“The past is never where you think you left it.” – – Katherine Anne Porter
Another Cinco de Mayo celebration has come and gone in St. Paul and elsewhere, with my body and unconscious mind conspiring to prevent me from being there for yet another year – plantar fasciitis rules out going very far on foot, and I managed to spend myself broke this week. It’s no secret to those close to me that I’ve had difficulty reconciling my Mexican heritage with the contamination it combined with in my youth – a huge dose of alcoholic dysfunction and insanity. But that’s another story for another article. I didn’t go largely due to the memory of my last time there over twenty years ago. I remember walking around by myself for awhile and then feeling as though someone was watching me. I turned after a while to look and saw the person who had been sitting at a table a block or so away from me, staring at me for who knows how long. It felt sick, and my whole youth seemed to relive itself within a few seconds at my recognition of the man at the table. It was my oldest brother Paul.
Let me say right off that the being an untreated paranoid-schizophrenic, alcoholic, body-builder can make for a very intimidating combination in an older brother. Somehow, I managed to defend myself rather admirably if I may say so myself, during some truly crazy episodes with my brother Paul. As the years went on and the two of us went in and out of living in my mom’s house periodically due to our various successes/failures, we both managed to survive each other til I was in my early thirties. And then came a turning point.
At four years of sobriety I was in a vastly different place emotionally and boundary-wise than I was during the years of my brother’s constant abuse. I was not alone – he terrorized the entire family. Including my mom. And in an old-school Mexican family, you don’t get help – you just deny what’s going on. And so it happened one day while visiting mom that I found out he had been making visits at two or three in the morning to her house (he would come seven miles or so on foot), waking her up and then laying into her with verbal abuse for whatever reason struck his fancy. I felt my blood boiling as I listened to yet another episode played out by my mom, and coincidentally the phone rang about ten minutes after she got done. It was Paul. I listened quietly as he told me how he and his wife were hit with hard times again and thus they had decided they were moving into my mom’s house. They didn’t ask if it was ok, they had just made up their minds. In retrospect, as I was fresh off hearing my mom vent about him for a half an hour or so, I’m quite surprised at how calmly (albeit feeling just a tad angry) I replied slowly and calculatedly, “the fuck you are.” After a couple minutes of calling me names and denying he ever mistreated my mom in his life, I heard him hang up the phone. I then found my mom and told her I’d had one too many years of hearing complaining and that with or without her, I was heading down to city hall the next day to get a restraining order.
My brother’s retaliatory gesture was hardly unexpected. And the impact of how nauseated I felt after hearing about it has dissipated, but not so much to the point where I’ll be inviting him out for lunch any time soon. I didn’t find out about it until a couple of years later when one of my sisters relayed to me what he had done. Paul placed a lewd call to my middle-sister, disguised his voice and said it was me. Like I said, his behavior was hardly surprising. And considering my family history I could have been a little less surprised by the response I got from not only the victim of his little prank, but from all three of my sisters. They all believed it was me.
My sister Rose didn’t speak to me for the last twelve years of her life. My sister Barb told me just a year ago the specifics of what my brother said on the phone. I was still dumbfounded, but had matured into recovery enough to know that 1) my family is nuts and nothing is out of the question regarding insanity and 2) it’s really not my business what anyone thinks about me. I’m the only member of what was once a nine person family in recovery. Setting boundaries with my brood is a lot like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. So I don’t go there. Things have truly improved between my youngest sister and I, but I still am wary enough to remind myself it’s perfectly ok in the name of self care to make a quick getaway if I need to. I see my sister and her boys only occasionally.
My sister Rose died in 2005. She had contracted Steven’s Johnson’s Syndrome, a skin disease so little was known about at the time that when I googled it all I came up with was a slew of pages about law suits. She died in terrible pain. As she was taking her last few breaths I was asked to administer Reiki, which I gladly did. And then right or wrong, I took the opportunity to lean over and whisper in her ear, “It wasn’t me.”
As I said earlier, the whole story of my turning my back on my heritage is for another day, another article. Or two. Or three. I’m writing more lately, and while I only get about fifteen or twenty hits each on my articles, I’m all for the healing power of “putting it out there.” Maybe I’m just channeling my inner David Carr (see “Night Of The Gun”). Or maybe my my inner Charles Bukowski (for that one, sit on a bar stool for a few decades). Whatever reason it may be, I still have the secret hope that it will help someone, that they’ll know that they’re not alone.
Cinco de Mayo will happen again next year, and I learned long ago that recovery is not linear. All events happy or sordid will pass after living their own life. I know my heritage will wait patiently for me.