The events that transpired between and around my brother and I over those last two years of his life is a story that could be best described as the result of a perfect storm that was brewing since before we were both born. My brother’s long descent from a vibrant and productive if not fully happy life into the abyss of a troubled and disturbing life that ended with his death could be said to have been preordained by our past.
The storm really began with the circumstances surrounding the respective childhoods of my parents that forged their personalities. The storm continued with the circumstances that brought my parents together and, more importantly, the lessons of their pasts that caused them to become caught up in a futile struggle of bickering and arguments that damaged their lives and by proxy caused damage to my brother and me.
My father’s childhood and unusual family situation left him emotionally scarred and insecure. I think his mother made him distrustful of women in general which rendered him incapable of accepting or fostering a truly healthy relationship with my mother. In some ways, he projected his resentment over his own mother’s misconduct, as he perceived it, onto my mother. I believe that he lashed out at her as a surrogate for his anger and pain over the poor relationship he had with his mother. This was made worse by the fact that my father was uneducated and had grown up with a combative and suspicion nature that would cause him to address disappointments and stresses in his life with anger.
My father simply did not have the emotional skills necessary to calmly reason out his problems or rationally deal with his fears and uncertainties. It is no wonder that there was no lack of motives for him to reach out in anger with my mother and to fly into jealous rages at the slightest provocation. If you don’t believe that you are worthy of someone else’s love you will always believe that it is being withheld from you or that you are being betrayed.
To be fair, my father was very intelligent in an organic way. I always felt that if he had been nurtured and encouraged properly he could have been successful in any profession whether it be a doctor, lawyer or high powered businessman. In social settings he was quiet, but one-on-one my father could be a very charming, witty and interesting man. He was always up on current events and could hold his own in any discussion about the state of the world and political issues. He could be warm hearted and very generous of himself with the people he loved, so it always baffled me as to why he and my mother could not have brought out the best in each other instead of the worst.
My mother came from a more stable family. I do not believe that she harbored the same insecurities or resentments that plagued my father. I can’t say anything about her parents because I did not know them and, surprisingly, my mother never talked about them very much. Even so, I suspect that they were very emotional people since my mother and all of her siblings were highly emotional people and, as they say, the apples do not fall far from the tree.
My mother could be a reasonable person, but she was also easily insulted and hurt by the words and actions of others. Once you crossed my mother she could hold a grudge forever. My mother was also combative in the sense that she was not the type to turn the other cheek, if you pushed her she would push right back, but even harder. There was very little in my mother’s nature that was conciliatory or forgiving except with her children and grandchildren, but certainly not with my father.
Likewise, to be fair, my mother was by nature a warm and loving person who had many friends and was liked by almost everyone that met her. She spoke her mind and was without any pretense. You always knew where you stood with my mother and that anything she said to you was sincere and heartfelt. Unlike my father, my mother thrived in social settings and in some ways liked to be the center of attention. My mother was also intelligent, but not in an abstract or theoretical way. She was more methodical in her thinking and pragmatic in the way that she dealt with problems.
The storm that raged between my parents sustained itself because of my father’s insecurities and my mother’s highly sensitive and unforgiving nature which was a recipe for disaster. Neither one of them had the skills to deal with their issues in a calm and constructive manner, so every problem, dispute and provocation became the spark that ignited their sporadic, but consistent warfare. If they had not had children then, of course, these battles would have played out between just the two of them and probably would have ended in divorce.
Unfortunately, and I say that advisedly since I am happy to be here, they did have children. Once my brother and I entered the picture my parents were no longer playing their hurtful game to an empty house. My brother and I as the witnesses of these brawls over the years became collateral damage. It is an obvious proposition that children of dysfunctional homes also became dysfunctional to a lesser or greater extent. Suffice it to say that my brother and I carried some hefty baggage with us that must have had some influence on our thinking, on the way that we viewed life, and how we viewed each other.
I often wondered as a teenager and certainly as an adult what attracted my parents to each other. There had to be a reason they gravitated toward each other, got married and had children, but there were times when their relationship made absolutely no sense to me. My parents were both very attractive people when they were young, so the physical attraction they may have had for each other is not much of a surprise, but there had to be more than just two good looking people getting together. They also had in common that they were the children of Italian immigrants and thus shared the same culture, background and heritage all of which can be important when choosing a mate. It’s at this point that the similarities diverge.
My father was very rough around the edges, was unrefined, uneducated and at times could be uncouth. My mother even though from humble beginning fancied herself as being sophisticated, somewhat educated and certainly someone that would do well in polite society. My mother always had a sense that she was destined for big things and could have been somebody if given the right opportunities. This conflict of personas was hardly conducive to a match made in heaven. One can never fully understand what attracts two people to each other and many times the two people involved cannot fully explain it themselves. Whatever chemistry there was in the air that brought them together turned out to be more volatile than they could have ever imagined or wanted.
Speculation aside, they did get married in May of 1947 and went by train to a shabby, small town about eighty miles west of Albany for a few days as their honeymoon. A very uninspired and uninspiring way to kick off a marriage, but, nevertheless, that was where they went. Upon their return, due to financial issues, they moved in with my mother’s parents.
My mother once or twice told me over the years the story about my father striking her once during an argument while they lived with her parents and how her father told my father that if he ever struck her again he would kill him. It must have made an impression since I have no memory of my father ever striking my mother at any time. In any event, that first and only incident should have been a clear signal to my mother to get out while she could, but for reasons she never explained to me she did not leave.
My grandfather died in late 1947 before I was born in a railroad accident while at work and my grandmother died in 1949 from the proverbial broken heart when I was less than one year old. If they had lived, perhaps, my mother may have found the courage to leave, but once I came along I suppose her fate was sealed.
My brother and I shared the same childhood, but were quite different in our personalities and outlook on life. He was in some ways a refined, educated and savvy version of my father. He had some of the same insecurities and self doubts about relationships which caused him to never be able to build a lasting and healthy relationship with any of the women he dated. Like my mother, he shined in social settings and even as a child wanted to be the center of attention. He once ran for student counsel in high school and printed brochures and posters as if he was running for mayor. My brother was clearly a showman who sought the limelight and wanted to be noticed.
I am like my father in that I am not a social diva that feels comfortable working a room with small talk. I feel much more at ease in small settings or one-on-one where I can have a real conversation with someone I actually want to talk to and find interesting. In my career as an attorney, I had to train myself to be adept and comfortable with public speaking and eventually mastered it quite well, but still in my private life I prefer not to be the center of attention. Like my mother, I have been known to hold a grudge or two and I tend to be somewhat sensitive, but I have learned over the years to develop a thick skin so that I am not always feeling the slings and arrows of hurtful people.
My brother and I could not completely escape our childhood as is the case with everyone. This is the legacy that all families share, my parents were the product of their parents and my brother and I were the product of my parents and so on and so on until, in our case, someone breaks the chain of discord that was forged which I like to believe I did with my children. When the troubles started for my brother, our personalities were already set and I am sure dictated to a large extent the way it all played out.
If my parents had different childhoods everything might have been different for my brother and me. If my father had been raised in a stable and nurturing home and had been properly encouraged, perhaps, he would have taken his innate intelligence and abilities to lofty heights and been a more secure, content and happy person. If my mother had been given the tools to achieve her goals, perhaps, her life would have taken a different and more healthy track. If their lives had been different, my brother and I would have had different childhoods, different experiences and, perhaps, would have grown to be different and maybe better adults. One thing that stands out for me, if my brother had been a more content and happier person he may not have pursued such a high risk lifestyle, would have never gotten sick and would still be enjoying a long and fruitful life. Like the butterfly effect, the slightest change in any aspect of our past could have had a profound effect on our future.
If my brother had not learned the wrong lessons from my father and had refrained from emotionally abusing my mother, perhaps he would not have suffered from so much guilt after my mother died and could have dealt with her death in a more rational and healthy way. There may not have been the deep depression and excessive drinking and his life might not have taken that long downward spiral of despair. Given the nature of his illness, his death was inevitable, but he may have had a more pleasant and less destructive journey to his final destiny.
If I had not been the supportive and helpful son to my mother, perhaps, I would have been as remorseful as my brother was when she died and then been less able to help my brother. My brother’s downfall and my ability to help him may have been preordained by the perfect storm of our lives started by my grandparents and intensified by my parents.
I have not yet lost my mind, but had I been inflicted with my brother’s illness, I believe I would have just retreated deeper into my own world and probably would have become a recluse who just wanted to be left alone. My brother, on the other hand, when he became ill acted true to form and his delusions took on a larger than life quality with all of his grandiose plans and outrageous schemes that affected many more people than just his family. His conduct not only rocked his world, but those of his friends, employees and business associates. If my brother’s world collapsed, he would bring down not only himself but all of the people that depended on him and his business.
On the other hand, if my brother had been a simple man with just a humble job very few people beside his family would have even taken notice. Those last two years of his life may have been just a slow and quiet disintegration of a life only his family would have cared about. It was the magnitude of his downfall that precipitated the outcry for some action on my part to set things right for my brother and his business. As they say, the bigger you are the harder you fall or in my brother’s case the heights from which he fell threatened to cause a whirlwind of destruction.
Even if I had been willing to help my brother, if I had not been an attorney with years of litigation experience that honed my adversarial skills and prepared me to deal with intense conflicts I would not have been ready and able to ultimately thwart his destructive plans. I would not have been able to protect my brother from himself and the jackals barking at his door during his illness, or save his business to provide the funds for his care, although it was beyond my power to save his life.
My brother was a very successful and affluent man because of the drive and personality that was instilled in him and I had the skills and temperament to be able to catch him as he fell and prevent a complete free fall.
My brother and I were made ready by the perfect storm of our past to play our parts in this tragic story.