I wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that my older brother, Patrick, was a horrible person. Some people are drunkards because they find drinking to be pleasing, while others, like my brother, are merely trying to drown private hells. My brother could have easily beaten me bloody on any occasion, as he was four inches taller than me and twice as stout. On occasions when he had been drinking heavily, his belligerence only seemed to add to his stature. Yet, on every occasion in which I felt forced to defend either my ego or a woman’s honor, often both, my brother never fought back. Not once. Never.
This had always puzzled me. I’d watched him slam more than one man, and sometimes even a woman, against a wall or floor in a drunken rage. On June 5th, 1987, however, his secret hell poured from his his mouth along with the blood and saliva. We were fighting, and I had split his lip. It was somewhat of a happy accident. I had aimed for his right eye.
“Don’t stop,” he said, holding his head in his hands. He had sunk to his knees and the blood from his mouth was now pooling on the tiled floor of his kitchen. His black hair was soaked with sweat, as were his clothes.
“Oh, I won’t. Get up. I need to know that you’re not crippled or praying. Are you praying? I’m not sure God listens to drunks or rapists.”
He didn’t move. “If I get up, you’re going to have to kill it.”
“I’m not going to kill you, brother. I’m just going to beat the hell out of you for ripping Maggie’s dress. Now, get the fuck up off the floor!”
Maggie was a sweet, young blonde nurse I had been dating for almost three months. I’m not sure where she is now, but on this evening, she was in the living room crying loudly while my brother’s wife, Cynthia Louis, screamed and begged for the both of us to stop fighting. Thinking back, the entire episode is somewhat comical, since the dress Maggie was wearing was the most God awful thing I had ever seen. It was exaggeratedly large, resembling a small tent. My sister-in-law Cynthia always wore an incredible amount of makeup, like a beautifully painted tropical bird, and the harder she begged us to stop, the more the tears flowed down her face in little streams of blue, black, and pink.
“Kill it,” he shouted. “Just do it already.”
“Why the fuck would I kill you? Get up, God damn it. You’re making everyone upset.”
“Not me. It. Kill it.”
“What the hell is it?”
Nothing. Just more blood and drool.
“Are you deaf now? You ready to play nice?
He looks up at me.
“The pain of living.”
There are brief moments in life when all of the pieces of what puzzles you seem to fall into place, and you are left stunned, unable to move or even communicate the myriad emotions that possess you. This should have been one of those moments. This also would have been a great opportunity to embrace my brother, to tell him that I loved him deeply, to try to comprehend his inner suffering, to express a little empathy. Instead, I kicked him as hard as I could in the head.
I had figured that his hands would help soften the impact of the blow, and I was partially right. He saw the kick coming and moved to shield his face. Still, I succeeded at breaking his right hand, cracking his jawbone, loosening a few teeth, and knocking him unconscious. In the weeks that followed, the right side of his face would be badly blackened and his whole head would become terribly misshapen from swelling, like a large black and blue balloon. I would spend those weeks worrying if I had somehow damaged his brain, and hoping desperately that I was not going to go to jail.
I probably wouldn’t have had to worry about going to jail, but Cynthia had witnessed the whole dismal affair and immediately had a bat-shit-crazy moment. Like a good wife, she immediately called the police. Like a bad brother, I immediately ran into the living room, pulled a non-resistant Maggie from the couch, and fled. Although Maggie’s dress was probably large enough for the both of us to hide away in forever, we instead drove away in my car.
I’m pretty sure that Maggie dumped me that same evening. I can’t be totally sure, because I never bothered to call on her again after that. Some events make for perfect endings, and my brother’s bloodied head was a good way to end communication with Maggie and her closet full of pavilion-style dresses. I probably didn’t even have to worry too terribly about the police, since I lived in another state. My brother lived in Pensacola at the time, and I was renting a tiny apartment in Mobile. Then again, the police rarely seem to care where you live. So, I ended up spending most of my time worrying. Later, I would worry about why I had never taken the time to seriously contemplate it.
Now, everywhere I go, I see it. I see it on milk carton adverts of missing children. I see it on the faces of panhandlers hustling change downtown. I see it first thing in the morning, and it’s the last thing I see before going to bed.
Everywhere, nowhere, anywhere.
Look in the mirror. You’ll see it too.
The horrible pain of living.