19 hours ago
Thursday, August 7, 2008
My bother, Jimmy
My brother, Jimmy, was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was a natural born comedian who hid an abusive past behind a wall of comedy. He almost never let his tragedy side show.
He was the kid who gave my uptight mother wet-willies, and she would laugh. He was the kid who told our mother that he was growing tomato plants in his bedroom in the middle of winter, and she believed him right up until those plants started growing stuff that didn't look at all like tomatoes. He was the kid that took care of both his older and younger sisters, because he felt he had to be the man in the family after my father moved out. He was the kid who took the brunt of my father's brutality before the bastard moved out.
I remember an exceedingly cold night in which my father had told my brother not to let the fire go out in the living room fire place. Jimmy could not have been any older than 11 or 12 at the time. When my father got home from the bar in the middle of the night, Jimmy had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room, and the fire had gone out. He made Jimmy go out in the snow in his pajamas, bare foot , down a set of stairs, over the driveway and up a hill to get more wood for the fire. I can't put a number on how many other similar situations the kid had to endure.
Jimmy started getting into trouble when he was 12. He started using drugs and alcohol around the same time. They sent him to the military academy for ninth grade where my father had gone to high school. Jimmy hated it and made sure he got kicked out. That was pretty much the end of school for him. It turns out that not only do mental health issues run in my family, but also dyslexia. Back then, they just thought he was stupid. He used to ask me to fill out his job applications for him because his "hand writing was so bad." He was pretty much illiterate.
He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. He was funny, he was kind, he was generous. He loved kids, he loved wildlife, he loved to go fishing more than anything else in the whole world. He may have eventually looked the part of a dirty, greasy alcoholic who got into bar fights and did some time in jail, but he was never any of those things to us. To us, he was always the only sweet little boy in a house full of girls. "Excuse me, ladies, but I believe someone left their soiled panties to soak in the sink, and I would like to brush my teeth."
I pretty much adored him. Even when he threatened to break the thumbs of a much older guy who I thought would be dreamy to have for my boyfriend, when I was 13. He taught me how to play baseball and how to throw a football. He taught me basic self-defense, and gave me a knife to carry when he found out I was hitch-hiking.
When I was 16 and finally had a much older boyfriend, he offered to give the guy a ride home. I found out much later that Jimmy had waited until they got to my boyfriends house, pulled out an unloaded gun and put it to the boyfriend's head and asked, "are you sleeping with my little sister?". Apparently, the guy nearly shit his pants, making my brother a much better judge of character than I was, in retrospect.
I'm not condoning any of the following behavior. It is the truth, and part of the story.
He had already had a couple of DWI's, as they were called then, when he got pulled over driving an unregistered, uninsured car, containing an unregistered, unloaded fire arm. Possibly the same unregistered, unloaded gun as above. He had picked up a hitch-hiker whom he claimed he didn't know was carrying a large amount of marijuana, which the hitch-hiker stashed under the seat. Possession is 9/10ths of the law and Jimmy got busted for it. He finally lost his license and was lucky enough to be put on probation. He then got caught driving without a license, this time with possession of cocaine. He got sentenced to two one-year jail terms, back to back. In our area there are very different terms you could sit out. Jimmy got sent to what we affectionately called the Brooklyn Country Club. It's like summer camp with dorms, but more barbed wire, and less swimming.
When Jimmy got out of jail, serving less than six months of a two year sentence, he really seemed to have changed his law-breaking ways. He never again got behind the wheel of a car until he had his license back. However, he and alcohol were never very far apart. We thought that he had kicked his love affair with drugs, but we were wrong.
He got steady work at a lumber yard. He and my father moved together into in an apartment. Jimmy sometimes spent weekends at my mother's house, and sometimes spent them at my oldest sister, Kouf's house. He was helping Kouf's husband turn the attic into rooms that they could rent out. He seemed to be a nomad, who was welcome anywhere he went. He was always the life of any party he found himself at.
After five years, the State of Connecticut agreed to give Jimmy his license back. I took the day off of work and brought him for his driver's test. He passed with no problems. From that point on, all we talked about was getting our motorcycle licenses together. I don't know why it seemed so important to us, but it did.
Maybe it meant to me that I had finally proven myself to him that I was an equal, that I could stand up to him, and his friends that he wouldn't let me date. I so wanted to be a bad-ass bitch in his eyes, I guess. Maybe for him, it was the same in reverse. He had taught his little sister to be a bad-ass who could stand up for herself in a world that he tried to, but could not always, protect her from.
Three weeks after getting his license back, we spent a Saturday afternoon together looking at bikes. Neither of us was ready to make any decisions, but we had fun with it. I dropped him off at Kouf's house. I had plans, and Jimmy was staying with her for the weekend. He hadn't yet gotten himself a car.
Kouf and her husband also had plans that evening. Jimmy apparently walked to a nearby bar looking for cocaine. We did not know until later that he had been shooting cocaine intravenously. From what we pieced together, he couldn't find any cocaine, so he decided to try heroin for the first time as it was all that was available. He bought a bad batch that killed 17 people in the Connecticut and New York area.
The next day, I was rather a bit annoyed with my sister, Bouf, for waking me up on a Sunday morning by banging incessantly on the front door at my mother's house. I was hung over and assumed she just needed to do her laundry and had lost her key or something. I opened the door, and was already half-way back up the stairs when she said, "Wait, Fancy, I'm here for a reason - Jimmy's dead". I literally cried like a fucking baby, sitting on the stairs, telling my poor sister that she was a liar. It could not be true, we had just spent the day together. We had plans, goddammit! Why was she being so mean?
My mother had worked a 12-hour shift the night before, 7pm to 7am. Bouf and I had to wake her up and tell her that her only son was dead at the age of 26 of a heroin overdose. That was definitely one of the worst days of my life.