No Hero’s Journey

I cannot even begin to make sense of the events of the last week, let alone the last year. It will take me a long time, if ever, to process the horror, heartbreak, grief of dealing with my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the trip to take him back to Colorado, and now his absence.

I do not miss him, of course, he was too abusive (when I heard a noise outside my window last night, I got scared thinking he’d returned), but he was such a major part of my life for the past fifteen months that his absence looms large. I don’t understand how I reconnected with him, don’t understand why he treated me so badly, don’t understand why I thought it important for him and his father to forgive each other. (Except that for my entire life, the two of them have used me as the rope in their tug of war, and I needed to be done with both of them.)

I don’t even understand how I became the one to take him back to Colorado. I don’t remember the sequence of events leading up to the trip, though I do know I refused to let my siblings just toss him on the streets of this dusty, windy, and hellishly hot town. (Partly because I knew he wouldn’t stay away.) I also refused to let them get him thrown in jail where he certainly wouldn’t get help for his many mental disorders.

And so, somewhere along the line, I agreed to take him and the stuff he’d collected back to Colorado. It’s odd that I did so. The very thought of the trip terrified me. I didn’t know if I could put up with his relentlessness and nonstop abuse for all those miles and hours. Knowing how violent my reaction to his verbal abuse was, I feared me as much as I feared him, and I didn’t think we’d survive it. The trip was almost as bad as I thought it would be, and though we came close to an accident several times, we both did survive, probably because of all the prayers and well wishes people sent our way.

He kept opening the door to the car while I was driving (I think he thought he was opening the window, though I don’t really know). One time he climbed into the back seat to sleep on top of all of his stuff, and when he climbed back into the front, he climbed over me, making it impossible for me to see. I pulled over, and helped him get untangled. Because I had to push his foot, it seemed as if I pushed him out the door, and so he refused to get back in the car. He stared at me for a few minutes, then went into a field and fell asleep. I finally got him back in the car, but when he left the moving car a little later, I took off without waiting for him, thinking maybe it would scare him enough to behave.

When I went back, I found him with rescue workers from the fire department, screaming for water. Apparently, he’d fallen asleep by the side of the road while he waited for me. They wanted to arrest him, said a police car was on its way, but I begged and pleaded for them to let me take him to Fort Collins. (A repeat of the night before when I had to beg the cops to let me take him away rather than arrest him. I’d said the car was all packed; just let us go. And finally they did.) The fire folk expressed concern for me, and I told them I’d be fine, that I’d been dealing with him for the past fifteen months. And they too let me go.

My brother demanded that we stop so he could get cold water, and when I did so and gave him the bottle, he clubbed me with it. (I don’t know why, and later, when I told him what he had done, he didn’t know either. He didn’t believe he’d done it, not even when I showed him the huge bruises on my upper arm.) I wanted so much to leave him there, and even planned to call the police to come get him, but I reminded myself to keep focused on my goal. And so, we continued the terrible trip.

The only way I can make sense of any of this trauma is to think in terms of “The Hero’s Journey” with him playing all the roles except hero. His moods change so rapidly, it would have to be a fantasy story, where sometimes the hero is driving a dragon, sometimes a little boy, sometimes a lost soul.

But I am no hero. Heroes don’t cry all the way home.

People think it strange that I cried. Well, so do I — I figured I’d be relieved to be done with him, but he was once my brother. I know some of the tears were simply a way of washing away all the emotions I’d felt, both his and mine. Some of the tears were pure grief since my brother is lost to me — I don’t know who that stranger is. And some of the tears were just plain sorrow for our unsolvable problems, both his and mine.


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.

19 Responses to “No Hero’s Journey”

  1. kencoffman Says:

    Imagine if you were really weak, this would have been a much different situation. Family should not be a suicide pact. On the airplane, you put the oxygen mask on yourself, then assist your neighbors–that’s the only way it can work.

  2. ShirleyAnnHoward Says:

    First, let me say your chronicling of these events are nothing short of remarkable and I hope you find the writing therapeutic. Second, the police do not need to take him to jail. You can let them know he is deeply troubled and in need of medical care. Ask them to call EMTs and take him to the nearest emergency room, where believe me, they are well-equipped to deal such situations. They will do a psych eval and decide on a proper placement. (I know you may not see him again, but in case you do, please remember that police and EMTs can get him to a hospital.) Third, based on this latest account of your journey, I am amazed you survived. Fourth, after all you’ve been through for more than five years, your tears are justified. You have, without a doubt, more resilience and fortitude than I have ever known in any other person.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m amazed I survived, too. I was so very scared. Supposedly there is a strong homeless community in Ft. Collins and places for him to get help. As people keep telling me, if he’s strong enough and aware enough to get to the store to buy alcohol, he’s strong and aware enough to take care of himself.

  3. Chuck and Heidi Thurston Says:

    That is a painful experience, Pat; You are a trooper for soldiering on in that situation.

  4. mickeyhoffman Says:

    One of these days you will suddenly take a deep breath and feel like you’ve just stepped into a new and brighter world.

  5. Malene Says:

    Pat, I too have been following your chronicles about your brother, his troubled existence and your complex relationship with him. While I have neglected to tell you so, I have thought of you often. You continue to inspire me, of course by your actions and your continued strength in the face of all that you have been and are dealing with. But, even more impressive to me, and so admirable is the candour with which you write about it.

    That you are so forthright about your own mixed emotions; thoughts and reactions to your brother, to your father and to your situation in general is so refreshing and one (of many) reasons I always look forward to your posts. Your honesty, your wisdom, your insights and, yes even your human frailties are a great gift to those of us who read your writings.

    Thank you!


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Malene. I’m glad my writings touch others. It makes the pain seem so much less senseless.

    • Malene Says:

      You know, it’s funny this whole family-ties thing. I have an older brother with whom I have essentially no relationship. Simply put, he has never forgiven me for being born. He has told me outright (and he appears to be completely sane and is a very high-functioning and successful man) that I was an evil child and for all he knows I still am.

      When we were children, he beat and tortured me mercilessly in all sorts of ways (as I suppose siblings do) and yet I, like you did yours, adored him. I fully understand how he came to be the way he was and is and hold no grudge against him for how he treated me. I don’t even hold his adult refusal to have anything to do with me and his assertions of my inherent badness against him.

      In fact, in spite of this, in spite of his complete lack of acknowledging how things truly were between us as kids – he’s my brother. I alone know what he suffered at the hands of my parents and I nearly always feel slightly guilty that I was blessed with such a different nature from him. A nature that has allowed me to understand and separate myself from all the toxicity of my childhood. He was not so lucky. In so many ways he is still stuck there and on the very few occasions I see him (the last time was at my mother’s funeral, 4 years ago) I see still see the little boy in his eyes and my heart aches for him. I would still do almost anything for him, if he needed me to.

      All this to say I think I get the complexity of your current situation. I too would cry for all the same reasons, if I had to do what you just had to. And, you DID have to!



      • Pat Bertram Says:

        I hate the saying “blood is thicker than water” but apparently it is true. Still, I do need to separate myself from him. His problems are not mine, and I can’t let him make them so.

        Life seems to get stranger the older I get.

  6. Paula Kaye Says:

    I find the fact that you drove him to Colorado amazing. I think I might have just dumped him along the side of the road. I am curious though to know….Why Colorado??

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s where we live (though on opposite ends of the state)and where all my brother’s stuff is stored. I’m temporarily several states away taking care of my father, and my brother came to see him and got stuck here, so it’s not as cruel getting him back there as it seems. If he can hold himself together long enough to apply for all the benefits he’s entitled to, he’ll be okay.

      • Paula Kaye Says:

        I guess I didn’t realize that you lived in Colorado. I think you did what you needed to do to take care of yourself. I don’t at all think it sounds cruel.

  7. fishershannon Says:

    Sending you love, Pat. That is a lot to handle on top of everything else you’ve been dealt in recent years. The only thing I can say is…dance until you feel nothing but the rhythm of the music and get lost in the movement! ❤

  8. Carol Says:

    I’ve been away and offline for the past couple weeks, so I’ve had to read back to discover the details of what happened. What a horrendous time you’ve had! I have no siblings, my hubby’s one brother and both sets of our parents have all died, and can’t begin to put myself in your shoes. But I don’t believe you’ve been cruel at all. As an adult, your brother has to live his own life, and if that means being where he can get the help he needs, so be it. You’ve helped him by getting him there… at an unimaginable risk to your own safety. If he somehow finds his way back to you, I agree with Shirley Ann Howard that the police and EMTs need to deal with him. He’s mentally ill, and if he had any other kind of debilitating illness, you wouldn’t feel guilty if you put him in the care of appropriate medical caregivers. You’ve done more than most would find humanly possible. I hope you can now find some respite for your own spirit. It’s long overdue!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I sincerely doubt he will come back here. There is a warrant out for his arrest here, which makes it very odd that the cops let us take him back to Colorado instead of their arresting him, but with all the attention on the bad way people with mental problems are treated in jails, I think they were glad to be done with him. I know he doesn’t want to have to deal with the courts and jail time. But, if he does come back, your point is well made. I took a photo of the bruises he inflicted on me during the drive, so I could honestly say I feared my life was in danger. Hoping for respite for my spirit, too. It’s been hard.

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