The other day I received an email from a high school that I attended in Paris. (I have to applaud their Sherlock Holmes investigative work. I’ve changed my name twice since I attended high school.) The school was run for the children of military personnel, foreign service officers, and other embassy personnel. There might have been American kids there, but we were taught by European teachers. My chemistry teacher, for example, was Egyptian who spoke English with a French accent. It was a fascinating experience to attend that high school, but it was nothing like being in school in America.
(I didn’t go all four years there. My mother sent me to school in Switzerland, but that only lasted six months. They told her that I was too much an American. Go figure.)
The high school email was touting a reunion that they are having next year in Paris.
They asked me to verify if I was going to attend. Thank you, no, I said. What I wanted to tell them was that I have no earthly intention of revisiting my teenage years and all the attendant angst and trauma. Horrible things happened to me in my last two years of high school. I don’t want to remember those. However, growing up in Paris meant that I also have poignant and beautiful memories, like my first kiss on the steps of Montmarte at sunset over Paris.
Then they asked me if my brother, who was one year ahead of me, would be attending? Did I have his email so they could write him and ask? I had to tell them that my brother was dead. Of course that opened up the floodgates, especially after seeing his picture at seventeen years old. There was determination in his jaw line and his eyes. He went on to become a successful entrepreneur and the owner of two companies, with a house in San Antonio and one in Maui.
For the past few weeks the high school has sent me emails about my fellow classmates having birthdays. I recognized a few of my brother’s friends. He was very popular, being handsome, athletic, and personable. He only dated the prettiest girls and hung around with the coolest kids. He was the quintessential BMOC – Big Man on Campus. (I imagine it was rather galling for him to have such a nerdy loser for a sister.)
When I saw those announcements I found myself getting angry in a way that I haven’t been before. My brother died when he was fifty-five, which today is relatively young. He had an accident in his home, was knocked unconscious, and died of a brain bleed.
I didn’t realize that my brother had died until a few months after the fact. I’ve recounted the story before, how I Googled myself and discovered an obituary for my brother. Although we lived in the same city there was a barrier between us that I couldn’t pass. I tried, but it was only later that I realized why I couldn’t. Because there was so much mystery surrounding his death I requested his death certificate. He lived alone and one of his employees found him. The mystery was solved when I got the death certificate. He’d died exactly as my father had died: complications of alcoholism. He also died at the same age as my father, in the same month on almost the same day.
Addiction kills. It also kills relationships in families.
By the grace of God I found AA before my own alcoholism killed me. I wish I could’ve helped my brother, but I don’t know if Jerry would have listened to me or accepted my help in going to AA or any other treatment center. He had isolated himself so well that I didn’t even know he was having a problem with alcohol until after he was dead.
That’s another thing addiction does. It makes islands of us.
With every birthday announcement the high school sends me I am angry again. My brother should be alive. He should be planning on joining his high school friends. He should be laughing and recounting stories and enjoying his life.
Instead, his legacy is one of deep sadness.
Now when I think of those years I can’t help but remember Jerry. The memories are as cutting as a shard of glass. I will always regret that I didn’t do more to insert myself into his life. I should have ignored my own hurt and refused to take his silence or his rejection. I’m not saying it would have made a difference, but now I’ll never know.
Addiction will do that, too. It leaves you with too many memories and too damn many regrets.