Degrees of Responsibility

Whose ultimate responsibility is it when a child commits murder? Is it solely their own? The parents’? The teachers’? The community?

My brother, a minor, was charged with first degree murder. And these are only some of the questions that keep me awake at night.

Prior to this charge, I would look into his broken, tortured eyes and remember his younger self. Images of his sweet, happy face would haunt my mind. I could see him, aged somewhere between 5 and 8, gleefully trying his hardest to break dance in the middle of the living room. I remember the poems he wrote, beautiful. The songs he would write. The laughter. His smile. His face so innocent. So earnest. I, a child myself, was his primary caregiver until about 8. Life was difficult, but he hadn’t been completely broken yet.

Fast forward to his early teen years and the difference in his countenance was extreme. He’d continued to go through years of abuse and neglect even after I’d left. Our father was physically, verbally, and psychologically abusive to us all. Our mother was seemingly indifferent and asleep. It took me a couple of excruciating years to get my younger siblings removed from that place, placing them in my mother’s care. Then, in a devastating blow, my mother gave up on him and told him to go back and live with our father because she didn’t care anymore.

My brother lived with our father from then on, knowing that neither of his parents wanted him around. He felt so alone. His older brothers went off and developed drug addictions and criminal records and struggled with mental illness. As for me, his older sister, I struggled to cope with years of trauma and withdrew from everyone, in a sense, abandoning him as well.

At school, he was constantly in trouble or suspended or expelled. Teachers hated him. He lived to be accepted by his peers, a “rough” crowd. The more trouble he got in, the cooler he seemed to be with this crowd. He saw their acceptance as his only opportunity for a sense of belonging. Teachers and counselors should see these behaviors as cries for help. Yet, no one bothered. He failed classes. He got into drugs. He became addicted. He began stealing things for cash because his parents didn’t provide for him and the cash also helped his addiction.

There was a period of time where there were a slew of suicide attempts. Still, he received no help from anyone. More and more unimaginable trauma continued to stack up.

I begged our parents to get out of their own asses and do something. For the love of God. I researched programs. I called child protective services. I pleaded with them without success. I pleaded with my brother. He would just look at me with those sad, broken eyes. He would say something like “Why even try? What’s the point? I’m just worthless. And I don’t give a shit.” He’d say this with tears in his eyes, red-faced, but with a small, fake (defeated) smile.

So I don’t know if he committed the crime or not. I have no idea. There is no conviction at this time. I find myself going round-and-round in my mind trying to make sense of it all. The sweet, tender-hearted boy I know would not be capable. But he wasn’t that boy anymore. He was broken. Drug addicted. Beat down. Out of his mind and hopeless. Lost.

I know that none of that is an acceptable reason to take someone else’s life. And I am so completely horrified that this person is gone. That this family has suffered such a terrible loss. And that my brother could have had something to do with it. I am simply in such shock that I cannot even process the implications of this.

I’m just wondering aloud about the responsibility. This child, my brother, was raised under such horrendous circumstances. For the most part, without love and without guidance. Only beaten and broken, physically and psychologically. Is the blame solely his? What about the father who beat him? What about the mother who neglected his needs? What about the teacher that felt he wasn’t worth teaching? The brothers that left him in the dust and set terrible examples? The community that saw signs of abuse but didn’t report it? What about me? I knew he was on a destructive path, but I didn’t do everything in my power to intervene. Are we all responsible?

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Engaged Against Her Will

My mom once called me in the middle of the night from a bar. She was pretty wasted and it was my 16th birthday. She said that she found me a man at the bar, showed him my picture, and he liked what he saw. He wanted to wish me a happy birthday. Oh, and he also wanted to see if I’d be interested in hooking up. I was 16. This man sounded like he was over 30. But my mom assured me that he was hot and she would give him my number. I was disgusted and sad. She also passed the phone to her girlfriend that she had left us for so she could wish me a happy birthday as well. Memories.

I met up with my mother for coffee the other day. I had recently been thinking a lot about trauma and how traumatic events shape different people in different ways. I knew that she had an unfortunate childhood, but I didn’t know many details. So when we met for coffee I asked about it. The nonchalant way she proceeded to describe horrifying details about years of sexual abuse by many different people surprised me. It was surprising to me because I feel that what happened to her as a child was absolutely devastating, and I feel like that devastation had a profoundly negative effect on the rest of her life. Because she never got the help that she needed, it adversely affected decisions she made as an adult and her role as a mother. For this reason, I bounce back and forth between feeling anger towards her for the poor choices she continues to make, causing more harm to my younger siblings and herself, and making excuses for her behavior.

Toward the end of the conversation, she surprises me with a “Well okay, you’re coming with me next door to meet my fiancé.” What? Your divorce from my father was just finalized last week – you sure you don’t want to give it a little time? Nah. My mom told me that her fiancé, I’ll call her Rita, had asked her a week before Valentine’s Day what she would say in response to a V-Day proposal. My mom responded that she wasn’t ready for anything like that. But Rita is persistent. Come V-Day, she popped the question. With much hesitation, my mom said “Umm… okay…” Let me also tell you that Rita is dying of cancer. She could pass any day. (My mom is currently doing radiation for her cancer.) My mom said she “doesn’t see anything long-term with Rita”… so she agreed to marry her, but refuses to set a date…

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