Thursday, 14 November 2013

Unseemly, at best

I guess I'm lucky today.  Other new bloggers I've been reading, who are participating in NaNoBloPo, are talking about running out of things to write about, not wanting to write an online diary or resort to prompts about things they aren't comfortable writing about. I have TOO MANY things to choose from today, and it's really stiffening my fingers, so to speak. 

I'm the most agitated about my feelings about the ongoing Rob Ford situation, but after rigorous and painfully honest self-examination over the past few days, I have to admit that what I'm stressing about has less to do with Rob Ford than it does to do with someone who's a lot closer to home for me.

I have a brother I've mentioned before, almost three years younger than me.  I'll call him Jethro.  When we were kids, I accepted, with reasonably good grace, that people always liked him better than they liked me.  He was more outgoing, more of a people person, while I never seemed to know what to say.  He had, and as far as I know still has, the kind of charm and charisma which cannot be taught and which I have always envied.  Naturally graceful and athletic, powerful with skill and speed and talent.  I will never forget watching him play backstop or goal, baseball and hockey and soccer, and marvelling every time how effortless it was for him to be great.  MVP times infinity, tournaments all over North America.  First round of the national Canadian juniors hockey team, the year he turned sixteen.  And yet he walked away from all of it.  Jethro said at the end of that year, I've never had a job, had a girlfriend, had a night ten months of the year that wasn't about hockey.  I don't know if I'm cut out for that, the rest of my life.  At the time, it seemed mature.  In retrospect, I don't know if I think that was mature or self-destructive.

That's a side of him other people saw.  I knew THAT guy...but I knew a darker side too.  I will never forget the night he held a knife to my throat because I wouldn't give in to his demand that I move off the L-shaped couch he'd declared his intention to sleep on at our mother's place.  He beat the snot out of me that night....and I kept thinking, if I didn't hit him back, he'd stop hurting me.  I think I was fifteen.  I couldn't wear a bra for a week, because the straps hurt the bruises on my back.

A friend of our family was doing her MA in psychology when we were in high school, and the subject of her graduate thesis was deviant behaviour.  She asked our father if she could tape an interview with my brother for research, and when we arrived at her house, Jethro strolled in, doing the Don Johnson thing with white jeans and a pastel t-shirt under the white cotton jacket, sleeves rolled to the elbows.  She had hired a professional film crew to tape the interview, which was about an hour long.  There was a makeup artist pancaking his face and cooing over how blue his eyes were, and everyone there was treating him like a movie star.  I remember thinking, oh my God, people, he is being interviewed as a research subject for deviant behaviour...what is wrong with all of you?

As an adult, Jethro was still charming and charismatic, and knew how to talk to everyone.  He was also proving himself to be a pathological liar.  My then-husband and our kids got together often with him and his then-wife and their kids, and our father's wife had gotten him a job where she worked.  Sometimes I would shake my head at the things I heard.  One example I can give is that there could have been a wing at the hospital named after my brother and his family, for all the times he called in to miss work because of having to take his wife/son/daughter to the hospital for some emergency or other.  His wife would corroborate his story while he was telling it, in the "Yeah!  Yeah, that's EXACTLY what happened" kind of way, but the kids would stand stiffly, answer yes or no if prompted, and that would be it.

Our marriages broke up at approximately the same time.  His wife came forward and told us Jethro was a drug addict, and had been for years, starting with the percocets he had stolen from her mother when he was just a tenant in her basement.  They had moved to Barrie at one point and he'd gotten a job with one of her cousins in the property management office, and it transpired that they had let him go for stealing prescription medication from people who lived in the building: taking the master keys and going to various units and raiding their medicine cabinets.  His addiction had gotten to the point where he was stealing electronics and other valuables from family members to sell, and buying oxycontin on the street.  at about ten dollars per ten milligrams of drug, with the average pill being 80 mg.  The family lied to cover up his addiction and the bizarre ways he acted when he was on drugs.  He was belligerent, verbally incontinent and abusive, alternately denying and admitting his problem.  Asking for forgiveness, promising it wouldn't happen again.  

My brother did the adult equivalent of running away from home.  My father and my SIL's brother found him sleeping on a piece of styrofoam in the back of his pickup truck in the parking lot of his workplace.  My father put him in rehab, and when he came out, he was evangelical.  No caffeine, no nicotine, no alcohol, though none of those substances had been a problem for him.  He and I slept on opposite sides of my dad's games room on the second floor of his townhouse, and talked many a night about the things that had gone wrong with our lives.  When my brother went back to work, installing windows in high rise buildings, my father controlled his paycheck, set aside money to pay his debts and give my sister-in-law something for their kids, pay the cell phone bill, and so on.

The problem was when my brother, quite righteously, said, Dad, I'm an adult, and I've been through rehab, and I need to learn how to look after myself again.  My father, against his better judgment, agreed.  We found later that one of my brother's "triggers" for drug use was the combination of boredom (he was on a pretty short leash - no car, no family except us that he was speaking to, enforced distance from his former friends and fellow addicts) and money in his pocket.  He went downhill pretty fast at that point.

One day, not long before my father insisted that my brother move out of his house, I came into the games room, where I was still sleeping, and found my brother.  My father had renovated his basement and built a room for my brother so that we could have separate space, and since it was likely he would be there for the foreseeable future, while I would be leaving once I'd saved first and last month's rent after landing a job.  There was no reason for him to be in my space, opening that closed door.

I asked him what he was doing, and he held up a pen.  I was going to leave you a note, sissy, he told me.  He asked me if he could borrow twenty dollars.  He said had met a girl and he wanted to be able to take her out for a drink later (although I knew if he was going out he would order a diet coke, not a drink or a coffee) without having to ask our father for cash, as he was between paychecks.  I asked him if everything was ok, told him I loved him and was worried about him.

He smiled at me, hugged me.  I'm fine, Steph, he told me.  I'm getting better, feeling stronger every day.  It's all about willpower, and I'm going to beat this, I promise you.  I want to have my life back, have the people I love best trust me again.  I smiled at him.  Gave him the twenty.

He looked me right in the eye while he was lying to my face.

I found out later that he had a pair of 18 carat tri-colour braided gold hoop earrings, the Mother's Day present that my kids had given me earlier that year, in his back pocket.  R had said to me, I want you to have a nice gift from the kids for the last Mother's Day we'll all be living together.  At the time, I had dumbly thought, that's another nice pair of earrings I'll never wear, along with the diamond studs he had given me at Christmas. I'll keep them and give them to one of my daughters.

I ended up being grateful most of my jewellery was in storage, and that I didn't have much of value at my dad's place.  In addition to those earrings, I "lost" about four hundred dollars, in twenties and fifties, and my school ring.  My dad sustained much bigger losses, especially after my brother moved out.  My dad changed the alarm code for the doors (to a too-predictable code, apparently), and one day came home to find he'd been cleaned out.  His laptop, about $10K in camera equipment, his Harley-Davidson 25th anniversary leather jacket plus two full-face helmets wired for driver/passenger communication and Sirius radio, his golf clubs, tennis rackets, jewellery, and about a thousand dollars in cash.  He sold the pickup my dad had lent him $18K to buy, for five hundred dollars. 

An addict isn't wired the same way a non-addict is.  An addict will lie, steal, do whatever they need to do to get the high they crave.  Drugs. And whatever else goes with the high.  Power.  Getting away with their stories. Attention.  Concern.  The blind commitment of people who want to help.

Jethro moved past oxycontin, went on to crack cocaine, and heroin.  He's been in rehab three times now...the kind of live-in rehab that forces him to be in a kind of solitary confinement, isolated  from even his closest family for weeks at a time.  Methadone clinic, in and out for six months - failed attempt.  When he got out the last time, for all intents and purposes he disappeared for awhile.  I expected that every time the phone rang it would be my father, telling me that my brother had been found dead in a ditch.

I haven't seen Jethro in three years.  He wanted to get together with me about a year ago, for dinner and to see my kids again.  As much as I missed him, and still do, I couldn't quite bring myself to invite him to my house. Or to give my kids a reason to go home and tell their dad that I'd had my brother the drug addict over to my house, because I knew what I'd have to say to him if the shoe was on the other foot.  Never mind those diamond earrings that are tucked away in a dresser drawer.

"I have never smoked crack cocaine."
"Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine."
"I wasn't lying, you just didn't ask the right questions."
"I'm so embarrassed, and sorry.  It will never happen again."

I've heard this before.  I've believed it before. 

I don't believe it now.  I never will again.

The situation with respect to the Mayor and his leadership is unseemly at best. - Toronto Argonauts, via Twitter

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