A brothers memoir


David Aaron O'Scanlon

There is a dead spider at the bottom of the light cover. A clear globe. Been hanging there for years. The globe, and probably the spider. I never noticed - either, until now...staring straight up at it. Walked under it a thousand times..grabbing a slice of pizza...laughing with friends...over the years. My brother's house. Hugging him...fighting with him...laughing with him...pleading with him...worrying about him...and always, loving him. Stood right here a dozen times over the last year...silent...holding my breath...staring at him in his chair...so still...wondering, is he asleep?....or is this it? Then he’d breathe and wake with a start. Happy to see me. Not knowing that for a long moment just before I stood on the edge...of life with him and life without him. No matter what, always praying for the former. Alcoholism had taken its ugly toll on him, on us. But the fighting now, his and mine....and ours, is over.

Now I stand here...staring up, at that dead spider...shriveled up in the light fixture. This time knowing...my brother...my tumultuous friend, my love....of the past 50 years...was upstairs, right above this light..dead. The police and first aid were there, not yet breaking the news. But I knew the feigned urgency. I knew he was gone well before they told me. Well before we broke down the door. Before I pulled into the lot, the tears I’d avoided for so long, were there.

It’s been just over a year since that day. And I’m not sure why I write now. I started out telling myself it might help other families struck with addiction to know they’re not alone. But it may really be as much about a selfish desire for absolution, or at least confession, as anything noble. Absolution for everything I didn’t do. Maybe every family member of every addict feels this way at some point. For those that have, or still do, you’re not alone. That’s all I have to offer, for whatever small value’s there. 

My brother was a great man. He was fun and talented and smart. He loved his kids with all his heart and hated that alcohol was keeping them from him, and he knew, would eventually take him away from all of us. He was funny as hell and had a memory of our childhood better than mine even after decades of self abuse. He could balance a table on his chin and sound more like an Irishman than anyone born and raised there. 

There is of course the guilt. No matter how much you do...there will always be the times you stopped at the corner and consciously decided to turn the other way and go home rather than visit with him...even though you knew he was lonely and even though you knew he might....not be there next time. Because you were selfish and just wanted to get home and just couldn't deal with what condition he might be in. Now, I wish I could go by...just let him be there...one more, just ONE more...time. 

The last time I saw Dave I took him shopping just a few days before he died. Nothing unusual - he wasn't feeling well, which wasn't at all unusual. 

We unloaded the groceries. He bought Tree Tavern frozen pizza. Our mother used to swear by Tree Tavern frozen pizza - box hasn't changed in 40 years - and we joked about that, that even to that day, after she'd been gone 33 years, our mother was still with us and still influenced our lives. And she does, from the choice of our frozen pizza, to the moral choices we make that define us as decent men...to the alcoholism that killed her and we both knew was doing the same thing to him. 

Dave went into his living room to sit in his chair. I unpacked the groceries and left without going in to give him a hug, not because I was late to get somewhere else but because today, I was angry - not overtly, but the always simmering anger that loved ones feel toward addicts that sometimes can’t help but make us want to....walk away for a little while. Today - that last day I'd see my brother alive - was just one of those days. Maybe it was his saying he couldn't understand why he wasn't feeling well....as if it simply slipped his mind that he'd consumed thousands of gallons of a substance over decades - several of those gallons in the past week - that we all knew was destroying him.

Dave and I grew up in Little Silver in an idyllic neighborhood. Behind our well-kept front door we were a family dealing with the abusive horror show of addiction when people didn’t talk about it. Alcohol addiction consumed our mother as my brother and I helplessly watched her slow-motion-suicide. 

My brother was the unlucky one to inherit the darkness. The random genetic coin flip that makes the difference between hugging your brother on his 80th birthday, or burying him at 50.

When Dave hugged you it was like being hugged by a huge bear...who wanted to love you rather than eat you. I was his big brother...but he was the HUGE brother! And I thank God every day, and will every day for the rest of my life, that this man was MY brother. Even now, knowing how it all turned out. I would go back and do it all again. Forever. Over and over with more joy each time...hugging him goodbye EVERY time, until God realizes he shouldn’t take him yet....or until I understand why he must.

I miss my brother every day. Every day. The day I sold his condo I stood in the same spot I did when he was alive and the night he died. The lighting fixture...the spider...my brother are all gone. I wish I could have them all back, just for one moment. Just one. Just like so many other family members of so many addicts. Each one, a love lost....a heart broken...a potential...unrealized. Godspeed my brother. I love you.

Showing 1 reaction

  • Art Gallagher
    published this page in Op-Eds 2018-03-30 16:17:41 -0400
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