Seems as if that word has been coming up a lot as of late. Started on Thursday afternoon when I was preparing for my Chablis tasting, the little chant I had going in my head that reminds me how to explain those stony, salty, ultimately sexy wines to people that either came to taste goofy California “Chablis” or Chardonnay, (and whatever that means to some people) as that is how we billed the event. Was in the kitchen just minutes before I was to march out, chest puffed up, ready to explain what Chablis is and why complexity is what makes them so beguiling, when I heard the overhead page, “Sam, You’ve got a call on line one”. Me standing in the tasting room an hour later, pouring and discussing my much adored cold climate Chardonnay from Chablis, the sound of my little sister’s voice in my head slipping into the cracks in my focus. The picture sent to my cell phone so horrific, the message, “Worse than ever” igniting an anxiety that started in my tummy and stretched out across my shoulders making it almost painful to pour.
“So why did you pair these two together?” a sweet faced, big guy in both size and personality all lit up and full of questions during a private, in home Cheese & Wine tasting Saturday night. An event I’d agreed to do long ago and even though I had to ask Randy to cover my Grower Champagne class the night before, knew I had to be there for. “That cheese has lots going on. You’ve got multiple layers of age so the cheese changes from the rind in, then you add in flecks of shaved truffle…that’s kind of a lot. So I picked a wine that while equally complex wasn’t going to crush any of those layers” the words forming and leaving my lips seemingly without any hesitation although my thoughts and spirit where anywhere but there at the moment. A feeling that I loathe, that not being 100% at my gig and one that was now weighing heavy on my already taxed and weighed down frame, not once but twice.
On my way into the shop Friday night for my sold out Grower Champagne tasting I received a heart wrenching text from my sister, “We just prayed and they handed me a DNR form” before I could even wrap my head around what I was reading the tears in my eyes made the trying to read it again impossible. The traffic on the freeway a welcome break giving me enough time to respond, “I’m coming. Where are you?” Ran into The Wine Country, both in a panic to get my shift covered, pick the lineup and cheeses but also to be in that place for just a moment. Feel grounded and safe, see Randy and Ronnie whom both wrapped their arms around me tight as I struggled to fight back the tears and explain what was going on, “I need to be with my sister right now” Let myself fold into their arms, rest my heart on their big chests and crumble a little before gathering my composure as best I could and rushing back out the door. The necessity of my having to break my commitment to the store and the 40 people that had signed up to hear me talk about my most beloved wines, mixing with guilt and the very real knowing that those two men would do a wonderful job conveying my passion for those wines and no matter how many hours they had already worked that day, would do it and happily, to help me. The fear of what I was about to face mixing with my overwhelming desire to be at my sister’s side. Complexity..
My brother and I have been estranged for, well for most of our lives but officially for a couple years. I had finally found a way tell him that no matter what connection he feels we should have because we are family, I had no place in my life for him. Got a knot in my stomach even now typing that but it was something I had to do, had tried to do, many times before. My brother and I are very different people, the choices he’s made are one thing but the destruction, corruption, often devastation in the form of monetary and emotional loss that comes with knowing him…became a price I could no longer afford. His rage and indignation, sense of persecution…without ever conceding his culpability or taking even the tiniest bit of blame for the way things ended up? Well that made the split a lot easier. The fear and worry I used to feel were now no longer about getting a call that he was in jail or the hospital, it was more about when and if he was to show up at my door again, homeless, addicted and promising, “It would just be for a week or two” having to explain to him that I couldn’t raise my son in that kind of environment only to have him seethe and deny. So wrapped up in his own delusion that he refused to see the reality of his choices and the consequences of his actions. Nope, I was the bitchy sister that turned her back on her brother when he was in need, and trust me, I felt it, not just from him…but from me. But I had a son to raise, a family and enabling my brother by taking him in…well I’ve seen firsthand what happens to those people. Helping Mikey was never helping, it was feeding a sickness. One that has been eating away at all of us for 25 years and one that now has him as fragile and broken physically as he has always been emotionally. Sad and so very complex….
I almost literally ran into the ICU Friday night, not running to Mike but for my sweet, big-hearted sister that was at his side. In fact I wasn’t planning on seeing my brother, I had seen the picture and that was enough. My plan was to sit outside and be a safe place for Tessa to cry, vent, be afraid, a pair of arms and a big chest for her to rest that heart upon. Wasn’t about him, I was there for her. We were buzzed into the ICU and I could hear my sister’s voice right off the nurse’s station, sounding firm but full of her sweet, giggly spirit. I walked up to the pulled curtain, just trying to wave her down to let her know I had made it and that was when I heard, “Oh look who’s here”…fuck. She waved me in, some kind of napkin or towel in her hand, don’t think either Mike or I knew what was happening but there we were…face to face and it took everything I had not to gasp. My “Big Brother” tucked into a bed that looked about four sizes too big. Legs literally bones, face sunken in and those eyes, those big beautiful blue eyes that he, my sister and mother shared, shallow and lifeless, rolling back in his head before he blinked and tried to focus. His choices, reality, addiction, sadness, all eating him up from the inside out. “It’s nice to see you Mike” was all I could muster. I meant it but I’m sure it sounded as dreadful as it felt leaving my lips. His eyes filled up and he nodded, did his best to make small talk, his illness making that a task nearly impossible, both of our shame filling the room. Complexity…
We only stayed a few minutes, my own consequences gripping my throat and leaving me without words to say, our history so raw that I felt making shit up would be a further insult to him…to both of us. I didn’t belong in that room, I knew it and felt it. As hard as that is to own…I can’t pretend our life didn’t happen and me standing there smiling at him and interjecting myself, well it would have been as false as the delusional crap from him that I ran from. I earned that stomach churning feeling of being out of place there, just as much as he earned my closing the door on him when he needed a place to “crash”. “I just wanted to show you this. As much as you think he hates you”
There in the wallet not unlike the one he had when he was eighteen years old, among his few photos, a picture of me, Carl and Jeremy. Not sure why it was there. If he really needed to have it or if it was just one of those “Mikey” things about family and what we are supposed to do….didn’t matter, it touched me. Complexity…
“Saying goodbye to Fraggle Rock” my son tagged in a picture on Facebook. Sat here this afternoon, my day off, my brother likely dying, my sister being the rock for him, me hoping she will let me be one for her, days late for newsletter deadline, looking at a picture of the house that my son has made his home. The one now full of boxes as those young men close that chapter on Louisville and the home nicknamed Fraggle Rock, venturing off on their next adventure, without each other. Reading all the heartfelt comments from all the friends that gathered and hung out there and were sad to see them all go. Thought about Jeremy and the family he has made there, what it must feel like to load up packing boxes and say goodbye to all of them and for the first time in nearly ten days, I let it all in. Complexity to say the least…
I came to the realization that I don’t hate my brother, still don’t understand or really trust him but there is no hatred. We are who we are, maybe because of each other and in some small way I guess I can be grateful for his part in steering me to this life. The one where I get to watch my son soar and thrive, make conscious decisions as a grown man, healthy and capable of doing so…in part because he was given a safe place to grow. A life where I get to fall into the arms of men that would walk through fire for me at The Wine Country and customers that have let me into their life so much that they show up the day after an event I don’t show for, just to see if I’m okay or if there is anything they can do. Sales reps that bring me rare bottles, like the one I’m drinking now, 2009 Domaine Ganevat Les Chalasses from the Jura…a rich, powerfully complex white wine that couldn’t be more perfect for my mood right now, just because they knew I would dig/get it and they wanted to share it with me. My son, my brother, my sister and I, four very different lives that no matter what, find our roots intertwined and nourishment from each other in ways that I suspect will show themselves for years to come.
Mike went his way, I went mine. Not even sure if forgiveness is something I am seeking or wishing to give. I wish him only peace and I will make the same promise I made twelve years ago when our mother died, I will take care and be here for our beloved sister. Always.