My kid brother was a wonder. Born a mere year and seven days after my arrival on this planet, we were running buddies as kids. He was a terror, totally fearless. Always the one willing to try the newest downhill run or risk a double twist jump on the ice rink we made out of the low patch in our Illinois front yard. Skateboarding at breakneck speed around corners as we made the loop of our Florida patio. Tearing around the neighborhood on hand-me-down bikes. Was he an adrenaline junkie? Or was it just a “boy” thing?
Maybe he was trying to stuff a whole life of living into a short quarter century because he knew he would die young?
I miss him. I miss him sooo much. He died in 1991 at the age of 26, so I’ve had plenty of time to adjust. It still hurts. Everyday I think of him and what he would be like now if he had lived. He would adore my children. Heck, he would be out there rock climbing with my oldest! Sometimes I need him. I need his help with a problem or a project at home. He was good with cars. He knew how to fix up an old house. He was strong and could orchestrate a move without batting an eyelash. He would escort my youngest on her trip through Africa. Am I selfish to want his presence to help with these chores?
Most of all, I miss his spirit. So tough and drop-dead gorgeous on the outside. A real lady’s man. Biceps to envy. Yet so tender and sensitive on the inside. He loved daffodils. Their bright and happy yellow faces. They surprised us popping up one spring at a rent house in Nashville… a necklace to grace the mailbox post. He always carefully mowed around them.
He was cool and he was popular. As a tremulous geek, I always admired how easily he settled into the latest school we were tossed into as our peripatetic family chased around the country seeking something, I don’t know what… maybe the American dream? Well, it never came true for us. It only left a broken stream of vagabond clippings, small shards of images and flashes of memory from so many different places that they begin to meld together into one big mess of a Jackson Pollock painting. It leaves you feeling that you don’t really belong anywhere. We don’t have home. We have no tribe.
Perhaps this nomadic existence wouldn’t have been so damaging had it not been for the trauma. The daily struggle to tiptoe around our drunken father so as not to raise the beast in him. The fear of where we would live or how we would eat or when the old man’s next outburst would send us reeling. My mother carefully lining us up as pretty as any grade school teacher could ask of her class coming in from recess. Only this line was for a beating.
Basil had it the worst. As the eldest male, he was my father’s special target. He was always held to a higher standard, an impossible standard. Always twisted into the worst imaginable and pitiable creature begging for his life. Decades after these grisly incidents, they are still fresh and vivid in my mind: Basil on his knees with tears streaming down his face, his voice stuttering badly as he repeated what he did at school that day, over and over again. Another time his mouth bloody from front teeth knocked out, then his screams from the bedroom where we were not allowed in with the monster that kept him there… oh so sorry now. Well, let him go! Tell the dentist the truth! Get us some help! Someone will help, somewhere, if they knew the truth!
We were so young. I lacked the knowledge and the strength to speak up and ask for help. Yet I still blame myself. I knew it was wrong. I knew it then. I pleaded with my mother to get us out. It went on this way for years. It was the early 70’s. Unless she swore out the warrant herself, the abusive drunk couldn’t be arrested. Besides, he was a strong, intelligent, well-educated, and respected businessman. A war hero. In that day and age, his judgement wasn’t questioned.
Upon turning 16, I finally took action and got my younger brothers and sisters out of that house of torture, fleeing with them to my beloved grandmother in Ohio. To this day I honor her for taking us in. After being told for so many years that she wasn’t available to help, I was amazed at her generosity and how my extended family, whom I did not know, jumped to send money and clothing and a car (for we had fled with nothing). She helped us to settle into a new life in her safe home.
…Until my mother dragged us back to the monster, using twisted lies and manipulative planning worthy of Machiavelli himself. I gave up. I put in my time till I could leave for college. I fled to Texas, persuading Basil to join me the following year. We were finally safe. So far away from those nearest and dearest, whom would hurt us the most.
You would think adulthood would pull us out of the horror. Sadly, when you grow up with abuse and trauma as your daily diet, it becomes normal. Mom and Dad so successfully inculcated us in these values that they followed us wherever we went. Basil freely adopted the life of lying and stealing that he was brought up on. He learned well the lessons that laws don’t pertain to us… laws protecting children from abuse… or laws against thievery and fraud. Our country’s legal code didn’t exist in our world. Such is the result of mother’s milk that teaches you to shoplift and forge checks… and lie on a daily basis to escape a beating.
Inevitably, it catches up to you someday. And so, Basil got in trouble with the law. He took his own life to escape being sent to prison. He used my daddy’s .357 magnum long barrel. Father was so proud of that gun. He called it his “John Wayne gun,” though he supposedly bought it for my mother. Why are so many of these monsters gun collectors? My father was a WWII hero and a decorated flying ace. People tell me that a collection of firearms is common among veterans. But to use on their children? Mom always said it was the war that twisted him. Poor thing. She didn’t know him before the war. According to family, he was what he was what he always was… from beginning to ignoble end.
But Basil, he was something better. A kid brother that always grinned with mischief and joking his way out of our predicament. I never would have made it through without him. His spirit was so unassailable… until it wasn’t. Until he realized that living in this world would never square for him. What a devastating realization. To hope for years that things will be better once we grow up and get out on our own and can live our own lives. Only to find that your old life follows you and haunts you and won’t let you out of its greedy grasp.
I love Basil dearly and will always remember that bright smile (with the teeth). But I can’t get the kneeling Basil from popping up as the next image, on his knees, attempting to please an unappeasable brute. I will forever be stained with the grief of not knowing how to help him. But I am not that young child anymore. I am a grown and mature woman, now with her own children. Thankfully, finally living without daily trauma anymore. I am still here… only and because… I am standing for Basil.
If you are in crisis…
Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English and Spanish. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. Or reach out online at: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org