So today is a shitty day. It is actually the anniversary of a very shitty, horribly tragic, mind numbing day. One year ago my half brother hung himself, he was 25. I feel I must utter the odd disclaimer: we did not grow up together and I was born more than 20 years before him. We were not close in the traditional sibling way. We didn’t share Christmas or birthdays, we did not jockey for the best passenger seats in the family car or get jealous over the attention one got from mom. I barely knew him but I liked him. Circumstances led us to be primarily facebook friends and let me tell you the kid was funny as hell on facebook. I used to love his posts. He was a musician, a bartender, no doubt a player – the ladies loved him. He was adorable. And he killed himself, I’m still angry about it.
Before you get on my case for being angry let me just stop you and say, it’s a process. Perhaps I should be further along than anger but I’m not so let me be. I don’t have the ocean of sorrow, the missing expected and vastly hallow memories, sadness for new memories that won’t happen, it wasn’t that kind of relationship. What I do have is my own bizarre experience of how it all went down and I am curious if others have been in this particular and peculiar spot. I’m going to try and keep it as brief as possible but it is um….complicated.
So my parents got divorced when my twin brother and I were two years old. Drama. Physical fights, multiple moves, betrayal, screaming, drunks and chaos from my earliest memory. My father saw us on a scheduled and somewhat regular basis until about age 8. He got remarried when we were young, maybe 5 years old?
His second wife, we’ll call her Jenny was so pretty and kind. I remember her long thick, straight hair – brown with some reddish blonde highlights. She used fat hot curlers to achieve her look. She drank Pepsi and had a little dog named Scruffy and she had a birthday party for him. She made me feel like a super model before that was even a thing. She was a teacher and she knew how to work kids, we loved her. Of course we couldn’t tell our mother that. She was a rage filled, jealous alcoholic. I learned to read her from a young age and I knew that I could not act as if I liked my father or Jenny around her.
When my brother and I were 8 years old my mother and father had a custody battle and mom won. That’s how it was in the 70’s kids went with mom most of the time regardless of how F’ed up she was….we soon moved from New Jersey to Florida with my mother’s then boyfriend. Now that span of time is a whole other story that I don’t have time for right now but my god the insanity was at expert level.
We were in Florida about one year before that situation imploded in a cops taking mom away in cuffs kind of way…..We wound up back in New Jersey. My brother and I were so excited to see our father again we went to his house at the shore as soon as we could. A different man showed up. I mean the guy looked like my dad but he didn’t act like him. He opened the door, did not invite us inside and talked to us on the stoop. It was obvious even to a 9 year old that he didn’t want us inside the house. Well I determined at that moment that he would not get the better of me and an internal emotional wall was erected to protect myself. My brother chose the slam his head repeatedly against the wall approach. The necessity of either approach sucked.
So for the next 20 years or so my relationship with my father consisted of a Christmas card and a birthday card each with $50 and an obligatory brief thank you from me for each. There were a few skirmishes on the phone when my mom would prompt me to ask him for money for necessities. When I was 15 I went to rehab (I know what a shock) and he came in to sign insurance papers, didn’t bother to visit. My mother made sure to tell me that. At 21 I wrote him a letter as an adult. I acknowledged that I heard one side my whole life and invited him into my life. I got no response. No. Response.
In my late twenties relatives started to die, the old ones mostly. I would see my father and his family (which included 5 kids with Jenny) at funerals and weddings and other large family events. Eventually it became less weird to see them and we started making small talk. My siblings from my father’s second family didn’t even know I existed before then, that must have been an interesting family meeting. In 1997 my aunt became terminally ill with cancer and that increased the sightings. In early 2000 my twin brother and I were there on a random Friday night for pizza. Three days later Jenny died in a car accident leaving 5 kids behind. Ben, the youngest was just 11 years old.
My twin brother and I tried to be there for them. On the day of the accident we rushed to the hospital to meet our father. His oldest daughter from his second marriage was in the car with Jenny and required surgery. A friend of my father’s was with him and when he was introduced he commented that he had never known about me. I was 32, that kind of crap happened all the time but clearly there were other things to think about so I swallowed it down. Made sure the doctors knew that my sister needed to be able to attend her mother’s funeral. I could tell my father needed to communicate that but he wasn’t capable at the time so I said it out loud on his behalf.
My twin and I went to the wake, the funeral, the lunch all the sad events. At one point we were at the wake surrounded by family pictures of our father, Jenny and their five kids and we weren’t in a single photo. We both felt so many mixed emotions in that room that after an hour or so we needed to leave. I felt like I was choking. I mean I wasn’t but I was dry drowning on my own anguish. Jenny was a teacher for 30 years, she had 5 kids and was active in her church there were probably 1,000 mourners. Highway lights were blocked off for her funeral procession it was intense and horrible in all the ways you imagine it would be.
Fast forward 14 years and Ben kills himself. Once again I have a back stage pass to someone’s tragedy. I have expected rights to rituals based on my family label with just a fraction of the closeness the tasks should require. I heard the news from my twin who had stayed much closer with dad’s second family. He lived in the same town for several years and had more things in common like, sailing, beer and music. I’m a stay at home mom who lives far from the beach oh and I don’t drink alcohol, practically another dimension.
As fate would have it I had plans to go to the same shore town that day to visit a friend. So I took my kids to visit with my friend and went to my sister’s house where I had never been before. My father and his girlfriend were there along with my siblings (minus the one I grew up with who was 12 hours away) and Jenny’s best friend who always gives me and my twin death stare daggers when we are in the same room. My sisters were writing the obituary. It was awful and I was useless, awkward and in the way most likely but I felt like I should be there. I didn’t want to make a statement by not being there in my mind that was worse.
The wake was awful as you would expect. People waited for hours to pay their respects. I waited outside for a good amount of time before my twin got me and shuffled me inside. He wanted to get me to wait on the receiving line which just would have been too weird. I felt the building sway with the grief in that room it was surreal and yet here we were again. Another room filled beyond capacity with broken souls aching in their grief filled with pictures of a happy family that I was not really a part of….. I just waited it out feeling like some kind of fraud. I was there for my father and twin brother but the others probably wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t there. I say that without malice it’s just a reflective thought.
The next day was the funeral. I started the day with a last stop at the funeral home where the “family” was saying their last good byes. Those poor kids having to bury another pivotal family member far too soon. My heart broke for each of them and my father. I can’t imagine having to bury my son. It should not happen to anyone. Eventually we cleared out and went to the church for a Catholic service. I took my own car and planned on ducking in the back. My twin was a pall bearer and I just wanted to blend in somewhere.
That didn’t happen. My father saw me outside the church and motioned for me to come over. He had his longtime girlfriend on his left and me on his right. He held my hand and walked me down the aisle to the coffin where a fabric was draped on top he then led us to the front pew. I sat next to his girlfriend and my twin for the service and was motioned to sign a book at some point, it’s a blur. So many emotions swirling through my head it was like an out of body experience.
After the service we went to the cemetery. Once again there was a several miles long procession with a police escort and a salute from the fire department (he was a volunteer), highway lights blocked to other traffic. Eerily similar to his mother’s funeral procession. It was hot and the grief was palpable. It was as prevalent as the steam coming off the asphalt of the cemetery parking lot. The sobs came in waves, a sea of mourners. They buried him next to his mother.