“There he is Sam! You see that spot way up there, just to the right of the power line and left of the sun? That’s Mikey on his jetpack.” My mother’s hand firmly holding mine, her other arm pointing high into the warm San Diego sky, to the right of the power line as my white blonde head popped back and forth dodging searing beams of sunlight as I desperately searched the sky to catch a glimpse of my older brother Michael who was coming to visit. Mike and I were separated by just four years but for the majority of our lives we were worlds apart.
Michael Shawn, Mikey, was born in 1967 a couple months shy of 9 months after his parents married. His young and beautiful 23 year old mother finally settling, or literally settling into the life she had been primed for and promised. To be a mother and a wife. No matter how rebellious inside, no matter how talented or wanting, no matter what she could have been she was assured that pretty was all one needed to make all your dreams come true. Of course not all dreams are of the pleasant variety. This my mother came to realize in a way that would only pick deeper at that growing wound that was her festering and utter disappointment.
The man she married, Chuck, was small, thin, a drop out from the seminary that was raised in Iowa and couldn’t get the fuck out of there fast enough. He moved west for a successful job and after starting to acquire a fair amount of wealth, at least to the standards that impressed himself, he set about looking for the Christmas card photo, a family. He wooed my mother with expensive gifts, fancy dinners, and rambling promises of things to come. She never had a passion for him, his small freckled hands poking about dutifully at the flesh that many had wished they could have. She’d had lovers before and Chuck was never to be her lover, not in any way that would feed her, but he would be able to provide her with a life that could afford her the landscape she had envisioned. Her own Holiday card of sorts, a pretty lady, lovely children, a nice home and a man that seemed to crave spoiling her. Passion and open sexuality she could, and did find elsewhere, if that elsewhere helped speed along a marriage decision no one really knows. It was a bit after my brother was christened that the late nights started. Oh, not hers, his. She made up and waiting, the baby tucked away in bed and sweetly sleeping. The crack of the front door, two drunk men, one of which her husband the other a complete stranger. Clumsy introductions, ones so thick with lies she felt like she were being fed spoonful after spoonful of literal shit. Wifely offers to make a drink, awkward glances back and forth and then came, “Don’t you think it’s time for you to go to bed Nance?”….and so it began.
Chuck ran to the church to “fix” his gay and then he ran into marriage trying to cover it up. My mother left with the shame of living that big a lie or ending a marriage in a family that would likely never let her forget or live it down. Would have been easy enough to stay actually. Many women did, still do, but my mother, for as many wonky and poorly made decisions, she opted to save less face and more of herself. She left and took my brother with her. There were threats of legal recourse, on both sides and there are about 20 stories as to how what happened ended up happening. Bottom, line, my mother found herself in San Diego, wildly in love, broke and pregnant with her second child, at some point my brother was “elevated” to Long Beach living with a man that could, and did, afford him the very best that money can buy. Thing is, well we all know what money can’t buy….
I saw Mikey emerge from the Greyhound station with a backpack slung over his shoulder, his jet pack cleverly concealed from the general public. His mass of thick wavy hair that looked exactly like my mothers. Same color, same texture, same kinks and random bends. His smile broad and eyes the same shade of brilliant blue as the woman that was my everything. I ran to him, wrapped my skinny brown arms around his waist and rested my head upon his shoulder. “You really got here in a jet pack Mikey?!” my belief that my brother was the coolest kid alive and all, “Sure did Sam. Maybe one day I’ll let you take a ride with me” he said before slipping my arms from around his frame and running full speed into my mother’s arms. Her tears always assuring me they shared a story I couldn’t yet read. Wasn’t invited to read in fact. I just knew my brother The Rocket Man was here for another visit and I couldn’t be happier, until.
“Why are we doing this again?” my face puckered, brown forearm stretched out across my forehead shielding my light green eyes from the sun. “I want to show you a trick” Mikey’s response as he propped up the packets of catsup and hot sauce on the curb. “You look like Mommy. Like a boy version of Mommy. You think I will look like you guys too?” standing there as my brother built his little contraption. “Nope” his response. My heart was racing and my eyes began to fill when I stretched out my pointy chin, lifted the narrow nose that I hated because it wasn’t cute and upturned like theirs, “Why not?!” the tears rolling like rain on a windshield down my face. Just then Mikey picked up a brick and balanced it atop the sauce packets before standing on the curb, shooting me one of those looks that both he and my mother wore that let me know I was in trouble and just before he jumped on top of the brick he said calmly, “because you’re adopted” the words landing sharper and messier than the colorful splash of fast food condiments that exploded all over my special outfit, the one I’d worn specifically to welcome my brother.
There are tons of evil tricks that siblings do to one another. Just hurtful and mean but in the end there is some core of love, a foundation of family that makes those things sting less and maybe years later the very kind of remembrance that you can laugh about…..apologize for over the Thanksgiving table. That wasn’t Mikey and me. I think we both tried at various points but they were never at the same time and the fact of the matter was, there was no real core of, anything really. We lived apart for most of our lives and the few years we were under the same roof were some of the most torturous and nightmarish I can remember. From having to live with he and his evil fuck of a father, to when we were all, my mother, baby sister, my son and at some point the boyfriend that would become my husband and Mikey, living in a 2 bedroom tiny apartment where he ruled the roost via fear and drunken/drug addicted threats, thefts and raging. My brother made sure I was aware how unhappy he was, made sure we all knew but he always has some extra venom for me.
After years of having things stolen, loaning money and being lied to over and over again, it was one night that I went to make a transfer from my savings account to my checking and I was standing at the bank machine looking at all my hours of hard work and pride that I never took welfare or child support to care for my son, to see my bank account had been drained, dry, by my brother, still The Rocket Man but now his rocket snorted right up his nose, the meth his pilot taking him away from me as I begged the bank machine for $20 to buy milk for my son…it was that night that I knew I could and would never forgive him. Not in the conventional way anyway.
“They don’t have anywhere else to go Sam!” my mother screaming at me when I was in tears because she had invited Chuck and Mikey to Christmas Eve at our apartment. “Why the fuck do you think that is Mom?!” I screamed back as I grabbed my bag and son and attempted to find any hole anywhere in the world that was not that place. It took me years to really see that night. To feel what she must have felt. What he might have felt. They were all alone in their strange little story and all of them were guilty of some pretty egregious and seemingly unforgivable stuff, and they were all suffering in one way or another because of it.
My mother for having sent her son, her first born to live with a rich monster that had all the funds to buy his son all the things he could ever need and want. The motorcycles, the drum sets, the go carts and super expensive private school education, The thing was, he could never buy Mikey the touch of a mother’s hand. The way it feels to be tugged tight into her breasts, the smell of her skin wrapping around you like and extra set of arms. Standing beside her in the kitchen as she cooked for you. He could never wear Nancy’s beaming smile as he watched Mikey at some sporting event, and he could never love his son as much as he loved himself and his need to devour every man he could, heart, body and soul. He threw money at the young man that looked like his ex-wife, mostly in the hopes that he would be successful and something else for Chuck to brag about. My brother, the one that looked most like Mom, was her first and in the end probably needed her most, he had to live in that big hollow home, the only real comfort in the piles of stuff and promise of more. His life knowing, or thinking really, that my mother gave him up, to make room for me. No wonder the venom and extra rage. Top that with the fact that I finally refused to deal with him at all, well in his addled sense of reality I must have been just as awful as I found him to be.
I ignored repeated Facebook friend request, didn’t respond to voicemails and just barely acknowledged the emails he would always send me on my birthday, well the ones when he wasn’t living on the streets or in some random person’s storage unit. I saw my brother a couple years ago, he was barely 100 pounds and I was sure he was days from passing. I went to the hospital to be there, more for my baby sister who took on our mother’s role of caregiver for Mikey. I heard in her voice that she needed support and I will not lie and say I was there for any other reason than her. He and I were done and I didn’t even want to see him, but I did. I walked in and saw that hollow house all over him, sunk in cheeks, writhing in pain trying to breathe, suffering the decades of drugs and alcohol….but there was this set of brilliant blue eyes. They were hers and it took everything I had not to fall apart then and there, but I was there for my little sister and not to hash out, or even bring up old wounds.
I felt like a fraud being there. Like some sick ass voyeur ogling his weakness and fragility and I hated myself for walking in that room. He didn’t deserve more per se but I had no right, as someone that had turned him away when he was literally living under an upturned dumpster because of his addiction. I did what I did to protect myself and my family from the only life I’d known with Mikey, a brutal one filled with lies and anger. I let The Rocket Man fly far, far away, seeing him that frail was too personal. I hadn’t earned it. I walked out of that room, only after silently slipping my hand over his skinny hospital sheet covered foot, I gave it a squeeze and in my own way hoped he would this time forgive me this intrusion on his life. I said goodbye that day and I knew I would never see Mikey again.
“I wish you would just accept my friendship over on Facebook Sam. I’m not the same juvenile asshole I used to be” Mikey reaching out once again, his sense of family something very different than mine. His persistence one I didn’t understand. I told him once again that seeing as my account is also public I couldn’t really have him making his snide remarks about me be a snob for being into French wine and our, both radical, politics on other sides of the fence were a recipe for disaster. All true but I just couldn’t find a place in my world where Mikey made sense. His life started with everything and he gave it all away, my life starting with nothing and I’ve been given so much. I fought harder than he did but…..I knew her scent and how it felt to curl up next to her when it was dark and I was afraid. He didn’t and this is only now sitting heavy on my heart.
“I’m doing a wellness check on Mikey” my sister messaging me a week ago today. “Say huh? What’s that?” I replied. Turns out Mikey, who was now living in Pennsylvania near his daughter and 3 tiny granddaughters, had been having some health issues again and he asked our little sister, his true caregiver, to keep an eye on him and if he didn’t respond to texts after like 24 hours, maybe have someone go check on him. I thought the gesture sweet and found myself even more in love with my baby sister, (her name is Tessa by the way and she was the first real love of my life….she makes me proud every single day and she is about to give me a tiny niece that I cannot wait to pull close and wrap in my scent. I don’t have the brilliant blue eyes but I have a big waiting heart) as I wriggled into a swimsuit and waddled out to the hot tub to work my newly busted back and drink wine with the husband that adores me. Bottle of Bandol Rose gone, fingers pruney and saturated with chlorine I tossed my wet swimwear over the shower door and made my way to the living room. That was when my phone started ringing, fuck.
Her warbled voice streaming through the tiny holes of my cell phone, “Well, I guess you know why I’m calling” my heart leaping to the base of my throat as I held back every urge I had to yell, scream and gag, “Oh sweetheart what happened?” all I could muster before slapping my hands over my mouth, looking over at my husband, eyes huge and roaring with tears. I made it through the call before falling into a sobbing heap. He was gone. In a way he always was but, never like this….
My brother’s name was Michael Shawn
He was at one time unbearably handsome
He used to draw and design motocross gear, including helmets when he was like 12
He had all the Star Wars ships suspended from his bedroom ceiling
His taste in music was awful but I think it was because he couldn’t dance, with that gawd awful noise you didn’t need to
All my friends when I was little had a massive crush on The Rocket Man
He used to try and get me to do drugs too…hated that and never did with him
He too had a passion for food and cooking
He was so very proud of the young man my son Jeremy turned out to be, and he always said it
He was too smart for the life he gave himself
He was madly in love with his daughter and granddaughters
He ruined more relationships than he succeeded in
He must have seen things and done things that he would rather die than tell me
He fought in Desert Storm and his entire team was lost when he was home while our mother was sick. This is something I’m sure was with him every single second of every day
He loved me even though I shunned him over and over again…..
He told our little sister that he knew I might not ever forgive him
He never once apologized for stealing from me or my son
He was a sad soul….
He was working, living in an apartment and clean for the first time in like 25 years and when they found him. There was a bowl of food he made for dinner, one he and our sister had been texting back and forth about, and there were no drugs or alcohol in his apartment….his alarm was going off for him to go to work the next day.
No matter what we went though I will forever picture Mikey, that backpack over his shoulder, the idea that he sailed through the air on a jet pack to come visit us….that wavy Mom colored hair and a heart that was broken before I really got a chance to know it.
I’m sorry Mikey….and no matter how late and seemingly stupid, I just accepted your friend request. Seems like this might have been the first time in our lives apart that we could have maybe been friends. Or tried to be.
Letting you be away was always easy
Letting you go, for good, this one hurts Mikey….but I’ve earned it.
The Rocket Man, I hope you are heading to the home you always dreamed of and I hope she is there to cook you something, give you that look and tell you all the reasons she loved you.