I'm having one of those 'why can't I remember to breathe?' evenings. Except that, tonight, I know perfectly well why breathing regularly seems such an ordeal...
There's been another flurry of emails between my sister Barbara in Florida, my brother Glenn in Texas, and little me, here in New Jersey, about our other brother George, in Oregon. The flurry of emails recounts the essence of a flurry of phone calls, to case workers, lawyers, 'impartial court-appointed observers', George's temporary guardian, and George himself, from time to time. Plus assorted other folks who add their observations from time to time, to no apparent benefit to anyone.
George appears to be angry that no one has come to visit him in 10 or 20 years. His temporary guardian appears to be angry because she's had to front her own money to help George pay his living expenses. Someone who we don't know who he is, is angry because Glenn and Barbara call George's temporary guardian, to find out what exactly is wrong with George, and whether he's well enough to go and stay with Barbara in Florida for a while. Glenn is angry because he can't reach anyone who can give him a straight answer as to why everyone seems to have legal representation in this matter, except George. Barbara is angry because the temporary guardian is angry, and the someone who we don't know who he is has been peremptory and rude to her. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Governor of Oregon is angry about this too, somehow.
The lawyers don't seem to care, one way or the other.
And I'm angry too. I'm angry that George set himself on this course to self-destruction, by mistreating himself physically, in spite of the fact that, as a trained emergency-room nurse, he had every reason to understand and foresee what the results of his drinking and smoking would be. I'm angry that George continues to be so irritatingly coy about even admitting that he has lung cancer -- a fact we all know from public records -- and then complains that no one has come to his aid. I'm angry at the shambles George has made of his life -- multiple marriages, children he's either abandoned or denied fathering in the first place, estranged ex-wives and step-children, and a consistent squandering of his considerable intelligence and skills. I'm angry that, when George had a court-mandated opportunity to enter into therapy, he managed to dodge this responsibility, thus helping to seal himself into this fatal spiral of self-neglect and self-pity.
And of course, I'm angry that all of this was clearly set in motion by actions for which George bears no responsibility, but for which he will, to all appearances, pay with his life. I'm angry that his mother thought so little of the products of her own body that, when she'd gotten the divorce she wanted, and had custody of her only daughter, she began instructing that little girl that the boys she used to play with all the time weren't her brothers, but were just neighbor kids. I'm angry that my father -- though nominally more responsible toward his children than their mother was -- managed, continually, to abandon his sons to the whimsical cruelties dreamed up by his second wife and her dire mother, and all without leaving the house. I'm angry that George learned, first-hand, that he was worthless and expendable and unimportant.
And perhaps worst of all, I'm angry that all of this has erupted, dragging me back into the hopeless maelstrom that seems to be my life with at least some members of my immediate family. I know I should be ashamed of myself for this -- that I should be more energized, like Barbara, who is offering her own home to a brother she doesn't really know all that well. I should be more actively involved in all this, like Glenn -- calling one phone number after another, drafting and mailing registered letters to lawyers and social workers. Instead, I dread the idea of planning a trip to the West Coast, to go out into who knows what wilderness, to a trailer park, to see this brother about whom I used to be so protective when we were children, but who has become some strange wreck of a man in the intervening 50+ years. He has no teeth of his own anymore. He's lost a significant amount of weight. His skin is dried and weathered-looking (we had a visit three years ago, when I was in Portland for a glass conference), and he's missing a finger on his right hand, because...
During a bad patch in his third marriage, George made a plan. He went to my father, and asked to borrow my father's hand gun. To do some target practice, George said. My father obliged. But George wasn't telling my father the truth. There was no target practice on the schedule.
Instead, George took the gun, and drove out to Allegheny County Airport, where he had an accounting job with a local air freight business. The airport has a small bar on the grounds, frequented mostly by pilots and other workers from the vicinity. George went into the bar, pulled out the gun, and announced that he was holding everyone in the place hostage, while he decided whether or not to commit suicide. What George couldn't know was that, among the few patrons in the place, were two off-duty police officers, each of whom had his service revolver within easy reach. At some point in this ordeal, while George was distracted by making a call from a wall phone, one of the officers pulled his gun, and shot my brother. The bullet hit George's right elbow, traveled up along the ulna and exited through his right hand, smashing his right ring finger.
George was taken to a hospital, where he was kept under armed guard while the doctors tried to fix his wounds. While he was recuperating, his wife managed to intercede with the judge who was handling the charges against my brother. Because the only person injured in this folly was George himself, the judge was able to offer two options: stand trial and go to prison for the various laws George had broken, or take a battery of vocational aptitude tests, and if a suitable career path seemed to be indicated, pursue the requisite training to redirect his life. Plus, undergo regular psychological counseling. All at state expense. In one of the more lucid decisions I've known George to make, he picked the vocational option.
Tests pointed to a possible aptitude for nursing. George excelled in his classes. He completely evaded the therapy. A year after the shooting, because his wounded hand was closing in on itself, George's ring finger had to be amputated. Meanwhile, my father -- who had loaned George the gun in the first place -- told his drinking buddies,more than once, that since his son was going to be a nurse, George would probably start wearing a skirt.
There are a lot of things I'm angry about. I'm so angry, I think it has literally broken my heart.
So I forget to breathe. And I hate to go to bed, because I know I'll dream. And I have a pretty good idea of the things I'll dream about. George may be wandering around in a trailer park in Oregon, on the strictly physical plane. But for me, those thousands of miles don't matter. He might as well be sitting here, in the chair opposite me, glaring at me because of some imaginary harm I've done him, and determined to punish himself and everyone within reach, for the life in which he finds himself inextricably, and fatally, entangled.
© 2012 Walter Zimmerman