Tonight my younger brother Jay is on my plate. Of six children, he is the only boy and the youngest. I'm eight years older.My brother has year ago May, my brother was diagnosed with cancer, a lymphoma whose name I can't pronounce. Over the last 5+ years he has also been living with HIV. This evening I got a call from my sister C. letting me know that his cancer is no longer in remission and it is likely involving the liver, bilary duct or the pancreas.
In every decade of my life, I have know or known of at least two or three people who've had cancer; some lived with it for a decade or two, others went quickly. My mom went quickly. And now my brother is in The Fight. His downturn began 5 weeks ago, but he thought he was shaking off something else. I'm eating chocolate ice cream out of the carton and trying to keep my mind focused on facts. Facts are simple, managable. Emotional eating. Inside my memories jumble and collide with emotions and I am afraid of losing control.
I put mom's Buick through the garage on his 5th birthday. We'd been playing in it, and I was the being the hot-shot big sister. How we came to be playing in her car, I really don't remember. Mom was out with a friend of hers and we were being babysat by 'Dette who was snogging with her boyfriend in the living room. I guess Jay and I somehow released the parking brake and the car rolled some in the drive. Now I mentioned previously that I'm an ACOA. That is "Adult Child of Alcoholism." Back then I was simply a freaked out candidate for becoming really anal. Seeing how far the car moved, I reasoned that Mom Would Have-A-Cow(tm) and All Holy Hell(tm)Would Break Loose because, when drunk, mom could be a raging terrifying frightful bitch and I didn't want that on my brother's birthday. And I could NOT predict whether she would be surly or funny either. So I figured : "I'd better get the car parked exactly the way it was or mom's gonna kill me." My best thinking at work. Ha! I got out of the car and eyeballed the tire tracks and figured I needed to pull forward about 6 inches. That went fine. No problem. Got out to assess whether I hit the mark, and thought I missed, so I backed up again, and then when I went forward, instead of hitting the brake, my foot slipped on the gas pedal, and into the garage I plowed. Oh what a mess! I was stunned. Jay stood on the sidewalk looking on in horror and when I got out of the car and went over to him, Dette blasted out of the house and Jay was like "You've fuckin' wrecked my birthday." and then Dette shouted at me to go get her dad. I remember going up to Dette's parent's house and getting her dad to come down, and then I went in the house to call the cops because I "knew" an accident report needed to be filed (funny thing the thinks kids pick up). Jay and both were a mass of anxiety for similar reasons - his birthday was ruined and I was the ruination of it all. Mom showed up home with her friend Erna about the same time a motorcycle cop arrived. There is something sort of spectacular about a car in a house. Not the thing you want to come home to, but its a stop in the tracks kind of thing. After sorting out a few facts, Mom asked who called the cops and J., Dette, Mr. 'Ville, and my sisters all pointed: at me. She asked me why in an oddly calm tone and even though I was shaking in my shoes, in the way only a kid can, I explained: "I thought that's what you're supposed to do when you have a car accident." (And I honestly thought that, too.) Mom paused for a moment and the next thing I knew she was roaring with laughter and I could see the tension slide off Jays young shoulders. His party went on, and all had a good time, but I ruined his birthday and that's been our story ever since. You have NO idea how relieved we were that Mom had laughed instead of flying into a rage. But some drunks you just can't predict, y'know?
We didn't have much in the way of sibling rivalry and by the time he was an adolescent, I was already living away from home on my own. We always connected with mom vis a vis language - talking, conversing, playing with words, sharpening our tongues and wits and honing them to a fine edge. We shared the salacious pleasure of language used to draw forth responses, to teach, cajole, entertain and wrestle and spar. Unlike me, they also shared the pleasure gotten when words were used to hurt like a whip. I can, in self defence, but it is not to my taste and I prefer to keep to softer speech.
Jay and I are simpatico on many things and our relationship is a generally agreeable, no-fuss no muss type, which is pretty good for siblings, I reckon. We agree in principle on a lot of subjects and it is food and cooking, seasoned lightly with politics, that we mostly talk about. I'm an good cook and have flashes of creativity. Even had a few recipes published in Bon Apetit back in the mid 80s. He became a chef who worked in places like San Francisco's Carnelian Room and the St. Francis Hotel. His practice dishes when he had ambitions to compete in the Bocuse d' Or were as visually beautiful as they were savory. Mom was not a very good cook, so we came to our cooking styles in self defence. He made a profession out of it while I'm a hobbyist with it. And briefly, he had his own place, BITE, on Market St. But then he got cancer. And now my mind turns on memories and impressions and the fear I feel seeing him join our sister Karla who has long been ill with M.S. and seeing their lives passing in too early a sunset.
Today I struggle with these things I cannot change and seek refuge in the Serenity Prayer and comfort in still laughing at the way Jay sandbagged me good on the 4th of July.