Tuesday, January 5, 2010


“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.

She did.

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.


Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

I really don't think you can hold yourself responsible for any of this. If your brother was beaten as a child, it will come out somehow later. In some people it comes out in a negative way...some it makes stronger. You know that I've had issues with my son, who I must say had a very easy, pleasant childhood. He did however have a learning disability, therefore some self-esteem issues that came out later. He also got very greedy in college...tried to impress and keep up with others who seemed to have more. The combination took him on a bad path...too much drinking...rage....too many girls. He's gotten much better, but some of this is just his personality. His sister...couldn't be more different-raised at the same time, same house.


secret agent woman said...

Your parents were responsible for the physical abuse. Nothing you said or didn't say changes that. Period.

jo(e) said...

I'm glad he's getting the help he needs.

But how difficult all of this must have been for you.

I hope you will think about taking care of yourself. You might want to consider trying Al-Anon. There you will meet other people who have parents or siblings or kids or friends who are alcoholics.

One of the things the Al-Anon program stresses is that you are NOT responsible for other people's choices. Your brother is an alcoholic but you didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it.

Sending a hug.

Anonymous said...

oh no, oh no....

i really do like powell, there's just something about him.

bb, this seems like a crucial juncture, and you could be the one to step in and make a difference.

i think part of the key here may be to downplay the drama while coming to terms with things unambiguously --i mean matter-of-factly.

good luck to everyone


kj said...

what you have written here....really really good writing.

this is not your fault. you are a good person. you were kind to your father and you will be kind to your brother. that is alot, bb. be proud of yourself. really. xo

naturgesetz said...

Well this explains your poem on Christmas.

The conventional belief is that being able to talk about problems, unresolved issues, is the way to resolve them. In other words, that conversation with Powell when you were 18 and he 16 should have been therapeutic for both of you, acknowledging the hurt and being able to share it.

Don't blame yourself.

Naturally you want to help in any way you reasonably can. This doesn't mean dropping out of college to be with the family or anything like that. But I think the suggestion of Al-Anon may be a good one for you, and especially for your parents.

May God bless you and Powell and your Mom and Dad and the rest of your family as you deal with this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this honest post. These issues/ family traumas are going on in many, many families. Is there such a thing as a 'happy family'? I agree that the abuse was most likely to be a catalyst amongst other (genetic) factors- I think a child who is hit will always feel that they are not good enough- not up to the mark. Do not blame yourself- you are not responsible. What is most positive is that your parents are listening and that Powell is receiving help.

Gauss Jordan said...

Wow BB. I think you're handling this remarkably well, from your posts, anyway. It's difficult reconciling our notion of what family *should be* with what our families *actually are.* Some people never are never able to accomplish that.

Tina said...

Well, it doesn't sound like you have anything to apologise for. You just briefly expressed how you were feeling. You didn't create those feelings in yourself or your brother. This is just the start of things being solved. It will get better.

mo.stoneskin said...

I don't know what I can say that can do justice to what has happened, both way back in the past and more recently.

There's a lot of grace in this post, both on your part, on the part of you parents and in your brothers decision to go through treatment. I wish him all the best and all I can say is that I hope there is a lot of healing this year.

Technolustmaxx said...

Heavy stuff.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading, but I really have no understanding of the European Union. Your thoughts sound very feasible, but it's certainly not 'my area'. I just resent the 'political class' and their cringeworthy affectations.

Stay cool.

Cheryl said...

Heavy stuff indeed. Speaking as someone who also survived a childhood of abuse and alcoholic parents, letting go of all that blame and anger is crucial. I'm so glad you were able to do that. But don't waste energy turning that blame or anger against yourself either. Use your experience to help your family instead, which of course it sounds like you're already doing. Good luck

g said...

Oh, BB. Oh. You are not responsible. You shared your feelings with him, but you didn't committ the acts that caused this. How worse would it have been if you had repressed your feelings and memories - he would have felt totally alone.

Also you are trying to help your family heal - and that is the best thing you can do. You are the strength of your family.

Anonymous said...

i learned along time ago that being authentic wasn't worth it. Not in my family. The drunken escapades of the night before were alway forgotten when the sun rose the next day. Except by me. It was so surreal as if I was imagining things...we have no measure of responsibility when it comes to our parents actions. None. We are the children. They make thier choices and must suffer the consequences. We all have to.

Madame DeFarge said...

Very powerful writing indeed. Not much that I can usefully add, but I hope that the treatment works. You sound remarkably sorted after such experiences.

Jason, as himself said...

What a tough situation. This kind of family drama is some of the worst kind of drama to ever have to deal with. But the only way to break the cycle and lessen the damaging influence is by dealing with it. That is what you are doing. Good for you.

otherworldlyone said...

I understand the rage you talk about. Sometimes I wonder if mine affected my sister, or if it's yet to come. But in reality it's a chain of events that you (nor I) started. The beatings and the harsh words are what started it. Forgiveness is important, but so is acceptance. And you need to accept that none of this was your fault. None of it.

My thoughts are with Powell and your family, BB.

Colleen said...

I too, haven't lived the happiest childhood. and it's easy to blame yourself. But that conversation didn't spawn anything, I promise you. Life's problems are a matter of perspective. It appears to me, that you chose to dream of a brighter better day, where as he chose to wallow in the mud of the present.
Your are stronger than you realize.