So, I am sitting at a pub type place with my brother and his wife a few weeks ago, and we get to talking about my drunken days. Drinking was a problem for me long before drugs were. I attended my first AA meeting before my 21st birthday – under duress, but still.
He recounted several stories. His version. I mean, I knew I broke a man’s jaw, but I don’t recall my baby brother being anywhere near me at the time. I know that used to get very angry when people tried to stop me or slow down the drinking – but again, I don’t remember my brother being there.
I remember the pool halls, and some of the friends, and now that he puts it all in perspective – I was supposed to be looking after him. But I didn’t. I dragged him along because I had to. I let my friends be cruel to him because he was a pesky kid who in our minds should never have had to be there in the first place, and obviously once I was intoxicated enough, I forgot he was even there at all.
There is a 6 year age gap between us. So if I was 18 or 19 and behaving this way that would have made him 12 or 13.
Hearing him speak – I felt ashamed, and was devastated at the amount of clarity he was able to recollect of my own broken memories. I have been to rehab twice and got myself sorted, but was horrified to only now – learn that I had even hurt him like that. How could I not remember?
I knew that he was aware I was a screw up. He wrote me a poem a while back, and even then I didn’t join the dots:
My sister has the capacity to love deeply
My sister has the capacity to feel true empathy
My sister has the capacity to sacrifice selflessly
My sister was my hero
My sister taught me how to be creative
My sister played drawing games with me in the car
My sister made me laugh every day
My sister defended me when I couldn’t defend myself
My sister understood me when no one else did
My sister jumped in puddles with me just because we could
My sister went through some things
My sister struggled alone
My sister became distant
My sister started to drink a bit much
My sister needed me to rescue her
My sister got married
My sister moved away
My sister and I grew apart
My sister came home
My sister brought demons back that I couldn’t rescue her from
My sister gave up on herself
My sister gave up on us
My sister was still my hero
My sister became thick skinned
My sister forgot about me
My sister battled her demons with drugs
I watched my big sister fall apart
I felt helpless to save her
I hated to see her broken
I hated myself for not fixing her
I hated myself for being ok when she wasn’t
I got married
I love my wife
I had kids
I love them endlessly
I tried to help anyone I could because I couldn’t help my sister
I tried to understand what my sister was going through
My health failed me
My health failed me again
My worst fears nearly came true
My life nearly ended
My only way through it is to let go of the struggle to help everyone
My only regret is that it means leaving my big sister alone with her demons.
I have three brothers, and this one, who wrote this poem is the middle one and the most sensitive of the three.
I am just less than 5”ft tall, and even as a young teen he towered over me. He carried me out of places. The night I kicked a man in the face and broke his jaw the only reason my brother was in there was because he looked old enough to be, and heaven only knows what he must have felt or had to say or do to get me to comply.
The friends that I know were there that evening I no longer have contact with so I can’t even ask them, but my heart is broken that I left that mark on my baby brother. And it was one of many.
I had to sit back and let him speak. It was his turn. He needed to tell me what I did. He sipped on his beer – because he could – and his wife looked at me kindly because there was no anger – just the knowing that now was somehow the time and the place where he got to tell me how he felt and what he thought and what it all meant to him.
He thanked me for some of the lessons. He said that he will never drink too much because he has seen what it does. He will always watch closely and help his children navigate pain or hurt, or anyone he loves really because he was witness to me going about it in the wrong way completely.
But the part that struck me and made my eyes well up, was how he sees himself as worth more than the punishment I inflicted on myself. He knows much of what I have been through, before and after those events. He has had two heart attacks and he has only just turned 30. He has had two surgeries and we have all nearly lost him twice – and he understands fear and what it’s like for those who love you and for you, the person experiencing it to want to bury it.