Pricked Conscience

Thank you for all your prayers, thoughts, concern, love.

After I abandoned my dysfunctional brother on the streets of Fort Collins and drove the 1000 miles back to where I am caring for my 97-year-old father, all I could do was weep. I felt terrible that no one cared. I wondered how it was possible in a world of 7,184, 285,500 people, my brother could be so unloved. And then I realized the truth. I cared, and so did all of you. Not that it makes any difference to him (at least as far as I know), but it makes a difference to me.

Even though he ended up angry, abusive, demanding, it wasn’t always so. He’d been in my life from the moment I was born, and I’d looked up to him. I remember him as a radiant and charming child. A brilliant youth. A teenager who refused to let himself be beaten (with a belt, no less) into submission. A young man who felt at home no matter where he roamed. A middle-aged man who struggled with problems greater than his ability to solve.

I thought I wanted him out of my life, and I do. For the past fifteen months, he hounded me relentlessly, wanting more from me than I could ever have given him, though to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what he wanted. He settled for a place to camp in the garage and an occasional bag of groceries, but I knew that wasn’t enough. (As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t even solve my own problems, let alone his.)

At the end of the road in Colorado, as he stood there by the car drinking his bribe and exchanging a last few words, I mentioned that he always wanted one more thing from me but he never gave me anything.

“Yes, I did,” he responded. “I pricked your conscience.”

I didn’t think of that remark again until this morning when I got out of a safe and comfortable bed and remembered his saying he needed to find a place to camp by the railroad tracks. I flushed the toilet and remembered that he had to find a place to relieve himself out in the open. I took a cold drink from the refrigerator and remembered that his beverages could only be the temperature of the outside world. I fixed something to eat and remembered the dumpster he pulled his dinner from last night. I drove to the store and remembered how painful it was for him to walk because of his sciatica.

He used to scream, “You’re living like a millionaire while I have to live like a dog, and you don’t even appreciate it.” I always responded that millionaires didn’t have people knocking on their windows for attention dozens of times a night. But the truth is, he is right. I am living like a millionaire — warm bed, hot food, cold drinks, pristine toilet, kitchen, safety, comfort, and friends who care about me.

So thank you, all of you. You mean more to me than you will ever know.


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.

9 Responses to “Pricked Conscience”

  1. cluculzwriter Says:

    We’d have to made of stone not to cry for you and your brother. And all those others souls we can’t help.

  2. Joy Collins Says:

    Sending love to you and your brother.

  3. Wanda Says:

    Dear Pat,
    Every single person suffering like your brother pricks at our consciences. The hardest thing to face is that we can not fix others. We can’t live their lives, we can’t fix their lives, we can’t heal them of their illnesses, whether that illness is mental or physical. And it never gets better. You tell yourself you’ve done what you can…but it never feels like it’s enough, even when it is more than enough.

    Sometimes we simply have to cut the lifeline rather than be pulled into the abyss ourselves. I pray your brother finds a way to seek help for himself. I pray for you to find some kind of peace. Try to be easier on yourself. He’s not the same person who was riding so happily upon his father’s shoulders.

    Remember that boy, that young man, that teenager, that beloved brother. He might yet come back to the family. Thank all that you might hold holy that you have a conscience to prick after what you’ve gone through with him.

    Rest easy dear. There’s a lot of good will out here for you and for your brother.

  4. leesis Says:

    when I had my son I stared at this newborn being and realized every adult I’ve ever met…in psych hospitals, in prisons and in gutters started like this. Increased my empathy even more for those who we judge ‘fail’ this life. Nevertheless you did what had been done;for him as much for you and your family.

  5. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Pat, you’re not living like a millionaire. Call me prejudiced, but a millionaire would probably have paid someone to deal with your brother and your father’s needs. You are being human.

  6. ShirleyAnnHoward Says:

    Wanda said it all perfectly; I’d like to reiterate her statements. You went way beyond the last mile with him, literally and figuratively. If you allowed him to continue to terrorize the household, you’d be enabling his dysfunctional behavior. As it came time for him to leave, he resorted to manipulation…a few last desperate acts. You did the right thing, because in hitting bottom, he might lift himself up. Tolerating his unacceptable behavior keeps him from helping himself.

    It’s hard though, very hard, and I know it hurts a lot. I pray you find peace, because you deserve it. Never doubt for a minute that… You. Did. The. Right. Thing.

  7. Cathy Gingrich Says:

    Dear Pat, People with the type of disorder your brother is suffering from (I am guessing bi-polar or worse) are very good at manipulation. They can make you feel guilty for everything that has gone wrong in their life. They are unusually intelligent and know how to “hook” your emotions. I know this because my 28 year old grandson whom I love very much is like your brother. But you can not help them. They only become more angry and belligerent. And, remember, it is not their fault. Their wiring is short circuited in a way science has to figure out. I understand that 108 genomes have been Identified in this illness, so there is hope for this growing population. My heart breaks for my grandson and I am powerless to do anything about it. I pray for him to heal, to recover, to be safe…it’s the best thing I can do for him. I will continue to pray for you and your brother, too. Cathy

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Cathy. It’s heartbreaking for all of us who have to deal with such people. That it’s not their fault (at least not totally) makes it worse somehow. It’s probably why they can manipulate us.

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