Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dysfunctional families

I watched the movie Birds of America recently. It is a very dark dramedy about an extremely dysfunctional family and I really enjoyed it! There were twists and turns that even I didn't see coming. The youngest sibling, Jay, in the movie reminded me so much of my little brother, it was uncanny.

If you haven't spent much time poring over my archives, you don't know that I have five siblings: three older sisters, one older brother who died in 1993, and one much younger brother (by 16 years).

My younger brother was born to my father and his second wife. I don't have much to say about that. What I will say is that I wish he had been born to better parents and that he had been given more of a chance at life. They really fucked him up, and then they turned their backs on him.

I hadn't seen him in about 10 years, but had heard bits and pieces of what was going on in his life. I occasionally got an odd message on my answering machine from him, but never with a number to call him back. Last spring, on a Saturday afternoon, someone knocked on my front door. I yelled up to my son, "J, get down here, there is some weird looking guy on the front porch". I opened the door and took in the white dreads and scruffy beard, baggy clothes and colorful Guatamalen sack not unlike the one my niece uses as a purse, and said, "Can I help you?".

The guy just stood there wearing a goofy, lopsided grin until I realized he was my little brother! I'd know that smile anywhere! He spent the afternoon with J, Shouf and I playing catch-up. It was awkward, at times, but I was so happy to see him. He's gone through so very much in his short life.

He told me he was living a healthy raw vegan life style, and was renting a room in a drug-free home. I was very glad to hear that. Quite honestly he'd never been quite right, but after he overdosed on ketamine he was deemed legally disabled.

I'll tell you one thing, he's not dull. He's very easygoing, and has a tendency to giggle. He has intelligent ideas and opinions, even if they may seem a little wacky. He sometimes has trouble articulating them, but he is interesting. He leads a unique existence, and does not conform to anyone's standards. He has a laptop, but will not watch a television. Loud noise and large amounts of people in a confined space make him extremely uncomfortable, although he is trying slowly to acclimate himself.

He has no need for any material possessions, and doesn't even want pictures because of the chemicals used in printing them. If you invite him to something, he may show up and he may not. I had a hard time with that at first, but he is truly the kind of spirit that cannot be contained. He just doesn't work on a calendar or time schedule.

He does like music, and I let him borrow a bunch of cd's to upload to his laptop, with the promise that I would get them back the next time I saw him.

His visits and phone calls grew less frequent, and before I knew it he had given up both his telephone and his car. Late summer saw him living at the drug free home only sporadically, from what I understood. I was very clear with him that if he started using drugs again, I didn't want him in my life or around my son.

I emailed him the link to our Gram's obituary when she passed away last October. I was surprised when I found out he wanted to attend the memorial service. My sister Kouf brought him, and I could hear the whispers going through the church as they walked to the pew where my son, niece and I were sitting. No one had seen him in over 10 years, but he looked as presentable as could be in a button down shirt and cords, you know with the white dreads, scruffy beard, and newly added plugs in his ear lobes.

He had confided to Kouf that he couldn't remember ever having been in a church before. He sat between Kouf and I, and tried very hard to be on his best behavior. Apparently, he kept leaning over to Kouf and whispering, "The dudes up front in the dresses are tripping me out, man". He tried very hard to keep his giggling to a quiet minimum.

When they announced communion, Kouf and I both felt his body trying to rise. I didn't even look over, just put a hand on his arm, not knowing that Kouf was at the same time restraining his other arm and hissing under her breath, "Don't you dare". My son and niece got up to receive communion, and my brother goes, "Bring me back some Jesus, dudes, tee-hee-hee". I couldn't help but crack up completely at that point. Have you ever laughed hysterically at your grandmother's memorial service, trying to be silent? Maybe the people in the pews behind us thought I was crying.

Afterward, at the reception, he spent most of his time outside. It was extremely crowded, and full of the smell of cooking food, and I was relieved that people just seemed to accept him for who and what he is. After the reception, we were invited back to Gram's apartment to please take whatever we wanted. My aunt wanted to make sure that everyone got the opportunity to take away something of our grandmother's. Plus, there was the Hummel collection.

It was poignant, to me at least, that my brother just didn't want anything, not even one of the Hummels. When my aunt pressed him and asked if there wasn't at least one thing in the kitchen that he could use, he said very simply, "I could use a coffee mug". And he seemed extremely happy that he would remember our Gram every time he used it.

Months have gone by since then, with very little contact. He lives 45 minutes away, he doesn't have a car or a phone, and I don't drive at night. Not to mention I have been insanely busy, lately. He doesn't celebrate holidays, especially the ones that surround the gluttonous eating of cooked foods and animals. Those just happen to be the only ones I do celebrate...

I had just about completely given up on the cd's I let him borrow last June, as he forgot to bring them with him every time I saw him after that. I was a little bummed, as some of them were pretty special to me. Last week I had a dream that I should offer to pay the postage to have him just mail them to me. When I woke up I had every intention of emailing him with that suggestion, and then promptly forgot about it. Two days later, the mail man left them on my front porch under my mail box.

Coincidence? I think not. It's like he has ESPN or something, dude.


MelO said...

NO WAY a coincidence!!! That is soooo cool (man)!! I loved this story, Fancy.

I would have cracked up too at the "Bring me back some Jesus, dudes"... LMAO!!! OMG... too funny! With you and your sister 'restraining' him! Ha ha ha... I love it.

he reminds me a lot of one of my uncles... are you sure we aren't related? Lol.

Gwen said...

He sounds very similar to my half-brother who's 11 years younger than me, except he seems to be more at peace. What a wonderful soul.

It's spooky about the CDs, though.

That damn expat said...

That was a beautiful post, Fancy. I hope he becomes a more constant presence in your life, sounds like you need each other.
"Bring me back some Jesus, dudes, tee-hee-hee"
That part cracked me up!

LegalMist said...

Thanks for sharing. It's a beautiful story.

JoJo said...

"ESPN". hahahahahhahahaha

Amazing that that happened!!! It sounds like your bro would fit in really well with the people in Northern California.

Aunt Becky said...

Loved this post, dude. Excellent stuff.

~E said...

Maybe he should move to San Francisco...he seems like he'd do really well there. Loved this post!

Laura said...

Great post. Sometimes free spirits are hard to understand, but it sounds like he cares about you in his own way.

Mary Alice said...

That was a really great story. I can't stop smiling.

Bring me back some Jesus Dude.