I’ve spent every day for the past week thinking about how to write this letter to you. I’ve spent every day for the past six months thinking about how to write this letter to you. I’ve spent every day for the past ten years thinking about how to write this letter to you.
It’s been years since I’ve had a conversation with our parents that didn’t end up being about you. It’s been years since a holiday came and I didn’t wonder if you’d be there, if you’d be sober, if you’d bring a stranger, if you’d bought us gifts, if you’d pawn the gifts being given to you, if you would steal the money that I was gifted. It’s been years since our parents have been able to leave the house, whether for a night out or for a vacation, without wondering what furniture would get ruined from the strung-out strangers you allowed into their home, how much of our mother’s jewelry would end up decorating the hands of thieves and pawn shop cabinets, which of our family’s heirlooms, passed down for generations, you would have realized the monetary value of and taken with you off into the night. It’s been years since our phones have been able to ring with an unknown number without our stomachs dropping and the thought that you’re dead splashing across our minds. It’s been years since anyone had a candid photo of you, the only photos being ones snapped during a fleeting moment when you were both present and agreeable, with us awkwardly standing next to one another, not sure how our bodies are supposed to fit together.
When I look back at pictures of our mom from years ago, I can see the pain developing in her eyes and the joy bleeding out of her face. Our dad is in pain too, but he handles it differently. They walk on eggshells in their own home; around each other, so the talk of you doesn’t widen the fractures that stress has pounded into their relationship; around you, not wanting to bring on an unwarranted explosion of verbal abuse by asking too many questions. You have a sickness, but you’re not alone. You try to tame and quiet your demons with drugs. Our parents, with alcohol and baseball. I, with food and useless household supplies. We’ve all got things to work on and figure out. We can all do better and be better.
Sometimes when one of the dogs is doing something silly or you’re showing me a funny video, your face scrunches up in laughter and I can see the brother I recognize. I remember the boy who made friends with strangers everywhere we went. The boy who, as soon as the dice hit the table, knew exactly where each game piece would move on the game board. The boy who would groan and roll his eyes with me when Mom would wake us up for early morning flights by singing and throwing our doors open. The boy who was small, but fast. The boy who opened automatic doors by hopping up to engage the sensor. The boy who sat inside a huge purple bucket, carried unevenly by its rope handles, while being called “Sultan Scott.” The boy who spent hours inside the hot-tub-now-turned-fishpond doing miniature IMs and breathing the air captured under overturned buckets like antique scuba divers. But I am remembering a child. I don’t know the man you’ve become.
The city where I live is congested with young, homeless, white men. Their arms are covered in fuzzy tattoos, gaping sores, and crusted scabs. Their hands and ankles are swollen from infected injections. Their clothes and skin and hair all turns the same brownish yellow, from the sun and the rain and the drugs and the dirt At every stoplight, in each one of their eyes, I see you. I wonder who knows where they are and how much they hurt and how much their families hurt and how many of their friends they’ve watched die and what it would take for them to feel worthwhile enough to save their own lives.
I know that I can’t really understand the pain and anxiety and depression that lives inside you, but I understand the feeling of shame, simmering up from the pit of your stomach, sending waves of nauseating heat across your face. I understand the feeling of anxiety, the crushing pressure on your chest, the desperately racing thoughts, searching for an escape. I understand the feeling of loneliness and how painful it can be to feel lonely and misunderstood and judged and different around the people who you should feel the most comfortable with.
Intellectually, I know it’s a bad idea to compare your life to what you see on television and movies. Even to the lives of your friends. But when I see siblings who are friends, every time I grieve the loss of the person who could’ve been my best friend. I don’t know if we’ll ever be close enough to take a road trip across the country to see the Grand Canyon or to have matching tattoos or to eat dinner across a table from one another but that’s okay.
I have loved you since before I can remember knowing what love was and I will keep loving you until I forget my own name. You’re my brother and you are my parents’ son and, even after the past ten years of trauma, letting you go will the the hardest thing any of us has ever done. But we can’t help you decide that your life is valuable. We can’t help you commit to the daily work that is involved with managing and overcoming addiction. The work ahead of you is difficult and I hope that you don’t feel like we are abandoning you to do this work alone. We are ready to say our final goodbyes the stranger who has been wearing your body for years, but we are ready to meet the brother and the son we’ve all been missing for so long.