Letter To My Brother, A Murderer

8655428106_1f26bf2ccb_zToday is your 17th birthday. I can’t believe it. Looking back at old pictures of you as a little boy, your face is just the same. Only now, your eyes are sadder.

I’m sorry I haven’t written you back. I’ve been desperately searching for the right words, but I don’t think they exist. Please forgive me if I say something stupid.

I too wish that we could go back to the day of my wedding and the dance we shared. It is one of my favorite photos. It reminds me of how much fun we used to have when we were younger. Do you remember the songs and poems you used to write and recite for us? Or when you used to try and break dance? You were such a goof, always making us laugh. Your eyes sparkled, your smile beautiful.

I love you so much. I’ve always cared about you so much, worried about you, wanted to help you. Did you know? Did you know that I loved you all this time? It used to hurt me to see your social media posts about how absolutely no one cared about you. Because I did. And I thought I had made that clear. But it always felt like you just wanted to push me away. I felt like I would stick my neck out for you, or try to help you or love you and you didn’t care. Or it didn’t matter. And I wonder now if you even knew. Or if I went about it the wrong way.

I wish you had trusted me enough to let me in. I wish we knew each other better.

I won’t lie to you: I’m angry. I’m beyond angry with you for what you did, what has happened. I’m angry with our parents too, for both what they did and what they didn’t do. I’m mad at myself for not having had the answers to everything, for not knowing how to help or make things better, and for not being a better sister. I won’t be angry at you forever. But I am now.

I wonder if you can have any idea of the ripple effects of the decisions you’ve made. I wonder if you’ll ever fully know. How you affected her family and friends and friends of her family, how you’ve impacted our family and friends. How it’s affected me, my relationship with my husband, my work, how I relate to people in general.

But mostly I wonder why. WHY? Maybe you don’t even know the answer yourself. Maybe why doesn’t even matter. But the question haunts me.

What do you think lead you up to this point? I could certainly make some guesses, but I want to hear what you think. What were the things that lead you here?

No matter what, I am your sister. And I will love you. I hope you know that your life is not over. The life you knew is over, yes. But your life still has purpose, even if most or all of it is lived in prison. So don’t give up.

Happy birthday, baby brother. You’re not alone.

I hope to hear from you.




Is it me? Am I the crazy one? Or is it happenstance? Does everyone else find themselves surrounded by truly unique, bewildering, and sometimes incredibly frustrating individuals? From discussions I’ve had recently, I’m finding that I may have a higher-than-average ratio of strange:ordinary characters running amuck in my life. There is of course, the clusterfuck that is my family. But I’ve included a snippet of the others below. You be the judge.

Abby: She lives for the shock factor, for the attention. Her boss considers her a “visionary” in what she does for homeless kids. My experience with her causes me to question that description. This is a woman in her mid-to-late thirties who has two children of her own. At our place of work, I’d lock eyes with her occasionally as I pass her in the cafeteria with a group of first graders eating lunch and she’d hump the air while fake-grunting with her tongue sticking out. When a child tattles on another, she’d respond “Snitches wind up in ditches.” I come to her with a suggestion on how to improve a process that would help us serve more children and serve them better in the long run, but she responds “Oh, I don’t care about that. I won’t be here any more than 5 years – let’s just leave it as is.” She comes to work often with stories that illustrate what a terrible mother she is, seemingly proud of that fact. She tells us she screams at her 8-year-old daughter and tells her she’s a little bitch. She is “training her son to be gay” because it would be hip for her to have a gay son. I once bought her cheap flowers as her “secret pal” for her birthday and when she saw them, she started yelling on and on about what a cheap bastard her husband is and always has been for getting her cheap, ugly flowers. She also has a Poop Problem that she is oddly proud of. She drinks nothing but coffee and liquor and is quite constipated. However, a nice, hot shower is what can make the magic happen– in the shower. Then, she has to stuff the poo down the drain. Occasionally, there are plumbing issues which terrifies her – she doesn’t want her husband to know. Also, sticking a finger up there and wiggling around is another viable option that works for her, she says. She claims the Poop Problem has given her PTSD. Her Facebook feed is full of close-ups of her face (she’s the selfie queen) and snapshots of a glass of alcohol next to her latest knitting project at a hip bar, with a caption like “Cheers to you, Friday, love of my life.”

Maddy:This is a woman that reports to me, and keeps a regular appointment of rolling around on my office floor at 3:00pm each day to relieve stress or complain. She keeps toys on her desk for stress relief. Her therapist tells her to blow bubbles from a bottle to calm herself. She’s in EA (Eaters Anonymous) and calls herself “sober” and discusses her disease as if she were a drug addict (so eating badly/too much is considered “using”). One of my first experiences with her involved her telling a story to myself and the CEO during a meeting about a boil on her vagina that she cut off while her husband held up a mirror. She feels that everyone in the office treats her poorly/unfairly/rudely, and won’t consider that she may be coming off as abrasive herself.

Boss Lady: This woman hired someone with social work education and background for a social media job, and hired someone who has lost 4 loved ones (one right in front of her) to suicide and is extremely emotional (hasn’t processed her grief fully) for a director-level suicide prevention gig. And when that doesn’t work well, she feels very frustrated. She’s a sorority girl who is a leader of an organization, and focuses her efforts on fun and games and personality tests and parties. She began talking with a man on a phone app game and it led to email exchanges, and when the man’s wife found out, she began harassing her at work and home with threatening calls. Boss Lady says it wasn’t cheating (she’s married herself), but she’s sure her gamer friend would have had an affair with her if had the chance and it felt nice to have the attention. She asked me if this whole fiasco made me feel better about my child brother being a murderer.

Alexis: She slapped me across the face on the first day I met her, apologizing, saying she’d always wanted to do that to someone. She was my best friend throughout high school, and we drifted apart in college. Our friendship mostly consisted of her crying and my trying to figure out what was wrong. She struggled with depression even into her adult life, crying at the office every day and not knowing why.  We’d go dancing and she’d cry because no boys wanted to dance with her, then she’d cry when a boy would dance with her but she couldn’t feel that he had a boner- feeling she wasn’t hot enough for him to get one. Without telling a soul, she started online dating and drove by herself to another state to meet her now-husband for the first time who was living in a basement of someone’s house with a 22-pound cat and stayed the weekend with him, losing her virginity. Now that they’re married, he’s the stay-at-home dad who convinced her that it’s illogical to go to the theater to see a romantic comedy (her favorite). It’s so expensive – you have to see an action flick, otherwise, you’re not getting your money’s worth. She made a huge deal about designing and building their first house, which took over a year. A few months after moving in, she decides she’d like to change things up and move to another state just because she’s bored with her life. She always used to talk condescendingly to me because she comes from a wealthy family, and I come from a poor, broken, dysfunctional family. Knowing how painful my family situation was for me, she’d say things like “Well, the good thing about not really having a family is that you don’t have to waste your vacation time visiting them, right? Isn’t that nice?”

Roberta: This one is far superior to her husband and wants everyone to know that. She repeatedly tells her favorite story to coworkers about how her mother asked her if she was sure about her choice of husband on her wedding day years ago, saying she could do much better. She comes to work each day with a new complaint about something her husband forgot to do or something else he screwed up. She complains constantly about everything. Her mother favors her sister and buys her way more stuff than her mom buys for her. Her smoothie cup went missing at work one day and all hell broke loose. She went nuts for several days – not working- just complaining loudly for all to hear, interrogating suspect coworkers, sending passive aggressive emails, all for her $6 cup. There was a repeat episode when a few of her string cheeses wound up in the garbage. She also comes in and VERY LOUDLY announces that “man, I worked so late last night. And then I worked from home. And then I woke up early and worked before I came to work. Man, I work so much. OMG, more emails in my inbox? ARRRGHHH, they never stop coming! I work so hard! Ah!”

Marva: She is a past supervisor who would always attempt to take credit for my ideas and work. She spent most of her time gossiping with coworkers and “stirring the pot”, sitting back, and watching the drama unfold. She once told me “I don’t think the Receptionist should be introducing herself to people when they walk in. It’s weird and unprofessional.”

What’s the ratio like in your life? Are you also a magnet?

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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