I had one brother. Only one. And I knew his name his whole entire life, even before HE knew his name because he was my little brother. He did not grow up to be the kind of adult every parent dreams of and the “why?” for that has been the subject of many theories and discussions among family members and friends. In almost every respect, he was his own worst enemy.
I’m a conventional person, overall. I’ve always been basically OK with the way things are. I didn’t really rebel against societal norms. I have never done any really interesting drugs. I didn’t run away from home. I tried to do well in school. My dad taught me a lot — just in small messages, the size of a gumball, but they stuck with me. Lessons like, “Picasso? Yeah, he does a lot of abstract work but he didn’t start doing that until he could draw things the way they really are. Then he was a master; then he could choose.” “Don’t do anything to your mind, MAK. That way, if something happens to your body — like me — (he had MS) you can still work, you can still have a life.” “Some people get funny when they’re drunk; some people get mean. Your mom gets mean. Let’s go for a ride.” There are more lessons like these, little moments that have steadied my course.
No lessons like that reached my brother who was a troubled soul, violently, destructively, troubled.
For most of his life he was an alcoholic. I don’t honestly know how long — I think it could have started in junior high. Back in the 50s and 60s drunks were often portrayed as “funny” by comedians, particularly Red Skelton. My brother ALWAYS thought they were hilarious. He wanted to be funny, too. It was his main way of being socially accepted. I don’t exactly know what my brother’s problem was (I suspect ADHD) but he had a hard time in school and many fights after school, which I usually fought. He would not fight back. Another axiom from my dad, “MAK, if you’re going to fight, fight right and fight to win. I’ll teach you.” A punching bag was installed in the basement…
My brother depended on me. It was a co-dependent relationship — a term I neither understood or believed in until my awareness was awakened in therapy. I ‘d been raised with the little saying from Boy’s Town, “He ain’t heavy, father. He’s my brother.” So, when my brother called and asked for money, he’d say, “Martha Ann? This is Kirk, your brother, you know, the heavy one.”
There was ever, only, the one.
Anyone who’s ever loved a drunk who doesn’t recover knows how much it hurts and how long (forever). The feelings and questions one is left with are so unclear, most of all, “Why couldn’t he stop? A lot of people stop. Why didn’t he?”
Around the time I learned of my brother’s death, I met a man — Chris Bava — who had been a junkie, drug smuggler and dealer. In conversations with him I finally expressed my perception of what had happened to my brother. I said, essentially, that he’d lost the battle for his soul. My friend agreed. “That’s exactly what addiction is,” he said. “During the time I was in the pen, I got clean. It was wonderful. I wanted to stay clean and I believed I would, but years later I got cocky and smoked some shit and BAM, I was hooked again. It was Satan, absolutely. Temptation, arrogance, Satan. I had to do it all over again, but I didn’t waste any time. I knew the difference. Sounds as if your brother never really wanted anything else.”