramedics and police came there were bottles of pills everywhere and they said my brother had been dead for hours. Now the pills were not unusual. He drank all my father’s cough medicine, and switched his partner’s medications so he could consume it. When we were much younger and I turned down a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, he informed me that was what Valium was for. Drink as much coffee as you want, then take Valium. Simple
I think his death is not simple. It stirs up in me a host of feelings, among them is the sensation that I am no longer living in a kind of cognitive dissonance. I didn’t know what to say about my brother. We were estranged. He is this side of lunacy. He hurt me so much I was terrified of him. Now I can just say. He died.
I have one of his paintings hanging on the wall, one he did in art school. It is an old ball jar filled with flour and it looks as if there is an incandescent light coming out in rays.
And so when I walked back today, finally calm, finally not on the phone to the social security administration or food stamps, or his mental health advocate. When I was alone with my thoughts and the heat and rush hour traffic I relaxed and recited this part of my poem over and over for him.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination.
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
For me Peter’s place in the family of things is at peace from the demons who so obviously ate and him and made him thrash, and bite and hurt so many who loved him.