Friday, July 3, 2009

Forgotten, but not

I just reread (then edited) yesterday's post about my Dad, and realized that in my list of events he's missed, I forgot a single, rather significant death--about 18 months ago, my middle brother, Andrew, died.  I was rather shocked to think I'd forgotten him, particularly in relation to Dad because Dad would never have forgotten Andrew.  But you see, that's part of the trouble with Andrew: he was somehow, for better and worse, forgotten.  At least by me.  There have been times over the course of the almost 40 years since he became part of our family that I worked hard to forget him because thinking about him was like a kick in the gut, full of breath-stealing pain.

I know others--more than I can count--who have troubled siblings, brothers who've dabbled in, then were caught by drugs, or made such terrible choices the result was a season (or life) behind bars, women in half-way houses, mental institutes, or (as in Andrew's case) an estranged life without a home.  There's a commonality to relationships with such siblings--the sense of guilt, lack of trust, pain for one's parents all complicate whatever love one felt as children.  And all these things are inside my relationship with my brother, even when he was alive and in my life to have a relationship with...a decade ago before he severed contact with our family.

You see, he was one of the most wanted children ever born.  We waited several years for a baby boy to adopt, and waited several hours for the social worker to actually bring him to the room where we sat around a large conference table, rolling a lone orange back and forth across the top until it burst its skin.  When he arrived, we were instantly besotted by this tiny moneky-faced boy with a scrunched up face and protruding eye-brows.  I remember holding at once the thoughts that he was the ugliest baby I'd ever seen and the one I most wanted for a brother. 

But he was a troubled baby who didn't like to be touched who grew to be a troubled small boy, then a larger one.  My parents were successfully raising four older children by then (my youngest sister was 7 and my older brother was almost 14 when Andrew was born), and they had certain patterns of discipline that apparently worked with us.  Talking to us about our misbehavior, drawing out our shame over the act so that we were thwarted from it in the future.  This didn't work with Andrew.  He was never ashamed, never felt guilt over any act, only that he was in trouble.  He was secretive and taciturn, unable to talk of feelings or, as far as I can tell, even identify them to himself.  He lived almost entirely in the world of the present, where his impulsese drove him, without ever recognizing that acts have consequences.

As he grew, his impulses led him to some very--VERY--deviant acts.  Troubling acts, especially to my dad, who was just about as straight an arrow as they come, a man whose ethics were the backbone of his life.  I think my father cried more tears over Andrew than about the other 5 of us combined (my baby brother, BB, joined our family 18 mos. after Andrew).  See, Dad hadn't failed at anything in his whole life, and problem-solving with reason and intellect had always been his method. And Andrew...well, he had more than his share of failures, sorry to say.  In school, in relationships, in jobs, in life.  So Dad tried countless things to encourage Andrew, to support him.  After Andrew made the worst of his mistakes and ended up in a psychiatric group home, the year he was 12, Dad, who wasn't a christian yet, repeatedly asked me to save Andrew, asked me what programs we could set up so that would happen.  I had to tell my very earnest dad that programs never save anyone, nor could I ever convert Andrew.  I could talk to him, pray for him, but only God is in the business of salvation.  On several 80 mile trips home for the weekend with Andrew, I did talk to him about Jesus, and he seemed to respond--in his own non-emotional way.  He even told me once during that year that he had become a Christian. But as far as his ultimate salvation...I just don't know.

Andrew did, with Dad's 'dinging at him', as Dad would have called it, become an Eagle Scout, probably his biggest accomplishment.  With no other man as a father, would this have been possible.  And, somehow (perhaps even a clerical error) Andrew graduated from high school. They were just so happy that unexpected diploma came in the mail, they hadn't the heart to investigate whether it should have.

That next year, Dad set Andrew up in an apartment near a community college on the coast. Andrew, like for his whole life, had been interested in movies, and  this community college had a program, and since Dad knew many profs there who might look out for Andrew (who still seemed about 12 in maturity), it looked hopeful that Andrew would succeed.  Only seven weeks later, however, in a conversation with one of his friends, Dad discovered that Andrew had stopped attending classes.  Dad asked if we'd allow him to stay in our home with us in Tacoma, attend a tech school there for film-making, which was Andrew's only real interest.  After a lot of conversation, Beve and I said no.  It broke my heart to have to tell my father that, but we had small children, and couldn't have Andrew in our home with them.  So Andrew went home.

Eventually, driving the Toyota pick-up my parents had bought him, Andrew moved to California, where he supposedly went to school.  It's impossible to know if he ever actually did, because by then he'd reduced his contact with our family.  Eventually, he stopped communicating with us altogether.  Dad hadn't spoken to him for many months by the time he was lying in ICU in Spokane.  That week, my then-brother-in-law tracked him down at Universal Studios where he worked selling novelty pins from a cart, and I called him.  I probably hadn't talked to him in over a year then.  I told him to call Dad.  "I don't know what your deal is, why you haven't called, but if you want to talk to him before he dies, you need to call him now."  That was about 4 days before Dad died.  I didn't want to believe it was true, but everything in my gut told me Dad would die.  Andrew didn't call.  My former brother-in-law then went down to Universal and told him Dad had died.  Paid for a plane ticket for Andrew to come home.  It was an amazing gesture, looking back on it.  So Andrew came home for Dad's memorial service.  And I was so blasted mad at him I could hardly speak.  He let Dad die without knowing where he was.  Pretty hard to let go of, even now, apparently.  And I regret I didn't tell Dad I'd talked to him.  I didn't Dad to know and have it hurt that Andrew didn't call.  I kept waiting for that phone call.  But I could have eased Dad's mind a little...

After Dad's death we saw Andrew just two more times--at BB's wedding a year later, and in Hawaii where part of the family was vacationing.  There was actually a third time some of the family saw him, but it was such a terrible time, it's difficult to write of.  Let me just say that Andrew tore our family apart that year, having done something unthinkable.  Mom, trying to be Dad, wanted to believe him while the rest of us were far less certain.

After that, I always paid careful attention to any criminal news from Southern California.  Never saw any evidence of Andrew.  And later we learned that whatever he might have been in in personal life, he worked all those years at Universal Studio, was a trusted and valued employee who was "Employee of the Month" the last October of his life.  But had also been homeless more often than not in that decade.  His fellow employees blamed his family for his homelessness.  They thought we were the ones who had chosen the silence.  What is true is that we were mostly ambivalent about his estrangement.  Sometimes worried, sometimes relieved, sometimes glad to not know.

Our first contact with him in a decade came 45 minutes before he died, when his supervisor called the emergency contact on his employment record.  Mom hung up the phone and called me, and even in that short time, had forgotten all the facts of his choking.  Minutes later, a hospital called to say he'd died.  Just that fast.  Four of us went to Universal Studios to talk to his supervisor, meet his friends, put on his memorial.  They knew a lot about his work-life, but almost nothing of his personal predilictions, or past.  We were careful to allow them their grief, to take the responsibility for him they expected.

At his memorial, I spoke, and told those gathered that yes, we had allowed that distance, yes, we hadn't always done right by him.  And that we were grateful that in our absence, they had been present for him.  There were valid reasons we'd felt cautious about being around Andrew, but it would only have hurt their memories to reveal them.  Better for us to shoulder it.  So we did.

Sometimes I do forget Andrew.  That forgetting is easier for me.  Remembering is so complicated.  One of my sisters, when BB asked how she could even cry at the memorial given what pain Andrew'd caused, said, "I cry for the little boy, and I cry for the way he died."  And that sums it up well.  I loved that little boy, his charming smile that he bestowed so seldom, his cute little face that grew out of being a monkey, his love of movies that never, ever changed.  And I'm sad that that most-wanted little boy grew to be a homeless stranger, with only a gym bag, a single blanket, a single towel, one pair of jeans and a single black tee-shirt to his name.  It's a sad thing to lose a family, so I'm sad for him.

But I also told that group of Universal workers (and my three siblings) that one thing I know for sure is that God loved Andrew.  When he had a family and when he didn't.  When he chose silence, God was still there.  And when he died in that hospital emergency room, choking on a bite of meat far too large, God was there loving him.  The rest?  I leave that to God and Andrew to sort out.

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