“I just wanted to let you know he’s not doing too well” A text from my far sweeter than me sister. She was letting me know that our brother, the senior sibling, the imperial, the entitled one that pissed away every advantage he was ever given, favoring instead to live the lavish life his father, (not ours) oozed, promised, schemed and inflicted on any poor soul that was looking for a fast buck and easy ticket to the fast track. Given, at least while it was convenient, anything and everything that should have made his life better. The brother that never let us forget he was older, never earned one ounce of credit other than the fact he was born first, never let me forget he was born “better”.
I pulled the leftover pork butt from the freezer. Let it warm a bit on the counter before slicing it into quarter inch thick slices, letting it come to room temp right next to the slow cooker that was bubbling away and rendering another bit of pork spineless. The scented water, rich with onions, garlic, bay leaves, fresh oregano, salt and pepper, slipping into the tissue of the meat, massaging it, the warm bath pounding against the flesh…emitting aromas that made me ache to dip my own weary skin into it. “What-cha making?” coming from the living room. “Just building a sauce” my response.
“This is my house. I don’t even know what you are doing here!” my painfully handsome brother hissing at me through clinched teeth. My eyes filled with tears, mostly because I didn’t know what we were doing there either. I know I would have given anything I had, which was not much, not to be. My brother and I had an on and off again relationship, not one we chose, we were far too young to be in charge of those kind of monumental decisions. He lived with his father, who to this day holds the crown as the most evil fuck of a human I have ever had the displeasure to run into. He was a sick and massively tortured man, one that first ran to the church to rid himself of the demons he was born with, then ran to the arms of a woman…one that was also tortured but in the way women of her generation and social class were. Lost, two lost souls with no clue what the hell they were doing, my brother the spawn of that ill-fated marriage and the victim of the master manipulator that would at some point convince a fearful divorcée that their child would be better off, be given a better chance under his care.
“Is that sausage browning?” my husband’s hopeful voice coming from our Sunday morning sanctuary. The sound of football behind my back as I stood in my church, in my kitchen using my hands to chop, simmer, scrape and urge food to do as I wish…. pouring myself into each layer of crispy browned bit, each tomato kissed tidbit. “I’m just making dinner love, we are still hours from eating any of this” I said before slinking out to the charger for my ipod, slipping the soft buds into my ears and steading myself with my trusty corkscrew. Opening one bottle for the sauce, one for me to sip on as I thought of the withering brother that once struck fear into me.
“Oh God baby, how long have you been here?!” my mother unlocking the little hook on the guest room closet. “Not too long” I reassured her when in fact I had been there so long that my bladder was shooting lightning bolts along my spine. Hours, I had been locked in that little closet, the little slats of wood allowing just enough light that I could see the shadows of those that walked past, free in a way I’m not sure I ever knew, for hours. Even then I knew the kind of hatred my brother had for me went far beyond the annoying sibling, the kind of viciousness that would laugh as my terrified voice begged him to stop as he shoved my delusional, “Sam you want to come swimming with me and my friends?” ass in the closet. That he was feeling pain that while different wasn’t all that foreign from my own. He never once got that…still doesn’t.
I walked out of my kitchen, the slow cooker doing its thing, my sauce of crushed tomatoes, garlic, parsley, crispy browned bits of pork and wine bubbling away on the stove. Slowly pressed my thumb on the clasp of my screen, my feet bare and alarmed by the cool concrete but free to wander. Cradled my glass of Maume Gevrey-Chambertain in my palm, letting the warmth of my skin coax even more exotic and alluring aromas from deep puddle of wine that sloshed and climbed up the side of my glass as I made my way out to the courtyard that looks out upon the stream that trickles through our apartment complex. Deep black cherries, roasted meat, truffles and soy sauce creating a bubble around me as I rolled the cuffs of my jeans. My lips drawing in little parcels of pleasure, momentary whispers of “more to come” as I gently plunged my ankles, shins, knees into the cool crisp water, sucked in my breath as the water gathered and rushed across my very exposed flesh. “He’s not doing well” fighting the Maume for my attention…
My brother is not doing well. His body a roadmap of family dynamics and nearly thirty years of addiction. Part of me feels like I should be more compassionate, like my own father’s addiction, (not his father…but a teacher in some ways I’m sure) would make me better at this. Better at understanding or better equip at dealing with this, but I’m not. Our on again, off again relationship has been nothing if not filled with blame, rage, distrust and avoidance. I don’t know him, my brother. I don’t know anything about him really. I know he is on the opposite of everything I believe in politically, his brief but very proud…chest thumping military background, no matter how brief and troubled, giving him yet one more sense of entitlement that no matter what he stole, broke, screamed about….locked in a closet wouldn’t make his life any better. His outrage at my not bowing down to worship his sacrifice at losing the crew of friends…the ones that he would have been with if I had not sent letter upon letter to bring him home to help me deal with our very sick mother. My fumbling letters to his officers spared him but now, it’s my lot and shame to bare that he didn’t go down with that helicopter. Just one more thing to hate me for.
“Is it ready? The smell is killing me!” Carl simply dying from the smell of pork, tomatoes and the bread I had begun searing in the pan. Wanted the bread to have a bit of a crust before I slathered it with shredded ribbons of pork and dousing it with my even porkier sauce. My feet still puckered and wet from my pond dipping but feeling freed from the horizontal slats of the guest room closet. My built sauce driving at least one man wild and filling my chest with my own worth. It’s not just the food I fill him with, it’s the pieces of me that I sprinkle over each little bit of food that I feed my family with.
“He’s gotten worse. I think I’m heading up to take him to the ER” another text from the sweet sister that bares far more weight than she should. I’ve found myself in tears for two nights as I struggle with my own demons and dealing with Our Brother. My mother left us far too soon. As broken as she was she would have held my head as I cried…hopefully let me throw my own punches before wrapping her arms around a very lost soul, in this department and kissed my hairline as I tried to feel something, anything for a man that has spent his life, just as I have, looking for hope, but finding his worth tied to this family. As much as every part of me wants to flip some mirror in his face, show him all that he has done, all that he has missed, I know his memories aren’t of seared pork, built sauce and Gevery-Chambertain. My broken heart and nostrils full of life can’t deny I owe him something….
My brother is 44 years old and his body is being ravaged by years of abuse and addiction. He would lose his shit if he knew I said that…my mother would too. Secrets are HUGE in the Kemner/Dugan clan. Our deficiencies the top secret kind of shit that some of our folks would go fist-to-cuffs for and about. But me, I find myself aching and missing my mother’s soft lilting voice. She would urge me to care for him, for my sister and as I let this last bit of Gevery remind me of what really matters…Cooked cherries and smoked animal flesh, the wines and people behind them, remind me of why I can still stand tall, in the face of the kind of chore that makes me ache for my kitchen. The soft whisper of onions, the rendering of pork…the bare feet of a woman that is free, for the first time and willing to sling that bottle to stand up and fight for those not even willing to fight for themselves.
Mike…I’m coming. I know you won’t be pleased but just like my slow, long cooked sauce, my Maume Gevery, I might not be easy to get but….I’m here and you are going to have to deal with me.
On my way…..