I Need to Know

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Photo credit: Scott Liddell

I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked, Brother, about 4 months. Here’s why: I’m struggling. I don’t feel like I can talk to you about normal, everyday shit until I have some answers. I was there for your last court appearance. I heard what you said. But I don’t really buy it. I feel like there’s got to be more to it than that. So can we finally talk about it?

You said in court that the reason you all decided to rob and eventually kill her is that you wanted some money for pot. Is that the truth? I don’t believe it. If you wanted some cash for drugs and somehow thought that robbing someone you know would be something you could get away with without killing her, that doesn’t make sense at all. Because if you knocked her out, robbed her, then she woke up and would know it was you who did it. So were you planning to kill her from the beginning? If so, then WHY?

I understand that your partner was jealous of her and that serves as her motive, but what the hell was yours? Why would you do something so terrible and so stupid over drug money? And you weren’t even under the influence of drugs at the time! That does not compute. I’m not an idiot. I know there’s more to the story. And I need to know. Can you tell me now? Now that it’s been 2 years? I can’t wait for the trial for answers, and I doubt I would get any then either. And you didn’t even seem remorseful on the witness stand. You shed no tears. No apology. Does it not seem real to you? Do you not realize the depth of what you’ve done?

I’m so MAD at you. I’m so damn disappointed. I’m filled with so much anger toward you, toward everyone. I feel like I don’t know who you are. I can’t reconcile the Brother that I know and the Brother that was up there on the witness stand those months ago without further explanation. I can’t talk to you on the phone and pretend everything’s alright because it’s not alright. I’m not alright. My heart is broken. My mind is confused. I’m racked with guilt. I don’t know what to think about anything and I’m tired of not knowing. I need to know in order to get passed this and move on. I need to know in order to have a relationship with you.

Can you please explain?

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You Killed Him

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You killed my brother.

You told him he was nothing and he believed you.

That’s what you do. You kill people. The very people you were given the responsibility to protect.

You terrorized your child who depended on you for love and survival and starved him of that love. You convinced him that he will hunger for love for the rest of his life because he is undeserving of it.

You beat him at the drop of a hat. You berated him. You humiliated him. You taught him to hate himself.

You instilled fear in him as you tortured and broke the dog he loved so dearly.

You made his mind sick with the chronic trauma you inflicted on him in his childhood years.

You were glad that he was locked up for murder as a child because you were free. Now you could play the role of the victim and the saint.

YOU KILLED HIM. YOU KILLED HIM. YOU killed him.

You haven’t killed me.

Death

“Your sister’s dead.” – Text message from my mother. 7807695890_90e7f24c3f_z

We were training for a sky dive when I told my brother I thought he might be making a big mistake with this marriage. I told him something to the effect of two wrongs don’t make a right – he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia not too long before and I had some serious concerns about her mental health as well. Our father had convinced him that his schizophrenia had been a misdiagnosis, so he never received any treatment. I was afraid that without either of them getting the help they needed that this marriage would be a jump without a parachute. He just laughed and told me that that’s exactly why they’re so perfect for each other – they understand each other better than anyone else ever would. So, terrified, we leaped out of that plane.

Their marriage was certainly rocky. They were children, she was only 17 and he was 18. They beat on each other. They both abused drugs. They’d have a fight or temporarily break up, and my brother would be jumped by a gang she was affiliated with, axe-wielding members taking aim at his face. They’d forgive each other and begin again. Shortly after they were married, my brother put a baby in her. She was very pregnant when my brother filed for divorce in June. She had the baby shortly thereafter, and in mid-August, I got the text while I was at work. A TEXT MESSAGE. My sister-in-law, 18 and with a newborn, had committed suicide.

I’m not sure if they would have gone through with the divorce or if it was just another little fight. I know my brother absolutely loved her. And now he was left with a beautiful baby girl who looks just like her mommy, a broken heart, a sick mind, and so much uncertainty. My sister’s death really fucked my brother up. I’m sure he felt that it may have been partially his fault having filed for divorce a month or so before, and her being pregnant. I’m sure it hurt to look into his daughter’s beautiful face. I’m sure he had no idea how to be a father or how to live without his wife.

He tried to work, but would have to miss here and there when his daughter was sick or daycare plans fell through. He got fired from his job for his absences. He got fired from his next job. He’s grieving, trying to figure out how to be a father, battling the demons in his mind, and now can’t pay his bills or hold on to a decent job. He lost his mind, spiraled into the darkness. He committed armed robberies of convenient stores and robbed other drug dealers, and dealt some himself. He was arrested and sentenced to hell on earth, decades in prison, missing the entire childhood of his daughter and then some.

In prison, he continues to deteriorate. He starves, eating food off the floor if he has the chance. He’ll experience episodes of psychosis, and hears demons telling him that he’s the Anti-Christ. They tell him to eat his own shit. That he should just kill himself. And he tries. During these episodes, he gets put into solitary confinement, the most excruciating torture imaginable. Leaving him to face his demons alone, screaming.

My brother is not dead. He still has a life to live. But I seem to be grieving him. It feels as if he’s been completely lost. Like I don’t know him anymore. When I talk to him, I’m talking to a stranger. He’s more and more frequently attempting suicide. I haven’t spoken to him in weeks because of this. I’m terrified that one of these days he will be successful in his attempt. This fear looms over me each day. With every phone call, my heart skips a beat. I don’t know if I could handle another text message from my mother.

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?

I Wish I Could Ctrl + Alt + Delete You?

Ctrl Alt Del

Clusterfuck

/ˈkləstərˌfək/

noun

A disastrously mishandled situation or undertaking.

As in: I recently visited my prison brother, and the experience was quite the clusterfuck. Let me set the scene…

On the night before the visit, my husband and I attended a concert at the state fair. My husband was terribly bored, leading us to leave early, and somehow turned into an incredibly stupid fight. We both anger-walked out to the car, hardly speaking, and then were pulled over shortly after leaving the parking lot, making the evening even sweeter.

The next day, I left work early for the visit. I pull into the lot much earlier than required and for a split second, I was feeling peaceful, happy to see my brother, and glad to be early to something for a change. I was ready to jam out to some music and collect my thoughts. Then, I realized – SHIT. I don’t have my FREAKING driver license. I had put it in my pocket for the fair and it was left on my nightstand. So I immediately enter panic mode and race home like a maniac, sprint inside, grab my I.D. and drive like a mad idiot all the way back. I’m late, but the visit time hasn’t begun yet so I may be in luck.

I run to the prison doors and enter. A very strange lady prison guard is standing by the metal detector, and continues to have random abrupt fits of laughter. I get through and head to the visitation room. The woman in charge sees me and exclaims, “Oh, no. You can’t do visitation in that.” WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, LADY? She responds, “Don’t you know our dress code? Nothing see-through is allowed”, referring to my (new) blouse I wore to work. See-through?? “It’s just my arms!” I say. It’s my freaking brother, for crying out loud. She says it’s not allowed, but fortunately is feeling generous so she also mentions that there is a dollar store around the corner if I hurry.

I have minutes until visitation starts. So I whip around, power walk out to my car and remember that my husband’s jacket is in the trunk. I don’t know if it will work, but I throw it on and run back inside. The aggressive laugher wiggles her finger at me and says jackets aren’t allowed either. EFF. Now I have less than minutes to get to this stupid dollar store. I run back to my car, and pull out my phone to GPS to wherever-the-hell it is. I take off. I’m raging out in my car now, yelling profanities, angry at myself for not knowing the damn dress code, trying not to murder pedestrians with my driving, and fly into the dollar store parking lot.

There are a strange amount of people loitering, having full, pleasant-looking conversations in the parking lot. They all freeze and stare at this maniac that just screeched in. I run into the store and find the clothing section. I grab the first shirt I see, run to checkout and there’s a line. When it’s my turn, I start to swipe my card and freeze. I realize that this freaking shirt is see-through too! I ask the checkout lady to wait and run back to the clothing. ALL THE SHIRTS ARE SEE-THOUGH – WHAT THE HELL IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?! Finally, I see a crappy blue t-shirt that seems solid enough, grab a large, and check out with the sweet little lady as she tries to make polite conversation.

She looks at my shirt, squeals delightfully, and exclaims, “Well isn’t this just the cutest shirt EV-ER! Is this what you do to people on the Facebook that you don’t want to be friends with anymore?” I realize then that the shirt says “I Wish I Could CTRL ALT DEL You” in ridiculous glittery lettering. Dear God. There’s no time. As politely as possible, I snatch the shirt from her and run out the door. I screech all the way back to prison, rip off my nice blouse, throw on this stupid shirt. That’s when I realize that I had grabbed a CHILD’S large. It was stupidly tight and short, making me look even more insane as I sprint past the Giggle Box to visitation, with only 5 minutes left – I made it. The officers try not to smirk at my appearance.

Finally, I’m able to see my brother via video chat. YES, it’s video chat. I get there just in time to pay for the 15 minutes I missed, and add an additional 15 minutes, totaling a $20.88 charge to visit my brother on a computer screen. Absolute robbery. It also costs $10.44 just for one 15-minute phone call. He looked happy to see me as I tried to focus and collect my thoughts after the clusterfuck that just occurred. He asks me how I am and what I’ve been doing, and I reply something IDIOTIC like “Well, not too much, it’s been pretty BORING and uneventful lately – tell me about what’s been going on with you!” Yes, I told my locked up brother (potentially 45 years to life) that I was bored with my freedom. Because I’m an asshole. He actually found it funny, and pointed out the stupidity, which I appreciated.

He then proceeded to tell me the most interesting prison stories. He and his roommates have been making trash bag “hooch” with oranges, sugar packets, bread, water, and other stuff. Apparently, the oranges bring the yeast out of the bread, and when it ferments, it tastes like total shit but lets them get crunk. He also filled a trash bag with loads of water and uses it to work out with, which I thought was very creative of him. He’s thinking of getting some prison tats, and promised me he’d make sure the needles are clean – so that’s nice…

Most interestingly, he told me that he’s been doing a little dating. A couple of floors above him is where the women stay. He and his roommates have been communicating with them via toilet pipes… Yes. Toilet dating. He said if you stand on the toilet, and talk loudly into the pipes, that you can have actual conversations with the ladies up there. He said that you can actually write them as well. How you ask? Well, he said he wrote a little bio of himself, put it in a plastic bag, and flushed it in the toilet. He refers to this process as “sending a kite”, which I feel is a real missed opportunity (why wouldn’t you call it “flying a kite”??). He said if you hold the flusher, that the message goes up a couple of floors and the girls pass it around until someone is interested in him. Then, they begin their courtship. Sounds magical.

And yes, my brother does have schizophrenia, so this story may not be real. But I’d like to think that it is. It seemed real when he was explaining it. My husband suggested that maybe the pipes are full of water, and when he puts the message in the plastic bag, the air carries it upward to the women’s floor. Who knows. It’s prison romance.

And too soon, my visitation time runs out. I’m in my stupid-ass-too-small shirt, and do the walk of shame back out to my car feeling the eyes of many onlookers. I had another engagement to attend after this visit, so I take off my shirt to put my blouse back on and see that when I ripped it off, I also ripped a huge hole in the delicate fabric.

So I decide to call it a day.

Best [Blank] in the World

My husband and I visited my mother the other day at her apartment in the city. It’s small, dingy, and fairly empty inside. It reeks of smoke. We have a seat on the lone living room couch and are having ourselves some small talk. Then I see it. Up on the wall, next to the T.V. There are three framed pink certificates. Quite ornate and very official-looking. I squint my eyes and look harder, trying to read what they say. I see the word “Lover”, panic a little, and avert my eyes. I continue my conversation with my mother while stealthily peaking back up at the center certificate and look away again in horror. I glance at my husband. Yes, he’s staring right at it, unable to turn away. So I just go ahead and put it out there.

“So, uhh, mom, I see you have been awarded a very prestigious award” I say.

“Heh?” she says.

“Best Lover in the World” I respond. “In the WORLD. Wow. What’s the, uh, criteria for something like that, eh?”

“Oh” she laughs, embarrassed. “My girlfriend made me those.” (YES, the girlfriend she is referring to is the same one referenced in Engaged Against Her Will).

“Wow. That. Is. Immmpressive. Best lover in the world.” To my husband I ask, “Where’s my certificate? Certainly, I’m the best in the world at something?” Wink, wink. He responds with awkward laughter. I ask my mom, “How is she these days, your girlfriend? How’s that going? I’m guessing pretty well, judging by the certificate?”

She says “Oh, you know, the usual… we break up, we get back together, fight, break up, get back together, I call the cops on her and get her arrested…”

“Say what?” I ask, interrupting. “What was that last piece you said?”

She proceeds to then tell me the story of the last time they had broken up. Her girlfriend was upset, drunk, and trying to get my mom to let her into the apartment. My mother refused to let her in, so her girlfriend banged on the doors and windows and yelled and cursed for hours until eventually busting one of her windows. So my mom had her arrested. But then, she thought about it and decided that her girlfriend must really love her a lot to have spent all those hours banging and yelling at her door. So they are back together now. You know. The usual relationship stuff.

Later, I think to myself- best lover in the world? Good for her. At least she has that. Because she definitely doesn’t win the “Best Mother in the World” award. But then, I immediately feel like an ass for having that super snarky thought. I’m still working through some of my anger and resentment I feel toward her (see Blood on My Hands).

I’m certainly not the “Best Daughter in the World.” Or the best sister. Or wife. Or anything, really. I beat myself up for not being there for my brother more when his wife took her own life. Over the recent years, I definitely feel like I’ve let all three of my brothers down significantly at various times. I let them down because I was afraid of getting myself hurt again. Or I felt I needed to focus on my own healing or my own relationships. And my brothers looked up to me for support, growing up. I took over the mother-role during our mom’s absence through the years.

So is there actually much of a difference between my mother’s neglect and abandonment and mine in their time of need? I’m not so sure…

Blood on My Hands

Mental illness, abuse, suicide. These things are laced throughout my family history.

My mother was sexually abused by many growing up: her brothers, their friends, friends of her parents, and so on. I think that because it started so early on in her life, she might have thought that it was normal or that it was her fault in some way, and she never told anyone. And you can imagine the effect that years of sexual abuse from many individuals can have on someone’s mental health.

My mother met my father and it was instant attraction. My father was recently divorced and my mother was currently engaged to another man, but they hit it off. After a while, my mother threatened my father that she would kill herself if he didn’t marry her soon, and this was how it all started.

Shortly after they married, my mother became pregnant with me. My father was in the military and they lived on base, doing drugs and living it up. They were caught, and my father was dishonorably discharged. After I was born, my mother’s brother committed suicide.

My mother slept through most of my childhood and into my teenage years, suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. During this time, my father was physically and psychologically abusive to myself and my brothers. My mother never intervened. She was like a wilted flower, always lifeless, always frowning, always sleeping, never present.

One day, I came home from school and found her, more lifeless than usual. She had overdosed and was waiting to die. That was the first of many times she has attempted suicide. After this point, she left our family and spent much time in and out of mental institutions. When she wasn’t institutionalized, she bounced from girlfriend to girlfriend’s house. Lovers that she met at bars. She started doing drugs again. At one point, she was raped by a strange man as she laid on the ground in front of some house or apartment, paralyzed from the effects of narcotics. She would come back to live with us periodically, claiming that she’d kill herself if my father didn’t let her stay.

During this time, the abuse with my father continued as I tried to take care of my brothers. My mother returned somewhat permanently toward the end of my stay at that dark place. At that point, I could hardly look at her or speak to her. Knowing her history of sexual abuse and psychological diagnoses, I wanted to have pity on her and to love on her. But at the same time, I felt that those things shouldn’t be acceptable excuses for neglecting your children and allowing abuse to continue.

Years later, much more disappointment and pain has come. My mother continued her maddening indifference as my brothers grew up in that place. I’ve always struggled because I want to express to my mother my feelings regarding her behavior, but feel that she is much too fragile to hear what I would have to say. And I can’t have her blood on my hands.

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.

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