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.

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?

Tragic Hero

I always knew there was something a little off about my brother (see Degrees of Reality – Bro 1). I figured that the fact that he hears voices can’t be a good sign, but my parents chalked it up to his being “immature.” He and I fought often as we were close in age. The usual really… At one point the four of us were sharing one small bedroom – triple bunk beds and a crib for the youngest. I slept on the middle bunk because the top was too close to the ceiling and gave me asthma trouble. Bro 1 slept on the top and every time he moved, the bed creaked and drove me batshit crazy. So I, of course, would threaten his life, saying that each time he moved, I’d punch the underside of the mattress so hard. And I did. I beat the shit out of that mattress.

We fought once over who should do the dishes, and I threw a Magic 8 Ball at his head. I’m starting to sound a little violent… but that’s the extent of it – I promise. He got me back by stealing my tooth from under my pillow as I slept, and putting it under his in the hope that the tooth fairy would bring him money instead of me.

Later, when he was about 16 or so and had his severe mental break at church camp (see Crazy), he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His wild behaviors had calmed down quite a bit when he was finally released from the hospital, but his mental illness was no longer shy. Sometimes, it was like he forgot that I was his sister and he would come on to me. Other times, he’d visit me at work and then take off sprinting into the employee-only back office area and run around like a maniac. He received no treatment for his illness because our father had convinced him it was a false diagnosis, which he still believes to this day.

Around this time, he met the love of his life. She, too, suffered from some mental illness as well as a serious blood disease. He decided that he would marry her when she was 17 and he was 18. I tried to talk to him about this decision once prior to the wedding. I told him that I was concerned, that he has some serious mental issues and so does she, and I’m worried that this union may not be the healthiest to start off from. He told me so sweetly confident that “she understands me” and that’s why it will work. So I supported him.

Their relationship was rocky, to say the least. Both were physically abusive to one another, and both abused drugs and alcohol. My sister-in-law was affiliated with a local gang, and when they would have a nasty breakup, she would send her gang-bangers out to f*** him up. With an axe and other terrifying weapons in broad daylight in a restaurant parking lot. However, they would usually just kiss and make up. Then, she got pregnant.

During this time, there were more fights and divorce was filed but was never finalized. Shortly after giving birth to my beautiful little niece, she committed suicide in the hospital at age 18.

My brother tried so hard to be the father his little girl deserved, but he had so much going against him. The unthinkable grief of a lost spouse, untreated mental illness, a history of drug abuse, and a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. It would be enough to bring anyone crashing to a destructive end. After a couple years of immense turmoil, it did.

He now faces life in prison for a string of armed robberies, drug trafficking, and other crimes. He said he had lost his job and was mad with grief and thinking that his wife’s death was his fault, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask for help. So he sought “easy” money, and even enjoyed the little bit of fleeting “power” he felt. He now takes full responsibility for his crimes, but struggles every single day to cope with his decisions. He has tried to take his own life twice while in prison. He needs psychological help. It’s what he’s needed all along.

I’m powerless in that I can do nothing to save him from this misery. All I can do is try to be there for him, but those fifteen-minute phone calls now and then hardly seem adequate.

I think about those sweet times in our backyard as children. I used to make him eat mud brownies. We used to try and dig to China. He always played Peter Pan and I was Tinker Bell.

My brother.

Degrees of Reality

Growing up, my father was abusive and my mother neglectful. Both suffer from mental illness, which has had a profound impact on my life and the lives of my siblings. My father had two loves in his life: himself and his money. He was extremely prideful, and a skilled actor when it came to maintaining appearances. We never knew what would send him into a fit of rage, and he was always sure to make it known that each of us were worthless nothings that he had to waste his money feeding and providing shelter. My mother was suicidal, and often in and out of mental health institutions. My father had this warped view of himself, that he was Job from the bible. That was his reality. The story goes that Job was so faithful, that God allowed Satan to test his faith by taking away every blessing from his life: his family, his home, etc. and still Job praised God. The difference is that my father serves only himself, and the chaos that surrounds him is in big part a result of his own evil actions.

Through all of the trauma we faced regularly, I had found hope through faith. Hope of having a better life one day, hope of experiencing love, and hope of future happiness.   My brothers did not have hope.

Sneaky T, 19, (refer to previous “Crazy” post) is a high school dropout, fresh out of prison, and has two children. Although he continues to struggle with pill-popping, he’s working full-time at a fast food joint. So I would say that he’s doing fairly well, considering. Sneaky C, 16, is fresh out of jail on drug charges and a soon-to-be high school dropout. He struggles with severe depression and occasional suicide attempts, but receives no treatment because of course, that would cost my father money. And Bro 1, 23, is facing life in prison on multiple armed robberies, assault, drug trafficking, etc. Bro 1 also has a beautiful young daughter who is now without a mother or father, as her mother committed suicide at 18. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, but manipulated by my father to believe it was a mistake and never received the needed treatment that could have changed his life.

My heart breaks every day for my three knuckle-head brothers and their families. Close friends ask me why I think my life took such a different path than my brothers. And for me, the answer is simple – hope. I had my faith to get me though, not that it wasn’t incredibly difficult. My brothers had nothing to give them hope. I tried and failed to give them some idea that they could have a better life.

And now, I work with homeless children who experience trauma similar to what my family experienced, but even more severe and compounded by the fact that they don’t know where they’ll sleep at night or if they’ll have dinner. The whole point of what we do for them each day is providing hope. Because hope makes all the difference.

Despite all of this, I am around people who complain about the fact that their spouse makes less money than they do and is too lazy to fix the garage door opener, or that mom bought little sister a boob job for a graduation present and all they got from mom was a nice camera. These people will complain about these things because that is their reality. A group of homeless children will pass by the door, and they’ll pause, smile and wave, and return to their self-proclaimed “first-world problems.”

Crazy

Family. Geez Louise. I hate when I’m at work or somewhere and people start jabbering on about their “crazy” mom or “crazy” sister or whoever. I feel like “crazy” is a term that is supremely overused. Perhaps your mom would more accurately be described as “annoyingly overbearing” or “cares so damn much about you that she wants to be a part of all areas of your life” or “depressed as shit.” Maybe your sister is “totes jelly of how cool and awesome you are so she steals your clothes and your boyfriends.” None of these fit the specifications that the term “crazy” demands, in my opinion.

As for my family, well… “crazy” is a fitting characterization. Let me elaborate: I have three younger brothers. Bro 1 is the oldest, Bro 2 is the middle child, and Bro 3 is the youngest little turd. Growing up, I always knew there was something seriously wrong with Bro 1. He didn’t ever seem to act “normal” in any given social situation. One day at church camp, Bro 1 had a total mental breakdown that lasted  for months. During this time, he tried to jump out of moving vehicles on the highway, tried to eat chicken bones and when someone tried to remove them, he fought the most epic of battles to keep those chicken bones in his possession, stopped speaking English and spoke a completely made up language, flashed people, acted like he was an amazing guitar player when he had in fact never played and when a nurse brought him a guitar, he confidently serenaded us with the most horrible sounds for hours, and tried to remove invisible swords and demons from his stomach. After being diagnosed as a bit of a schizo, he was released back into the world for more shenanigans.

Bro 2 is not as literally crazy as Bro 1. He’s more of a crazy-ass drug addict who makes many poor life decisions. Bro 2, also known as “Sneaky T”, started drugging it up at the tender age of 11. Sneaky T was always so “cool” among his other druggie friends. He started the crazy fun off with some burglary, drinking and driving, etc. And when he made it to the age of 15, this guy made a baby. Brilliant. At this point, he drops out of school and starts messing with heavier stuff, and robs a convenient store. Finally, at 18 he makes baby number two, and gets caught driving a stolen vehicle carrying loads of meth with the intent to sell. To prison he goes! Crazy.

And here comes Bro 3, known by his peers by the esteemed nickname “Sneaky C.” As you can probably guess, Sneaky C idolizes the remarkably dignified Sneaky T, and wants to be just like him. Prison definitely ups the cool factor of young men these days. Sneaky C’s young life is riddled with emotional Facebook statuses, failed suicide attempts, and drugs. Fortunately, he has not fathered any children as of yet, but he does advertise his sexual exploits and drug selling on social media for all of the world to see. Crazy!

My parents, you ask? Well, stay tuned. I don’t want to frighten you away just yet. I have to slowly unveil the crazy. And myself? You can be the judge.

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