1000 Miles of Tears

tomWe coerced my dysfunctional, alcoholic brother into going back to Colorado. He’d kicked in the door between the house and the garage, and we had the cops threaten to put him in jail if he didn’t leave. We packed his stuff, didn’t even let him take the time to do it himself. I drove off at one o’clock in the morning, and drove straight through. It was a horrible, horrifying, and heartbreaking trip, even worse than I feared. But we got there safely, though I have several painful bruises that he had no memory of inflicting. (He’d never hit me before, though I had hit him, I’m ashamed to admit. I’m not violent, and hadn’t hit anyone since childhood until he came here with his multiple problems and no sense of boundaries.)

When we arrived, I spent the night in a motel. He slept in the car, but he was able to get a shower and put on clean clothes that morning. We unloaded his stuff and packed it in his storage unit (a unit that he may or may not still have access to. The owner said he wasn’t to go there any more, though my brother has a note from the owner’s wife that he has access every morning). Then we drove around, doing “just one more thing,” “just five more minutes,” “just one more stop.” My brother always pushes things, and that “one more thing” ended up being several hours of driving around. During the last couple of hours, he refused to leave the car. He was afraid of being homeless again. He begged me to get a motel room so he could get one more night of civilization and a shower. I refused. (I’d promised to get him a motel room for a week, but there is a law in that town that no one can rent a room for another person. The homeless shelter is pitifully under-bedded, and there was no mental health place to leave him.) I knew that staying a second night would result in another day of “just one more stop”s.

In the end, I had to bribe him with the promise of a six-pack of beer to get him to leave the car. After I bought the beer, he wanted us to go get something to eat, but I was tired. Sick of the whole mess. Had no appetite. Just wanted to leave.

We talked for a while, then he told me I shouldn’t drive far before getting a room, that he was worried about my falling asleep. This concern for me, the first he had shown in the fourteen months we were together, broke me. I started to cry. Then he told me several sights I should be sure to see, and I cried harder. “Do you think this is a fun trip for me?” I said. “It’s killing me. I don’t want to leave you here on the streets.” (Sort of egotistic of me, isn’t it, to expect him to care about my feelings when he was the one being abandoned?) He touched my hand, and my tears dripped like a desert rain. He expressed surprise that I cared, and I explained that of course I cared. I’d spent the past fourteen months trying to keep him off the streets, which is why I’d lobbied for his camping out in the garage.

I really had no other choice but to take him to Colorado. My father needed my sister to help take care of him since I couldn’t do it by myself, and her presence escalated my brother’s psychoses beyond anything I could handle. Besides, if my father continues to decline, my brother would have to leave soon any way. (Or so I told myself to justify my actions.)

I reached out for my brother’s hand, needing that one final touch, but he turned and walked away, tears of his own in his eyes.

I expected to be relieved when I finally drove off, but my tears continued to fall. I cried the entire 1000 miles back, thinking that as abusive as he’d been, he was my brother.  (“Was,” not “is,” as if he’d died or were about to die.) You’ll be horrified to learn that I drove straight back with but a two-hour stopover at a rest area. I didn’t see the point of getting a room for the night because I wouldn’t sleep, and besides, it felt wrong since he would be sleeping outside by the railroad tracks.

My bruises tell me I did the right thing, and yet I know that every time I go into the garage, I will be reminded of my brother living on the streets, reminded that I didn’t even stay to have a final meal with him.

Not my finest hour.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


29 Responses to “1000 Miles of Tears”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    I’m sorry you had to go through this experience. No alternative, though.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Pat, no one here is going to blame you. Your brother had problems and it was his choice not to get them treated. You were doing what you had to do for your physical, mental, and emotional health. And perhaps his crying and walking away might’ve been him actually showing some humanity for once and letting you have the space and silence you need.

    Good luck, Pat. And if there’s anything I can do for you, i’m only a comment or a Facebook message away. Just remember that.

  3. Cicy Rosado Says:

    Hang in there Pat I will be praying for your to give you strength, I am starting to say the rosary every thursday to ask the Lord to help me with my problem and I will include you too! Luv your Friend and Teacher. Cicy.

  4. Paula Kaye Says:

    I can only say ‘God Bless’ you for what you have gone through. I cannot imagine

  5. Holly Bonville Says:

    I am so sorry that you have had to deal with this. You were the strong person that did handle it. A lesser person wouldn’t have been able to do it. I know it is hard and emotionally wrenching. But it is done. It needed to be done. Now to recover. Be kind to yourself, you have been through a lot.

  6. ShirleyAnnHoward Says:

    Sometimes the right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do. Oftentimes it is the hardest thing to do, which you so aptly accomplished and described. Have a nice bath and a cup of tea… you did what had to be done. No question.

  7. mickeyhoffman Says:

    When you get to feeling guilty and sad, remind yourself how he was pulling your strings without mercy for months. He could have made you into a different person, but you can not make him into a better one.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Mickey, you are so right. I need to remember the truth of his stay here, not what my emotions are telling me. (Actually, my emotions are telling me he is dead, but that isn’t so.)

  8. Carol Wuenschell Says:

    If he truly understood that you cared for him, that is a victory – a small chink in his distorted image of the world.

    He is mentally ill. This is not your fault, but also not his. I don’t think your choice was wrong given the circumstances, although it clearly wasn’t “good,” and felt very, very bad. What is broken here is the fact that it is too hard to get someone committed involuntarily. I’m not sure how to respect the rights of mentally ill people while still preventing horrible situations like the one you’ve been living with for months. Somehow, though, we have to try to find a way. Mentally ill people often do not make good choices and their choices can seriously affect others – especially those who care for them – while falling short of the “danger to self or danger to others” criterion.

    Hang in there, and take care of yourself. You are a good person.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Carol. It did come as rather a shock how little we can do to help anyone who desperately needs help. I feel as if I threw him away, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

      I’m trying to take care of myself.

  9. leesis Says:

    Oh my god Pat. Sometimes relationships are agony. However, I’m so glad that you connected with your brother emotionally…so glad you broke down and cried and that he cried. I felt so awful for you both until then. Then I read that and smile came on my face.
    Pat despite the fact that you will both feel pain for a while to come, that moment might just be his saving grace. He finals gets you cared/care (and no, he would not have known that before). I actually love that he walked away. Could be wrong of course but could also be symbolic of him accepting the reality he has created. This is the opportunity he needed. Whether he takes it or not is his choice not yours but at least for that time he has been shocked out of his ‘self-justifying ranting it’s everybody else’ fault’ self and saw things just as they were. It’s a fork in the road.

    Pat I know that each moment must have been acutely painful but know you just might have saved his butt allowing his future to be possibilities. Who knows if he can take up the challenge? Nevertheless, it’s possible and as a mental health specialist Pat I don’t think it would have happened without that drive and those tears.

    And finally Pat…why would you do anything else but cry the whole way home? You’re a good person and no good person would feel anything but gut wrenching pain.
    With love

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you. I’ll take your word for it that I’m a good person. I still feel so awful, as if I could have/should have done more, but his burdens are not for me to shoulder. Every time I go into the garage, I think of him. I’m not sure I miss him — he was too abusive — but I am acutely aware that he is gone.

      • leesis Says:

        you don’t miss his behavior Pat. No sensible person would. But him, your brother…you miss and you grieve for what he forced on the family and you had to be the ‘one’…it all sucked.

  10. Sue Says:

    You have been caring and compassionate. Your tears are proof of your continuing caring. I don’t have to tell you that you cannot love someone out of a mental illness. You have done all that could be done, and you are right, this now is his — even in the face of the great disability. I won’t tell you that it will all be alright. It may not. You cannot keep it from being whatever it will be. To attempt to control things at that level is harmful to you, your father, and your brother. I hope now, that you can let this burden fall off, and that you can find a bit of peace and calm for yourself.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I appreciate your honesty, Sue. Things might not be all right. But for now, this is the way things have to be. If he wants a different life, he will need to find a way to make it so. All my tears can’t change a single thing. But oh, it’s so hard.

  11. Pat S. Says:

    Continuing to send thoughts and prayers your way. It breaks my heart how broken our system is for caring for those with mental illness and the dreadful burden it puts on compassionate family members. I’m praying your both find peace. What you did took tremendous courage but I truly believe it was for the best. No person should have to endure that kind of abuse, no matter the reason. Tears are to cleanse your spirit. When you have washed out some of the pain, go and dance. I’ll be holding you and him and all your family in my prayers.

  12. lvgaudet Says:

    Oh my god Pat. I so wish I was there for you. It’s such a hard place to be in. Dealing with mental illness has nothing nice about it. It’s just ugly and nasty and hard for everyone. It’s such an aweful place to be in. I’m so sorry you’re having to go through that without help. Both for you and your brother. I hope you both come through this okay.

  13. Life As A Matter Of Punctuated Equilibrium | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] breath-stealing agony of my grief, the horrific journey taking my brother back to Colorado and the 1000 miles of tears afterward, the continued frustrations over my father’s struggle to maintain his parental […]

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