Siblings: my brother R

Spoiler alert: this story doesn’t end with an end. My relationship with R has not been severed due to mental health issues, substance abuse, or any other emotionally wrenching situation. We simply go on as brother and sister as we have for most of our lives, from a distance.

The early years for R and myself read decidedly like the post about my sister M. R, like sister N, is about twelve years older than me. I saw R very infrequently as a child, until I was perhaps six or a bit older.

I vaguely remember conversations between my dad, my mom and maybe other family members who would listen. The stories of R that stand out to me are the ones centered on what a screw-up he was. I don’t know that the word worthless was ever used, but even without easily understood wording for someone as young as I was, I knew the looks of disdain and derision on my parents faces meant that they weren’t happy with R, his choices or even his motives.

Today, I would use words like lazy, unfocused, and unproductive to convey their heated discussions, both about R and with R, because apparently he had no plans, or no idea where his life was going.

After my sister N married and moved out I remember a time that R lived with us. Perhaps lived isn’t exactly the right word. I want to say that he crashed on our couch. He ate our food sometimes. I remember him sitting in a chair reading. He read all the time. Things like science fiction I believe. However, I oddly don’t remember him doing more, like actually interacting with anyone. Sometimes he was just there, and at other times…he wasn’t anywhere. It’s weird what a kid will hone in on to stash as a memory versus the things that fade as quickly as they happen.

I remember a girlfriend during this time. Not anyone I think I ever met, just a name. Also more disapproval from the parents. It seems as if they disapproved of a lot in both their children and the choices their children made.

I also remember one incident in which R showed me real compassion. I had a best friend, a boy who lived a few houses away down my street. I suppose in some ways I was a tomboy because I played with P all the time. I actually preferred playing army, and cars, and building forts, and splashing in the small creek near our homes. I liked girly things as well- Barbies, and dolls, and dress-up, but when it came to interactive play I preferred boys. It was ‘uncomfortable’ playing with girls my age. With boys I could be myself. Anyway, P and I were playing something decidedly male-centric and using the back of my dads old Ford pickup as our base to shoot our guns from. In an inadvertent accident, I leaned over at the same time P just happened to raise his foot to kick an imaginary intruder and BAM…my eye made contact with his sneaker. I screamed as if I had been shot, although I don’t think it really hurt. I may have been slightly melodramatic in my youth…

Of course the tears were streaming down my face. I can still see P’s horrified reaction when he realized what had happened. His hands grasped my face momentarily, my good eye made contact with his wide open, panicked ones, and he was gone, headed for home scared out of his mind that he had really hurt me. At the same moment my mother and R had come flying out of the house not having any idea what had happened and I remember being surrounded by them, then R had his arms around me trying to help me into the house. Most of the rest of the chaos is a blur. Vague images of ice packs, and R trying to calm me with candy or pudding or ice cream. That readers is the first time that I knew what it was supposed to feel like to have a big brother.

Most of any random contact with R after that time is very vague. He went off in many different directions, the most impressive one to a young sister being Alaska, where he worked in a fishing enterprise, processing and cannery work I think. Even though I had no idea then just how gross that job must have been, or the long hours he must have spent among sea creatures, I was immediately impressed because I didn’t know anyone who had ever traveled that far away just to work. In my eyes it was all rather wonderful and amazing.

There were things happening like drugs, and drinking and women. Again, as a kid you tune most of those things out unless they’re happening right under your nose, and most of this part of R’s life happened around ours, but not directly within my environment. He met another woman, who he might have married, but again all those memories are hazy. There was a child this time around, but I think the child was kept as a secret from him, and I think I will come back to that in a bit.

When our father was still alive I might, or might not, see R once a year. He and his new and present wife would visit, mostly I believe out of a feeling that they (he) must make the effort to stay connected to our dad. I really do have a wide gap in memories here. From those mysterious days of glamorous travel and work, to this point in the story, I went from childhood to marriage. I wish I could remember more about these years in between, but I have to believe that I simply didn’t ever have much contact with R unless he was in the presence of our dad, and my gut tells me that they may have stayed distant from each other out of necessity. This must be another example of my families self-preservation techniques, or possibly the only way my father could see fit not to put a more physical form of communication towards R. I think that there were altercations between the two, again just vague hints and random feelings, not real memories.

I do remember R as a joker, a teaser in the fashion that a big brother is supposed to tease his little sister. This memory of poking fun, silly banter, and good-natured back and forth digs at each other tells me that even though our times together were few, we fell into a semi-realistic brother/sister role when we were together. I’ve often wished that we would have had the opportunity to practice this craft more, to be in each other’s presence enough to tease, but also to catch more than just a glimpse of what this rather strange familial relationship was really supposed to be about. In other words, I missed knowing my brother for all the quintessential traits that define the social label of ‘big brother.’

So this story must now come to the death of my dad.  We were all touched in differing ways by his death. M had responsibility as the oldest sibling. I had to figure out coping without a dad that had become an integral piece of my life after years of only partial involvement blocked by alcoholism. As for R, he never shared what our father’s death marked for him. I think, or at least I like to believe, that once my dad was sober and once R had found a person who both understood and accepted him, that their relationship improved. Whatever words and actions and pain that had taken place between them, and most likely robbed them of their own father/son relationship early on, manifested into something better, something closer to normal such as my dad and I found.

After that time, as was appropriate with M, the time between visits with R grew longer and longer apart. His life had turned to his wife and her family. R went from single wanderer to husband and father of four step-children. Through varying conversations I learned that R was finally able to have a relationship with his own son. As I noted earlier, I suspected that for a time R had little knowledge of his son and then the son was kept from him as well, perhaps out of a mutual agreement. I know no details really of the re-connect. I only know that they have established a connection and I believe it continues even now.

Distance, in some cases can be a good thing. Distance after so many years of being normal makes for a struggle to attempt even small changes. R continues to be distant both geographically and in a relational sense as well. There is no blame here though. I am far from perfect in the reaching out department. I’m also very unsure of just what we would do if we were to spend time together. A part of me senses that he would fall back naturally into his teasing, big brother role. I wonder though how that would play out with actors who are now fifty-five and sixty-seven…

A few years ago, when M and I re-connected, I also began emailing with R quite often. R has, for some time, had health issues, in particular he has dealt with a growing lack of eyesight from macular degeneration. That in and of itself makes his ability to travel questionable. In what I can only describe as a need to share with me the hows and whys of his life R began sending, for lack of a better word, his memoirs to me by email. These were stories he had shared with M over time, and honestly much of what he wrote only served to add more questions to my already long list.

R also shared that he truly believes that he is someone who lies along the autism spectrum, most likely dealing with Aspergers Syndrome all his life, but never being truly diagnosed. He explained some of his reasons and many of the examples he gave seem to give credence to a good deal of his behavior and personality. It would also explain much of the conflicts that occurred between R and our dad. I have to wonder if R dwells on the fact that had all of this knowledge been present early in his life circumstances may have been different. Of course, we can all ask questions like that, yet we have no power to go back and change anything now so perhaps asking what might have been is more harmful.

I emailed R recently, after the chaos with sister M. It is hard for me to judge the relationship that R and M have now or have held over their lifetime, although it is easy to note that there is conflict there and I believe much of that is unresolved. I didn’t expect him to intervene, or take sides, or even grow horribly indignant with the situation between M and I. Those traits are not common with R. I simply wanted him to know that life had once again changed. He told once that he reads (or did read) this blog on occasion. He mentioned how he often disagreed with what I wrote. Strangely that made me happy, and rather proud. I neither want, nor expect anyone to love everything I write and I was glad to hear that I can spark controversy in someone, especially my big brother.

His wife shared with me long ago that R felt guilty. He had wanted to be a better brother.

He didn’t know how. Just like N, or M, or me. None of us really have any idea how to be siblings. Kids look to adults for guidance, and the key adults for all of us had little ability to manage themselves let alone all of us. As we grew up, and even now, I think we live as creatures of habit. We don’t know any better, can’t figure out or bring ourselves to break away from habit, and in reality, are most likely scared to even try. The result of trying seems to show in the many on again, off again attempts that fail.

*R, if you are reading this particular blog post then I’m glad. I hope that you read (have read) the others in this little series. I think you needed to see our world from my perspective. Your story was the easiest to write, but ironically as I end this post, the only one that has made me cry. I think that I’m crying for all of us, the grieving we’ve never done, and the relationships none of us can find.

**Readers, I will end here, but I feel as if I have just spent time on a counselor’s couch so I believe a follow-up post will happen in a day or two. Tying up those ends you know…

Thank you all for reading.

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