Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A family story

My brother Arthur was born blue, partially strangled 
by the umbelical cord. He couldn’t catch his breath. 
After that, he was different from other kids. 
He made funny noises, couldn’t remember his address, 
said odd things. When he turned 9, St Joseph’s Elementary School 
said Arthur couldn’t keep up so my parents sent him to Mary Haven School for Exceptional Children in another state. 
He returned home when he was 18, 
tall and lean and strong. 
My mother got him dressed in a suit and walked with him 
from store to store but no one would hire him. 
So she sent him to the navy and to everyone’s surprise the navy took him and put him on a battleship. 
After three years, he returned to my parent’s house in Philadelphia. 
One day he typed up every page of a joke book 
just to have an extra copy of it. He watched a lot of TV and helped my mother with odd jobs 
around the house. Then one night he went to a sports bar and met Barbara, 
a frumpy little woman 15 years older, who told him she was dying of cancer. 
They began to date and soon she insisted he marry her. 
Not long after they married at City Hall, 
they rented a row house and she helped Arthur get a job as a bus driver. 
Then she forbid him to have any contact with his family. He obeyed her.  
After ten years of silence, my other brother, Frank, parked in front of Arthur’s row house
before sunrise one day and waited for him to come out. Around 7:30, the door opened 
and Arthur stepped down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. 
Frank jumped from his car and called to him. 
Arthur turned his head and when he saw Frank, he began walking faster. 
Frank ran after him, Wait! I just want to talk to you a minute. I’m moving to California
Arthur didn’t stop. He turned his head and in an anguished voice told Frank, 
Get out of here before she sees you! Get out of here! 
Twenty years later, Arthur was notified that his mother was dying, 
and then that she had died, and finally that she had been buried. 
Arthur didn’t respond. But his lawyer, inquiring about my mother’s will, 
which directed her estate be divided equally among her four children, 
instructed where to send Arthur’s check for $40,000. 
I pity my brother, strangled in the womb, strangled outside of it. 
I hope the money bought him a little happiness but I doubt it.

My plan for him

When he turned 17, I took my son to Santa Barbara for a month. 
He was smoking too much weed. His GPA had dropped from 
4.0 to point 0. His clothes got baggier, his thick chestnut hair got shorter. 
A goatee and mustache grew on his perfect chin line. 
No more football, soccer, tennis, just boxing matches in parking lots with gang bangers and gang banger wannabes like him, 
just a lot of posturing and fierce staring, and angry rap music 
and where there once was warm, cheery chatter between us, 
there was now a great wall of silence. 
Maybe if he got out of Dodge. Met some new kids. 
Experienced a mellower life style. 
If he did better there, we could stay there so he could finish high school.
I rented a condo then called his teachers and explained. 
They let him fax assignments every week. 
On the drive down highway 5, he slept all the way. 
Sometimes I looked at him and wondered, do I still know him? 
This is not the 10 year old who walked the 9-mile Tomales Point Trail 
with me and on the way home cried out, “That was a fun day, mom! 
I wish we could rewind it!” 
I woke him up. Hey, we’re here. 
I bent over and shook him. Wake up. It’s dinner time
Slowly he pulled his skinny body upright in the seat and turned his head 
to the window. His eyes quickly focused on the parade of beautiful young women strolling down State Street, how they seemed to sing to each other, 
the joyful shrieks, their white short shorts and pink flip flops, 
and the young men too, just as lovely in their sea-side casualness, 
riding skateboards and bikes, jogging. 
My son plugged in his iPod and turned up the volume on the car speakers, 
yanked off his shirt as if it were on fire, and rolled down the window. 
When I stopped the car at a red light, he crawled out, head first. 
The light changed and my car continued to roll with my son 
now sitting in the window, his feet on the passenger seat. 
What are you doing? I demanded. 
His hands were drumming on the roof of my car in time to the music 
as he called out to everyone Yo! Yeah! Ain't nobody home tonight! 
Oh my God, stop! I screamed! Get back in here
I wanted to speed away but that could knock him out.  
So I continued driving and he continued drumming and whooping and yelping
as if he were sitting on a float in some Fourth of July Parade. 
This was the first sign my plan was not going to work.