“I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes brimming over with tears. Her voice was pleading. “I was twenty-one years old. I was your age.”
My mother was sitting opposite me in a chair in our formal living room, wringing her hands as her red eyes welled.
“I wish I knew then what I know now,” she continued. “Would we have done things differently? Of course. Would we not have hit you the way we did? No. But I just can’t believe that we’re responsible for all this…is the only thing you remember hate and pain?”
Not everything has been well in the Our Family household. As the events themselves unfolded they were so immediate and overwhelming that I couldn’t summon the will to write about them, and I decided to keep postings lighter in topic until after the holidays ended. To do that without an addendum, however, would be a misrepresentation.
On Christmas night, my twenty-year-old brother Powell stumbled home from Ghetto Boy’s house, where the two had been drinking heavily.
I had just gotten off of my shift at work when my cell phone rang and my mother, in an unusually calm voice, asked me for my birth-mother Anne’s cell phone number.
“Why?” I responded.
“I need the number,” my mother said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
To anyone else nothing would have seemed amiss, but I know her well and can tell the difference between her usual moods and the forced composure she adopts when something has happened.
“Nothing is wrong,” she said.
“Mom, tell me,” I insisted.
After a day of gift-opening, family greeting, and large meals, my parents were sitting down with Thomas, Pie, and Aunt Ostentatious and Blonde Cousin, who were staying the night with us, for a game of Monopoly in the kitchen.
It was then that my brother, heavily inebriated, barged in and in the presence of my aunt and cousin began berating and cursing my parents, who reacted, by all accounts, with remarkable level-headedness. Thomas confirmed later that they walked him to the foyer and answered his hysterical insistence that they have a “talk” with assurances that they could do so the following day, after he’d had some sleep.
Powell was alternating between screaming and sobbing, and during one of the bouts of crying, my father told him he needed to go upstairs and go to bed or leave. This sparked protest, but they did manage to get him to walk him up the stairs, where he brooded outside of his bedroom before going on a shrieking rampage in which he threw things and attempted to kick in my parents’ bedroom door.
My mother followed him to his bathroom, took his arm, and attempted to lead him back down the hall, to bed and hopefully sobriety.
He was having nothing of it. My brother, with his 6’3” frame, shoved my small mother off of him, causing her to stumble back as he became more belligerent, kicking and hitting things. She’s only about 5’5” and probably weighs a little bit more than me, but she’s never been one to be bullied, as Powell found to his detriment when she somehow jumped high enough to wrap her arm around his neck and bring him to the floor. He began to struggle, so she and my father held him down until the police were called and he was arrested.
After a night in jail he was entered into an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, and he remains in a center today, completing a thirty-day program that he finally sees as necessary.
Are there many contributing factors to his situation? Yes. Are my parents at least partially responsible? Yes. That’s a truth I believe they’ve acknowledged and attempted to make right by giving Powell the support and help he must have and not simply kicking him out of the house. In fact, my father has been adamant that we’re not to treat him any differently now, and has emphasized that Powell is still a part of our family.
It is worth noting, though, and should be noted, that my parents are not solely to blame for the drama unfolding. Powell’s problems began when he was Thomas’s age; he was fourteen years old and a Freshman in high school when he had his first drink, and even at that age he could handle his liquor, consuming more as a ninth-grader than I could manage now. It was around this same time that he first tried marijuana, and both habits were only to deepen (and be joined by others) as he advanced through high school.
In addition to that, as I reminded my weeping father the night of Powell’s arrest, I grew up in the same household, under the same circumstances, and failed to develop any of the same conditions he suffers from.
“Dad, I honestly think that something like this would have happened eventually, even if you and Mom had been the best parents in the world,” I said. “Powell is the product of very bad genetics; he has two alcoholic parents, and that gave him an addictive personality. I think that what you and Mom did contributed to this, but I don’t think it was only you.”
“And what exactly did we do?” he asked. “I don’t understand what you two are talking about.”
I sighed. I resolved in the summer of 2008, after explosive confrontations between us on these very issues, that I would not raise them again, for all they brought about was hurt and sadness. I believe that I have successfully crossed the bridge of forgiveness, and that feels so much better than bitterness and hatred ever did. However, for the sake of my brother, I gave my father an honest answer.
When I finished, the weight of realization seemed to drag his face down, making him look desperate and vulnerable and overwhelmed by guilt.
“Dad,” I said. “I don’t want you to think about this, to dwell on it. I only told you because Powell’s recovery has to involve rehab and counseling, otherwise it won’t work. If you don’t cure the underlying emotional problems that are causing the addiction, you can’t cure the addiction.
“And honestly, I have been vindictive and unfair. When I was a teenager, I was so angry at you and Mom for everything that I blocked out the positive and I focused on the bad. I have good memories from childhood, of our vacations, of stuff we did together. You and Mom always provided for us, and we always knew you loved us. There was a lot you did right.”
He hugged me for about ten seconds straight.
“Thank you,” he croaked.
He needed to hear it.
In truth, I feel a large measure of responsibility for the situation with my brother. It is true that he and I were abused as children and into our teen years, but I doubt that he ever would have put that together had I not been there, with all my resentment and acid bile, to stoke his rage.
Those sentiments were so manifest inside of me in that time period that it was hard to stop them from coming out, but I believe that they contaminated my little brother, leading him down a path he would not otherwise have gone.
I don’t want to overstate my corrupting influence; as mentioned earlier, his substance abuse problems began when he was fourteen, years before my own fury reached its molten peak.
I was there, however.
I can remember one night in particular, a stay at Anne’s house when he was sixteen and I eighteen, and we were lying awake talking about our family.
“Does it ever make you mad?” I asked. “All the stuff that happened when we were younger?”
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“You know, the beatings,” I said. “And the way Mom and Dad were, the way they used to talk to us in front of people and hit us and stuff.”
I burned in my bed.
“Sometimes I think about it,” I said. “And it makes me so angry. It’s like it just happened.”
“Yeah,” he said, as if realizing something for the first time. “Yeah, me, too.”
I will never know what he genuinely felt, how much of his later vengefulness was real and how much implanted. The logical part of me says that I could not possibly have caused such an extensive and total breakdown, that my words could not have constructed so elaborate a complex of emotional problems, that no matter how sincere my own distress I could not have given him memories he didn’t have.
But I can’t shake the belief that I spawned something in him, and the possibility that I am responsible, in part, for some of what is happening right now, haunts me all the time. If it is true, I can only hope God will forgive me.
In my defense, I will say that had I known what might happen, I never would have done what I did. I wanted someone to talk to about my pain, someone to share in it, but I didn’t know how far it would go.
For all of this, for his hurt and my hurt and my parents’ hurt and my role in it, I am so sorry.