I Am Not My Brother’s Keeper

I sat in the chair right  next to the doctor’s desk. Head down, fidgeting with my nails as I waited for the doctor to start her evaluation.

She pulled up my file on her computer. She talked out loud, as if I wasn’t sitting right next to her desk, able to hear her.

Patient’s mother is a sociopath.

That was the first time I heard it out loud. I always knew it, and I knew other people knew it, too. But to hear it spoken like that shook me in a kind of way I can’t explain.

My mother, a sociopath. The leading sentence in my file, the history of me. It was in my record now. There was something about the permanence of that statement that was relieving to me. Someone finally got it. Someone finally saw my mother for who she was. Someone finally acknowledged how she has affected me.

The doctor continued to read out loud, reading each sentence and feeling the need to confirm everything it said before moving on. I didn’t really understand why I had to talk about things that were already included in my record. You were physically and sexually abused by your mother? She would burn you? Why did she do that? Were you sexually abused by your father?

Why does it matter? This information is already available. Just stop. Don’t ask me to go there. Don’t make me relive it all again. How am I supposed to know why my mother was the way she was? How am I supposed to know why she hurt me? It was like she was looking for some kind of reason, for something I must have done to cause it all.

But that wasn’t what pushed me over the edge.

The mother is currently in a relationship with her son.

I didn’t realize that was in my history. A bit shocking, but I dealt with it. Until the doctor started asking questions.

Are you in contact with your brother?

No. I haven’t spoken to him or my family since I ran away.

Why aren’t you speaking to him?

Because he lives with my mother. You know, the woman I ran away from.

I still don’t understand why you haven’t contacted him.

Because I’m not sacrificing my safety for him.

Her persistence in questioning aggravated me. She was making me feel bad for not reaching out to my brother, as if she thought I had some obligation to save him from my mother, to protect him from her. What a horrible person I must be to know that she’s still hurting him and to do nothing to help him.

My choices in life are mine. I chose to run away. By myself.  I live with that decision every day. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about helping him before I ran. I wanted to save them all. My father, my brother, and I. But I couldn’t do it. I knew if either of them found out what I was planning, they would tell her and I would be punished in the worst way.

My brother lived in denial for too long. He was too complacent with the life she made him live. I’m not sure he saw her for who she really was. I’m not sure he fully understood what she had been doing was wrong.

He had his brief moments of clarity. I remember sitting next to him one day, myself an outwardly angry teenager, himself an inwardly angry 20-something. He saw the cuts on my arms. He turned to me, lifted his sleeve, and said to me I’m hurting, too.

In that brief moment, there was a connection between us. A mutual understanding of the pain we both endured. Yet neither of us were able to put words to it. It was never spoken about again. He went on like nothing was wrong. I went on believing that both of us were hopeless. That was the one and only time I felt connected to him.

After I ran away, I heard bits and pieces of what happened to my family after I left. I know my brother struggled. He barely left the house. People tried to get through to him. At times, he wanted to leave her, but he felt trapped, both physically and financially.

I knew that feeling. The feeling of being trapped. It’s what I felt up until the day I finally ran away. I wanted him to know the feeling of freedom. I wanted him to experience life without our mother. But I couldn’t help him. I could barely help myself.

It took me a long time to forgive myself for not saving him, yet those guilty feelings still come back every October, around the time of his birthday. I think about what he must be going through. I worry about him giving up on his life. I wonder what his life would be like if I had just saved both of us instead of just me.

But I am not my brother’s keeper. It wasn’t and still isn’t my responsibility to save him. He’s an adult. He has choices. While it’s not his choice to get hurt, it is his choice to stay. I can’t make him see reality. I can’t pull him by the leg and drag him away. I can’t protect him from my mother.

I hope my brother finds peace one day. But I cannot be his savior.

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The Good Family

I want my daddy to come back to life so I can tell him I’m sorry. I don’t know what I did to be bad, but maybe he will forgive me.

I want to go back home to my mommy so I can tell her I’m sorry. I don’t know why I was always so evil, but maybe she can just love me.

I wrote those words one month ago and could not bring myself to post them. How could I miss people that caused me so much pain? How could I still want love from the people who broke me? Maybe they weren’t that bad after all. Maybe they were good enough and that’s why I still miss them. I want everything to be my fault. I don’t want to let go of the wish that I had a good family.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that they were bad people. It doesn’t make sense that they were good people. I’m forever trying to rationalize a situation that was never rational.

My brother wasn’t hurt as badly. My mother loved him. He was allowed to have friends. He could eat most of the time. He had so many good things. But I didn’t get any of that. If our mother was really a bad person, then she wouldn’t have treated my brother so nicely. He would have been tortured, too, but he wasn’t. So then maybe I was the problem. Maybe my mother was a really great mother, and I was just too bad of a child.

Part of me doesn’t want to see what that really was. That I wasn’t a bad child at all, and my brother was no more deserving than I was of good things. That my mother treated my brother that way because it was all a part of her game. That she used him to make me feel like I was the bad one. That my brother and I were both pawns in my mother’s sociopathic game — my brother the apath, and I the empath. It worked out perfectly.

My parents could have kept me at home, but they chose to send me to school. They could have kept me starving, but they always ended up feeding me. They could have let me bleed, but they took me to get stitches. They could have ended my life, but they chose to let me live. Bad people wouldn’t make those choices. Good people would.

Part of me doesn’t want to see the other side of all of that. That I went to private school because it fed their need to feel superior, not because I deserved an education. That I should have never been starving, because a child never deserves to go without food. That I would have never needed stitches had they not made me bleed. That letting me live only to continue to hurt me wasn’t really letting me live at all.

I don’t want to accept that reality. I want to live in my fantasy world, where my family was good and I was the bad one. Where I was the reason that everything happened the way it did. Where I was the cause of all of their problems. Where if I had just been good, if I had just been a better child, my parents wouldn’t have had to do what they did. 

That was the world they created for me. That’s what I was made to believe as a child, and I carried those beliefs right into my adulthood.

I still want that good family. I still want to believe that I can in some way erase everything that happened and make it all better.Maybe if I just apologize, if they can just see how sorry I am, they will love me and we can be a family again.

But my family doesn’t even want me. They never came after me. No one tried to make sure I was okay. They went on as if I never existed at all. I became a topic of conversation to be avoided, a topic worse than politics or religion. I offended them by escaping, just like I had offended them for existing.

If they really loved me, if they really cared, they would have looked for me. As much as I live in fear of them, I also long for their love and care. I want my mother to love me. I want to be the good child. I want the good family that children are supposed to have.

Sometimes I fantasize about my mother finding me. I imagine her knocking on my front door. I open it, and she’s standing there. She reaches out to hug me, and I start to cry. But she doesn’t really hug me, she stabs me in the heart. 

In that moment, I’m not sad or angry. As I stand there bleeding, I am happy. Because I know my mother cared enough to come and kill me. She loved me enough to end my pain.

And all I ever needed was her love and care.

Happy Birthday, Golden Child

Yesterday was my brother’s 37th birthday.

I thought for sure I was going to be emotional about it; birthdays have been a reminder of the family I lost when I ran away. But I really didn’t feel anything at all. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t anything. I just said today is my brother’s birthday and then I went on with my day.

I used to feel sorry for my brother. I used to feel guilty for leaving him behind. But all of that changed last month when I finally saw my brother for who he really was: my mother’s son.

I know it isn’t all my brother’s fault. I think he drank a little too much of our mother’s Kool-Aid throughout his life and he continues to see the world through the distorted lenses that she prescribed to him. He lives in my mother’s version of reality, a reality devoid of truth and decency, a reality full of lies and artificiality.

But that’s not an excuse for all of my brother’s actions. He’s had choices, yet he has continued to make the wrong ones time and time again. He’s chosen to be a follower instead of a leader. He’s chosen to be a user instead of a helper. He’s chosen to be a boy instead of a man. He’s chosen to be a husband instead of a son. He’s chosen to be greedy instead of fair. He’s chosen to hurt instead of heal.

My brother didn’t have to be that way. He made those choices on his own, and he will have to live with them. I no longer carry any guilt. I no longer feel sorry for him. I only feel sorry for the little girl who lost her brother. Her brother, the only person who was there with her through some of the pain, and the one person who should have understood more than anyone what they went through. That brother is gone, though I’m not sure he ever really existed.

I wanted my brother to be someone who I now know he will never be. I wanted him to choose good over evil. I wanted him to be better than what she wanted him to be. But that’s not who he is, and I can’t change that, just as I can’t change who my mother is, or who my father was. I can’t change any of them. I can only change me.

My brother and I share parents. We share the same last name. But that is where our similarities end. We are vastly different people, who have taken completely opposite paths. My brother chose complacency, and I chose rebellion.

My brother will always be the golden child, never doing wrong, always getting whatever he wants. But he will never realize that all of it comes with the cost of his freedom.

I will always be the black sheep, doing everything wrong, getting nothing I need. But that’s okay because I have my freedom, and that freedom hasn’t cost me anything I hadn’t lost already.

Dear Brother Explained

The other day, I posted a letter I had written to my brother: Dear Brother.

It wasn’t very well thought out. It was Sunday afternoon, and I found myself still struggling with my emotions about the situation that happened on Friday. I felt paralyzed by them, in a way. I couldn’t get anything done because my mind was set on thoughts about my brother. I needed a way to get my feelings out, because they weren’t serving me well by being bottled up inside.

I walked to the card store, still not set on what I was going to write. I walked through the card aisles, and came to the sympathy section. Loss. That is exactly what this felt like. My brother was still very much alive, but everything else about him was gone. My image of him: gone. My hope for him: gone. I lost him. He died in my heart.

There were only five or six cards dedicated to the loss of a brother. I picked up each one and read it. Unfortunately, none of them captured the type of loss this was. Then there was this card, describing the brother I always wanted: a brother I could depend on, a brother I could share good memories with, a brother I could love.

I started to cry as I looked through the card. I knew this was the right one. I put it in the envelope, wiped my face, and went to the register to purchase it. I left it in the bag until I got home, because I didn’t want to get emotional in public. Even so, I was already going through some of the things I wanted to write in my head. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I sat at my desk, pulled out the card, got my pen, and wrote what I needed to say to him.

Even though I knew this was going to be just another card left unsent, like the cards I wrote to my father and to my mother, I found it oddly therapeutic. I didn’t need him to respond. I didn’t need him to give me an answer. I just needed, for myself, to say what I needed to say in the best way I knew how: through writing.

I didn’t always feel this way towards my brother. In fact, I struggled with feelings of guilt over leaving him behind. Every so often, the guilt would come back full force. It got especially bad after my father died. I knew that with my father gone, my brother was the only person my mother had left. I was scared for him. But there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t financially help him — I am barely surviving myself. I couldn’t risk my own safety by directly reaching out to him, because his closeness to his mother made it too dangerous to even attempt. I was (and still am) a mess myself. I needed to focus on me. I didn’t have the energy to devote to his cause. And I felt horrible for it.

Then the situation on Friday happened, and everything changed. I realized he didn’t care about me at all. He never once called me, but he still had my number. He couldn’t even contact me himself to ask for what he needed; he had someone else do it for him. And he didn’t even need to do what he did. He wanted to trade that Jeep in so he could pretend like it never existed, just like my family pretended like I never existed.

He could have offered me back even some of the money I put into buying that Jeep. Instead, he used all of it to get something bigger and better. The money from my father’s life insurance? Nothing. My brother and his mother have kept it for themselves. Because that’s who they are.

I realized that my brother is just like her. He is an adult. He can make choices. He chose to spread lies about me after I escaped, just as his mother did. He could have denied it, but I know that would have been hard to directly defy her. He could have said nothing at all and been okay, but he instead chose to fuel the fire his mother set for me.

He could have reached out. He knew my phone number, and my e-mail address. His mother would not have found out. But he chose not to try.

My brother could have just paid off the Jeep. Money was not an issue. Instead, he chose to trade it in, and trade it in for something better. There is something symbolic in that. He traded in that Jeep just as he traded me in.

My brother could have gotten away. He always had more financial resources than me. He worked full-time for a long time. I figured out a way to get out. He could have figured out a way, but he chose not to. He could have taken my father’s insurance money and left, but he chose not to. He chose to stay with his mother.

Together, they have chosen to take what isn’t theirs. They are opportunists. They are takers. They are liars. They are users.

My brother is just like her. Her training didn’t work so well on me, but it has worked on him. I didn’t see it before. Well, no, I did. The truth is that I didn’t want to see it. I wanted my brother to be a true and good person. I wanted him to be the brother I needed, the brother I always wanted.

But I realized he’s not that person. He never was, he’s not now, and he won’t be able to be. I can’t change him. I can’t show him something he refuses to see. I can’t save him. So I have to let him go.

It’s another loss. But sometimes, losses are for the better.

 

Dear Brother

Dear brother,

I wish you were the brother described on the front of this card. I wish I could have depended on you. I wish I could say “I love you” without it feeling so complicated.

You were my big brother. Seven years older, taller, and stronger than me. I looked up to you. You were the only friend I had. You were the only person that knew my reality, because you were living part of it, too.

I wonder how hard it was for you to stand by and watch me get hurt. You were there all those nights she came into our bedroom. You knew what she was doing to me in the shower. But you had to close yourself off from it all, you couldn’t help. I understood that. You were just a child, too.

I grew up and watched you struggle. I watched you get beaten, just like I had been beaten. I watched you slowly self-destruct. I heard you crying in your room at night. I was crying, too. I watched you make yourself bleed, and I bled, too. Those scars on your body that you still bear, I know how you got them. I have those same scars, too.

I still remember the night you locked yourself in the bathroom. You banged your head against the wall until you were bloodied and bruised. You couldn’t even speak. All you could do was cry. Hurt and cry. I understood, because that was the language that I spoke, too.

We didn’t know any better. We weren’t allowed to have voices. We shared the same silence. We shared the same hurt. We shared the same pain. I understood you. I thought you understood me, too.

But then you turned against me. You became her adjutant. You pretended to be my brother only to report everything back to her. You helped her terrorize me. You stood by her side as she treated me like a prisoner. Why? You are her son, but you were also my big brother. I needed you. You could have protected me, but you didn’t.

I wanted so badly to help you. I felt horrible leaving you behind. I was weighed down with guilt for over a year. Did you ever feel any of those things when you chose to work against me? You never reached out. You never once showed me that you cared. You told lies about me just like she did, when you could have just said nothing at all.

I used to envy you. I wondered why she loved you so much. Then when I got older, I realized that’s not love. It’s abuse, too. I hope one day, for your sake, you will see that she doesn’t love you. What she’s done to you, what she continues to do to you — it’s not love. It never was.

Part of me fears that it’s too late for you. You’ve become so much a part of her that you don’t even know who you are without her, and who you could be. There’s a great big world out there waiting for you to see. I hope you see it one day.

We have chosen different paths. I chose to be nothing like her. I chose to be free. But you’ve chosen to follow in her footsteps. You’ve chosen to stay.

I’m grieving your loss, because I’ve realized you will never be the brother I needed you to be. I held out hope that you would make the right choice, but you haven’t. I don’t blame you, but I hope you understand why I have to let you go.


The last connection

After my escape, I was still financially tied to my family. They had a few of my credit cards (it was too much of a risk to take them back before I left). I wasn’t overly concerned about that. I had been paying my family’s debts for years, and it wouldn’t be much of a difference. Credit cards can always be cancelled. But there was a bigger connection, one I couldn’t quite run away from; I had a vehicle I left behind.

Let me start off by saying, I don’t even have a license. I never did. Driving was a privilege I was not worthy of having. But my family needed a vehicle. The minivan they had was 14 years old at that point, and doing what old vehicles always do — it was falling apart. My family never had money saved. My father was out of work and in a nursing home at that time, my mother was working part-time as she had been for years, and my brother worked full-time and blew every paycheck on video games.

They knew I had money. I had no choice. I could spend all of my savings buying them a car (and in turn sparing myself some infliction of pain), or I could tell them no and experience the horrible backlash. The guilt trip started before I even made a decision. I was told I had to pull my weight in the family. Realistically, I already was, but it was never enough.

I had to do it. I couldn’t take any more guilt. I couldn’t take any more threats. I spent all of my savings and paid for the down payment. The Jeep was in my name. No one in my family had any credit — I was the only one with good credit history. Because I didn’t have a license, my brother had to be secondary; it was the only way to get the rest of the balance on the vehicle financed. I put everything I had into that vehicle.

I didn’t think my family would pick up the payments after I ran away, but they did. They had no choice, really. My brother needed a vehicle. My mother hated that my name was on the papers. She tried to commit fraud by asking others to forge my signature to take my name off the title and the loan, but no one gave in. I didn’t know how to get my name off, so I’ve spent the last 14 months sitting on this last connection I had to my family, with no way of severing it.

Then on Friday afternoon, I received two phone calls from a number I didn’t know. There was a voicemail, so I sneaked away to the bathroom and listened to it.

“Hello, this is (whoever) from (wherever), and I’m here with your brother.”

My heart sank. Before I even heard the rest of the message, just hearing my brother’s name sent me into tears. I had to replay the message multiple times before I could understand it. My brother was trying to trade in the Jeep for a new truck, and they needed authorization from me since I was the primary.

I sat on the toilet for 10 minutes trying to compose myself. Thoughts were running through my mind. I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t just about the truck. It was about everything.

One of the many stories my mother and brother told people was that I changed my number after I left, so they were unable to contact me. I never changed my number. They never contacted me. But yet, by some miracle, my brother was able to give the dealership my phone number and they were able to get in contact with me. How could that be since I supposedly changed my number?

The only point of contact since I ran away was this phone call from a middle man car dealer, because my family once again needed something from me. I only matter when they need something from me. And that still hurts.

It bothers me that I poured all of my money into a vehicle that my brother was now trading in for a brand new (and a much more expensive) truck.

It bothers me that even though I had a choice to say no, it really wasn’t much of a choice at all. And I wanted to say no. My family doesn’t deserve these things. But if I say no, I’m the one that loses out. I’m the one that gets fucked over, because everything is in my name. Even though they can afford to pay off the loan and get my name off that way, they wouldn’t do that. They would never do the right thing.

So I had to be the bigger person and give my okay. I severed the last connection I had with my family. I had to make the most logical decision, even though it hurt (and still does hurt). I had to keep my emotions out of it. But part of me felt like I was in my mother’s control again. Here she was, controlling me from afar, without even needing to look at me. It makes me sick.

It makes me sick that I am struggling to stay afloat. It makes me sick that those thousands of dollars I put into that Jeep are the thousands of dollars I could be using right now to put food on the table that isn’t just rice and cheap chicken, thousands of dollars I could have used to pay off my mother’s credit debts that I am struggling to pay down.

My mother and brother don’t have to struggle. They now have a brand new truck, in addition to other vehicles that they don’t even need. They are blowing through my father’s life insurance payout like they’ve won the lottery, profiting from the death of a man who my mother hated and told to go and die. They have everything, and they don’t deserve any of it. Where is the fairness? Where is the justice?

It seems like the worst people continue to be rewarded, while the good people continue to struggle. My mother should be in jail. Instead, I’m the one living behind the bars she created in me.

My good friend told me “you got what you wanted, you have your freedom.”

And I know that. But I want justice, too.

Now I’m like him

As I’m dealing with this throbbing headache (caused by my own doing), I keep wondering how my brother felt after his “incident”.

About 15 or so years ago, my brother had what I consider to be an emotional breakdown. He locked himself in the bathroom, crying uncontrollably and bashing his head against the wall for what seemed like hours.

I remember sitting in the living room, and for the first time, really seeing and understanding the pain my brother was in. The pain he could never verbalize, because he was never very good at verbalizing much anyway. The pain we were never allowed to show the world.

I was used to the pain. But up until that point, I assumed my brother just handled our torture in a different way. He never seemed bothered by it, at least not in very outward ways that I could recognize (keep in mind, I was just a young teenager at the time). But here he was, in very obvious pain.

Once he came out of the bathroom, bruised and bloody, life just continued as if the entire incident never happened. Move along now, nothing to see here. Looking back at it now, I see how fucking bizarre it was. Your son just locked himself up in the bathroom and gave himself significant head injuries and a concussion, and you go back to watching television and getting ready for dinner, like it was just a normal day.

I wish I knew how they explained the very obvious injuries to my brother’s face. I’m sure, whatever it was, it wasn’t the truth. That would tarnish my mother’s “mother-of-the-year” image. But how did no one wonder what the fuck was going on?

Of course now, I feel like I channeled that same pain when I continually banged my head yesterday. The only difference was that I chose the table instead of the wall, and I didn’t do it hard enough to bleed. The emotion behind it was surely the same. 

And now I’m telling myself that I’m just like him. Can’t say out loud what’s going on, so just bang the noise away. 

What a fucked up family.