I have two brothers, and though one is dead, I still say I have two. My mother's dead too. That doesn't mean I don't have a mother.
My brother who's still alive is four years older than me. The one who's dead was two years younger. That put us rather close together in comparison with my older brother, and we remained so until our teens, when we began to grow apart.
When we were young kids we would play on the swing set in our yard, imagining that the two empty swings that would move slightly as we powered our two held our invisible friends, an elephant and a lion. My mother would send us to buy her a pack of cigarettes - Benson and Hedges menthol 100s, I still remember the brand - and we would run from driveway to driveway, pretending we were being hotly pursued by spies and were barely escaping with our lives. On Sunday evenings when my father and older brother would watch Hockey Night in Canada and my mom would go upstairs to read, my brother and I had the cavernous darkened front hall to ourselves, and we'd invent wild adventures to amuse ourselves for hours. He was my best playmate.
We got in trouble too, of course, as kids will do. He got a toy tool set for Christmas one year, and in the spring we used his plastic saw to cut all the heads off my mother's tulips; she was furious and couldn't understand what possessed us to do such a thing. But usually it was him getting in trouble, not me, and my mother would break wooden spoons spanking him for doing some naughty thing or other. Once I took my mother's lipstick and wrote on the inside of the medicine cabinet door with it; she lined the two of us up and demanded to know who had done it. When I steadfastly refused to admit that it was me he finally confessed, and got double punished for messing with my mother's things and lying about it. I felt guilty about that for years.
When I was 8 and he was 6 my father left. He had been having an affair with the receptionist at his office - not the first of his dalliances, I learned later, and certainly not his last - and my mother found out. She was pretty devastated that when she confronted him he declined to make their marriage work and moved out.
That same year my brother started stealing money from my mother's purse and using it to buy cigarettes and candy and toys. The man at the drugstore told my mom about my brother's altered spending habits and she found his stash. She made him smoke two cigarettes in front of her, I guess to try to make him stop; I heard him crying and coughing in the living room and it was kind of scary. It was the first time I realized he had another life that didn't involve me, just as I had one with my new friends at school.
When I was 9 my mother had a birthday dinner at home; her boyfriend brought champagne and we kids were each given a small glass. I didn't like it, but my brother drank his glass and mine. I had a sleepover at my girlfriend's house that night, and when I got home in the morning there was a burned mattress on the front lawn. My brother had been playing with matches and lit his curtains on fire; his bed had caught fire too. A few days later a fireman came to our house and had a talk with my brother in the front room. That probably made him feel kind of important: I sure never had a fireman come to have a private talk with me. I was a good girl. My brother was well on the road to bad.
When I was 11 and he was 9 my mother decided to go to Ghana for two years with the Canadian University Service Overseas. She was tired of seeing my father and his new wife - the receptionist - around the small town where we lived, and she wanted to do something new and adventurous. My older brother, at 15, could not bear to leave his friends, so he went to live with my dad and stepmother while my younger brother and I accompanied my mom.
Life in Africa was very different from life in little Victoria, B.C., and my brother and I were thrown even more together. But by the time we reached our teens we were pretty much estranged. It wasn't an easy time for us: my mother was dying of cancer and could no longer care for us, so we went to live with my dad, just as his second marriage was splitting up. It's hard enough for any teen to feel secure and happy in their lives, it seems, but it was doubly so for us. Once or twice we'd make a good connection - he woke me up to watch the northern lights once, I remember - but mostly we didn't talk much at all. He was doing things I wanted no part of: drinking, stealing, making nooses and hanging them from his bedroom ceiling. I felt I didn't really know him at all any more, and after I moved out we hardly saw each other.
My brother was smart - we all were - but he couldn't write as easily or fluently as my older brother and I. My younger brother held his pen too tightly, pressed too hard on the paper, made holes. He didn't like reading, and it wasn't till he found The Lord of the Rings that he evinced any of the enthusiasm that my older brother and I felt for novels; he read that one book over and over again. But he had skills my older brother and I did not. He had an excellent spatial sense and could draw very well; he designed boats based on plans he found in my father's books. He could fix cars and other mechanical things, something that eluded us two. He was in some ways the smartest of us three, or at least he had a broader range of intelligence, and we envied him in a way. He'd probably be very surprised to hear that, but it's true.
My brother had lots of girlfriends - he was good-looking, and charming, and quirky - but he didn't treat them well. He'd screw around behind their backs, and leave them, young and pregnant, for someone new. He had two children that I know about, one with the woman he married. My sister-in-law is a big woman, inches taller than him at 6'2", and no shrinking violet, but he beat her, badly. When their son was just a few months old he beat her so severely that she feared for her life, and she grabbed the baby and ran. None of us saw him after that. He moved out east and we didn't keep track of him and were kind of glad, in a guilty sort of way, that he was out of our lives for the time being. We didn't want to deal with his mania, his crimes, his alcoholism, his jail terms. It had been 26 years, and we were tired of it, plain and simple.
One day my father got a phone call from a young woman who had been his girlfriend in Ontario. Did he know that his son was dead? He did not.
My brother had rented a basement apartment and gotten a job and a girlfriend, but when he beat her, she left him. He got another girlfriend - this one, the one on the phone - but she left him too, after a beating. I guess after that he gave up hope, and he hung himself. He was 27 years old.
I'm not ashamed to say I was relieved to learn that he had died. Not because I wanted him dead, but because it had been obvious for a long long time that this was not a good life for him. He had never been happy in his skin, never satisfied with this life. It was much more than a young man's angst: he believed nobody loved him, not really, and he did things all his life to make people angry with him, just to prove to himself that he was unlovable. He lied, he stole, he beat women; I heard he may have killed a man. He was consumed by a self-hatred that injured him and those around him, and he could not escape that vicious circle. I feel sad when I think of it, but glad that it is over for him.
I have two brothers, and though one of them is dead, he is still my brother. I miss my younger brother, but I'm glad that his difficult life has ended, and I hope he's happier now, wherever he is.