We 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.