Monday, October 7, 2013

Sibling Sorrow and Resolution

Much has been said about my oldest brother, Alan, but this is the first time I have written about him.  I've decided to record his story and my feelings about him, and from this point on, he will be discarded from my life.

He was 16 years old when I was born.  He is actually a stepbrother.  We share a father, but right from Day One of my Dad marrying my Mom, it is my understanding that he and my Mom were like oil and water.  The stories are the stuff of legends among those who attended Tonawanda High School in the early '60s.  Apparently, he was not happy unless he was in trouble with someone and ultimately causing problems at home.  It escalated to the point where my Parents asked him to leave after he graduated from high school.  Two years later he left Western New York, not to return to live for close to 40 years.   I was four years old at the time.

My early memories of him were vague and foggy.  He would mysteriously appear and disappear around holiday time- not every year. not even every other year.  He had settled in Connecticut.   During my senior year of high school, he became engaged to Corinne.  We all met her and her family, and while we thought that her younger brother was a bit of a jerk, we loved her parents.  I thought she was pretty cool.  She was the lead singer of a cover band, a grade school music teacher and a church organist.  She was really opinionated and everything with her was very black and white.  This would prove to be problematic down the road.  For the time being, all was well, and we thought that my brother had finally grown up.

Years passed, children came, family vacations ensued.  On one of these trips, Corinne decided that the time was right to tell my husband a story about my birth and how Alan felt that, had I never been born, that all of my step-siblings would have been reunited to live together again (the two youngest grew up together with foster parents.  We were all friends and spend a lot of time together - all of us except Alan, that is).  The really bad part of the story was how she told him that all of them felt this way, not just Alan.  I had this vision in my head of a movie with a bunch of rag-tag brothers and sisters torn apart after their mother deserted them, pining away for one another until this unplanned, accidental baby comes along and is just this total wrecking ball, smashing their hopes and dreams.  I was the spoiled princess who went to Hawaii with the folks when I was five, to meet my paternal grandmother and be pampered beyond belief by my Aunt and Uncle.  How could they not hate me?  I finally worked up the courage to ask my second-oldest brother (who I was closest to) about this after my Mom's death.   I felt oddly vindicated by his anger and his vehement assertion that, at no time did any of them other than Alan ever think that this mythical "family reunion" would happen, nor was there ever any blame put on me. Alan was seven or eight years old when his mother left - he was the oldest child, and in today's world, he would have received counseling.  I don't think anybody knew how to deal with this situation back then.  In the 1950's, women did not desert their children. Still,  I cannot imagine what possessed Corinne to tell this to Bill, but in the end, I think it says a lot about her character and how she, in her own way, contributed to the demise of hers and Alan's marriage.

Alan had his share of hereditary health problems - osteoarthritis, a rare form of cancer(cured in 1999), and extreme obesity.  He was also a heavy drinker.   About 12 years ago, he broke his leg and became addicted to Oxycontin.  I don't think I will ever know the full extent of what he did to get his hands on the drug, but I do know that he forged Corinne's signature on 401(k) withdrawal paperwork (not sure whose 401(k) it was - maybe both!) to take a withdrawal to buy the drug.  Needless to say, their marriage came to an end in 2007, and in 2009 he announced to us that he was moving back to Buffalo (leaving two teenage sons behind, but that's a whole other story).  I guess we were supposed to all greet him with open arms, open homes and open wallets.   I, who felt little connection to him to begin with, was extremely suspicious of just about everything he said or did.  We all tried to find a reasonable apartment for him, but nothing would do but for him to rent a house from my brother Gary (my youngest step brother).  Why rent from a total stranger when you can take advantage of a relative -which is exactly what ended up happening.  He has spent the past five years asking each of us for money, owing thousands in back rent, taking disability time from his job(which supposedly pays six figures) to have shoulder and knee surgeries, spending time in rehab (of both the physical and drug variety), sponging dinners off everyone, collecting DWIs, driving with a suspended license (those Connecticut plates come in handy), and ......I think that's just about enough, thank you!

As I write this, I have washed my hands of him.  In reality, I did this over two years ago.  It has taken my siblings a bit longer to catch up.  Understandably, they still harbored feelings of loyalty and duty toward him -  their oldest brother, after all.  I have no idea where he's living or what he's doing, and I simply can't bring myself to care.  He told Dick that he wanted to come to my Mom's funeral service to"start over" with everyone.  I can still hear Dick telling me the story.  He said "I asked him 'Why do you want to come?  She hated your guts!!'   There's no money left'...."  This was not entirely true, but certainly there was no money for him as far as we were concerned.   The day of my Mom's funeral came and went without an appearance by Alan.  In the end, we think it was about money, as it always was in the past - money for alcohol, marijuana and pills.  And if he was really lucky, he'd get a dinner out of it too.

I could write volumes about the crazy things he did to get money for drugs and alcohol, and the insane way that he lived his life after he moved back here.  I honestly believe that he may never straighten out, and he definitely will not as long as there are enablers in his life.  I stepped away from my enabler role and I will not ever go back.

I am trying now to find the positives that I have been left with.

I am wiser.  I know that addicts will do or say anything to convince someone to give them money when they need their fix.   I know that the fix becomes more important than jobs, families or relationships.  Until it is satisfied, at which point the sorrowful regret and "woe is me, I'm so misunderstood" routine kicks in.  Alan was always downtrodden, life was always against him, luck was never in his favor.  He never accepted real responsibility for his problems or his actions.  Maybe he has now or will someday.  But he'll be doing it without me because I will never, ever trust him again.

I have real respect for people who have successfully overcome addictions.  But maybe these people have family members who will never trust them again, and I can't judge them for this.  That's why God brings new people into our lives - to give us a chance to start fresh.

There are a lot of people in the world who have been touched by addiction - either their own or someone else's.  If we're lucky, we get the chance to use our own experiences to help others.

Sometimes it's good to just listen.  Listen without judgement and without trying to advance your own agenda.

Always, it's good to pray and have faith.  Sometimes, it's the only thing you can do.  And you have to tell yourself that it's OK that praying is the only thing you can do.   Do it for everyone else, but mostly.... do it for yourself.

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