My Ankle

There’s a bone chip in my ankle, just floating in there, about the size of a 5-cent piece. It’s been there for just over 30 years, and it hurts now and again. I’ve lived more of my life with it there than without.

I didn’t even know about it until years after the incident when I turned it playing roller hockey and since I had health insurance through Uni I got it x-rayed and the student doctor was like, “Damn.” Years later, and the Wifeage reckons we need to get in there and fix this constantly nagging problem. The first thing the Orthodoc says upon seeing new x-rays is, “Well, I can certainly see a multitude of sins…”


Summer of 1993 started with a Senior Kegger for his high school. It was bigger and better than my own, so that’s the one I attended, feeling more at home there than in my hometown. These people hadn’t known me my whole life, and somehow liked me better. He introduced me as his “adopted brother” and told me he loved me like a brother. Everything felt good.

Job opportunities for that summer sucked, but the offerings in the “big” city were always going to be better. When he said that his actual brother and stepbrothers were all off with their various other biological roots for the summer, he offered to have me stay with him in that dingy trailer with him and his dad and stepmom. I was elated.

We searched for jobs together and I searched for them separately. We spent precisely one day working at a car detailing place together, and it sucked so mightily that he refused to go back the next day. I went back out of sheer stubbornness, but then quit at the end of that day. It was depressingly awful.

Then I got a job at a bar downtown, famous for their chicken and beer. I worked the kitchen during the day and was their delivery driver for their expanding delivery menu. I was NOT a good deliveryman, frequently running late because of lack of parking and proliferation of one-way streets in the downtown area. The equipment was sub-standard, only a plastic tub with lid, and I frequently spilled the drinks all over the food. By the time I was backing out of the crowded back lot and crunched my way through another employee’s taillight, the owner/bosses wisely decided to stop offering delivery.

But I kept my job. I was good at kitchen stuff and wasn’t a “stoner fuckhead”. A glowing assessment from one of the owners who would have featured beautifully in one of the shouty and dysfunctional kitchens made for a Gordon Ramsay production. Roger terrified me, but softened when he realised this and I’ll always remember him for that.

It felt good having a job, working and making money. I know the hit one’s pride takes when a day passes without being productive in some sense. I don’t know if that’s what was slowly poisoning our friendship, our brotherhood, but living together was also putting a strain on things. Always a quiet one, he spoke to me less and less as the summer wore on.

By the time we were both planning on going back to the mountain valley of our hometown for the weekend, he was making excuses for why we should take separate rigs. After a while, I spared him that and made my own excuses too. I got the message. Even if his family loved me and I was automatically invited, and expected, at all family functions, I noticed that the invites weren’t always getting through to me.

The end of Summer rolled around and I set my sights on wrapping up my life in Montana, saying my goodbyes and preparing to start my new life at the Big University, far away. I don’t know how much that played into his growing resentment of me either, but I certainly wasn’t treated as a brother anymore. I was a tolerated houseguest.

He had said he loved me like family, but like any and all family I ever knew, the best he ever did was tolerate me. I was never truly loved, I was never celebrated, I was only ever tolerated.

I’d quit my job at the tavern so as to just lay around that last week, leaving my options open before I went back home to pack and then head out for the long drive to Texas. Things improved a bit during this time, possibly because we were both bums, him never finding a job that whole summer, but I don’t really know.

What I know is that i never beat him at anything. Ever. Not since we were both in Kindergarten together. We played a lot of Nintendo games growing up together, card games, board games, you name it. He won all the time, and it was really important to him that he won. I knew that, so when I had chances to go for the throat, I always held back and left him to it. He would even gleefully admit sometimes that he’d cheated. Come to think of it, it wasn’t so important that HE won, so much as I didn’t. It was important to him that I didn’t win.

When we were kids, only learning how to legally hunt, “the boys” would gather and share hunting stories, always bragging about large creatures they’d either seen or been a part of hunting down. None of them had ever personally taken down one as big and as impressive as I had one year, and I finally got to have my time in the spotlight. That lasted about a week and a half until one day he smirked and gleefully told me to shut the fuck up because he’d shot something bigger.

He gave little detail and it seemed like nothing more than blind, stupid luck, but I learned to shut my mouth about the deer I was so proud of. A year or so later when we were out stacking bales at his mom’s ranch I asked if we were near where he shot that trophy buck and he admitted that it never happened. When I remarked that I’d seen the antlers and it was, in fact, bigger than mine, he allowed that it was sunbleached and old and the dog had drug it home from the woods one day.

To him, it wasn’t so important that he brag on a trophy buck, it was that I shut the fuck up. He literally told me that, and I never forgot it.

But as our last summer together was ending, I could feel something in me ending too. My attachment to him. The surrogate brother that I’d chased down and adopted, having nearly zero connection to my own, actual brother, the one that never actually wanted me. The one who resented me and my high test scores and attendance at a big, fancy university so far away. I could feel my wings spreading, on my own steam, and I felt like I was done being forced to sit in his shadow. A place I never wanted, but he always insisted on.

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm and mild day, and instead of just idly cruising the small town nearby and finding absolutely nothing to do, we pumped air into the basketball and headed to the park to shoot some hoops. I’d always been pretty bad at basketball, but I was somewhat eager to see how I’d fare against him now that I’d decided to disregard my designated status.

We shot around a bit, and I was doing really well. I don’t think I was talking shit, but I’m sure there was at least a bit, and then he challenged me to a game. Not only had I never beat him before, I’d never beaten anyone at one-on-one. I hated the actual playing of basketball, I only liked shooting, but I figured fuck it, and took him up on it.

No win-by-2 or any of those rules, we agreed, first one to 10, pure and simple. I took an early lead 2-1, and he punished me for it, going up 4-2. I’d been playing off him a bit, hoping to work in the shots that I’d been making that gorgeous summer afternoon. It worked, a bit, and I was scoring at will. He was trying every trick that he had, and most eventually worked. He was up by a steady margin, even if I’d close it, and at 7-5 I started to push in. I wasn’t giving up. I wasn’t rolling over. I wanted to fight. I wanted to win.

I’d tied it 8-8 but he’d pulled another move out his ass and hit to make it 9-8. One more basket for him and he’d have won, again. But I wouldn’t quit. I tried a move that he’d done earlier, faking a charge and then pulling back to draw a fade shot, and I sunk it. We were tied 9-9. His ball, he made his move, took his shot, and bricked it out of bounds. My ball.

I dribbled, stooped, and gave him a look. I don’t know how many times in my life I’d ever actually had “Eye of the Tiger” but I’m certain I had it in this moment. I was going to give this my all. I faked left, then dribbled right, then drove. He bit on the fake and was off-balance, and I had a step on him. I pushed and fended him off as I drove the basket, leapt higher than I ever had before, and laid the ball gently into the basket.

Still in mid-air, I began to celebrate before the ball had finished going through, and I felt him shove me. A foul, a deliberate, after the fact, foul. The ball was going in, the game was over, the foul was pure spite and meanness and sour grapes and sore losering.

The shove had sent me off-kilter and when I came back down to the blacktop I awkwardly tried to dodge out of the way of the metal pole of the basketball hoop, and my ankle came down at an angle directly into it. I screamed in pain, hobbled once and went headlong into the grass just off the edge of the court.

He knew something was wrong straightaway, of course, and came rushing to me as I writhed in the grass. I don’t remember clearly, but I thought I heard him saying, “I’m sorry” somewhere in-between the “oh shit”s and “oh fuck”s. I could be wrong though. Always strong as a bull, he hefted me in his arms and carried me across the court, the length of the park, and loaded me into the car, then drove me home and hauled me in and onto the couch.

The trailer was modest, with only the one couch though, so while it was good that I could lay there with my leg along the back of it, packed in ice, getting up was an explosion of pain and I had to move eventually so the family could all circle around and watch TV.

I fashioned a crutch of sorts from a broomstick and learned to sort of hop from room to room, eventually taking some of the offered painkillers from his stepmom and going to bed early. The next day I wrapped the ankle as best I could, gave him a hug, hobbled out to my truck, and drove away.

I would work the pedals, even the clutch, all with my left foot, the entire way back to our hometown. My brother was coming up from college to drive back with me, a gesture of some sort, and I was to live in his apartment for the first year. I couldn’t wait to see him and start my new life, but I did feel that the ankle was somewhat of an important matter.

Dad, as is his way, didn’t necessarily see it as that. He looked it over, chided me for playing basketball so aggressively, ignored my plea of “I was fouled, dad, and it was the winning shot” and eventually wrapped it with an Ace Bandage, telling me to keep it iced and elevated.

Which I did. All through the drive to Texas, all through the moving of my stuff into a tiny 2-bedroom apartment, all through orientation of the roommates and bars while missing orientation of the campus and my classes. I shopped around at the sporting goods store and found an ankle brace with stiffened sides and laces all the way up, completely customising the pressure points, and I wore it pretty much every day for the next six weeks. Even after i got heat rash (it was Texas) and was bitten by fire ants at some point and itched like fucking crazy (it really was Texas).

I was wearing it when I borrowed my brother’s loafers and wore my brand-new red t-shirt and chinos to school just like all the other preppy Aggies and stepped awkwardly off a curb and rolled it, needing to lean against the giant oak on some highly-travelled intersection on campus. Nobody stopped, nobody gave me a second’s glance. I don’t know why that place was like that, it just was. They prided themselves on saying “Howdy” to everybody, yet when I saw a scrawny girl double-strapping her enormous backpack and trip on the uneven bricks outside the bookstore, she flailed and landed with a thud in amongst the hurrying throngs, but not one of them stopped. Not even me. I’d been there long enough by then, I guess. I’d been infected.


So here I am, October 2023, a full 30 years after I fucked up my ankle. After HE fucked up my ankle. After he deliberately roughed me into an injury I would pay for, for the rest of my life. After my father’s neglect failed to pick up on the severity of the injury – at one point I remember him telling me that it was just a sprain and I needed to toughen up a bit. He seemed surprised that I’d handled all the other times I’d sprained said ankle with more grace and was complaining of pain so much this time.

Kind of like the time that his nurse was taking the fibreglass cast off my right arm after a Sophomore-year football injury, and as she ran the saw up the inner part of my forearm, I was wincing in pain. She laughed and told me off for playing it up. I said I wasn’t and that it really did hurt. She showed me that it’s not a circular saw, that the round bit only vibrates back and forth, and that it couldn’t actually hurt me. Then she went back to cutting and I went back to wincing. She didn’t stop again, but I could hear her snorts of disapproval and exasperation with me as I turned my head and grimaced in agony.

When the saw stopped, the cast fell completely off my arm and I heard her exclaim that it shouldn’t have done that. She asked me, ME, almost accusatorily, where the inner sleeve was that’s meant to be underneath the cast. What could I do? What could I say? I didn’t put the fucking thing on there, did I? How the hell can I be held responsible for what is or isn’t there? As I turned my arm over and ran my finger along the singed thin and blistering line down the inside of my arm, I noted that she’d hopped up and left the room, and I didn’t see her again that day.

I’m 49 years old and still somehow to be held responsible for the failure to accurately diagnose a broken ankle, from three decades ago. I wear a brace most days, and I pay for it if I don’t. It hurts now, more than it used to, and some days when my hip is acting up too, I can hardly walk.

So, if I’m being honest, fuck you, you assholes. For always resenting me. For barely tolerating me. For bullying me and ignoring me when I am a being deserving of love. Fuck you for breaking my fucking ankle, and fuck you for ignoring it when I came to you for help. I’m paying for that shit now, in spades, and it’s not fair that you’re around to split the bill.


They’ve never been mine.

Joseph Wedding 1

I got an email from my mother asking me if I’m still at the address I’ve been at for the past NINE years.

She was thoughtful enough to include pictures of the wedding of the “half-brother” that I was never allowed to claim. Pictured on the left (of the three) is the widow of the brother I wasn’t allowed to mourn and wasn’t ever encouraged to reconnect with. Not even when he called my name on his fucking deathbed.

2023 has sucked fucking balls for me having brothers.

I did try, I’ve always tried. But I now realise what folly it ever was to hope that someone who ran out on her youngest (at the time) son multiple times would ever have any insight into how to help build the relationships between he and the sons that she clearly favoured.

The oldest got as much of her as he could, and it was a lot. Far more than I ever got. She never noticed, and is oblivious to the pain I feel when she’d recount stories of him popping in to have her do his laundry or make his favourite meals on off-weekends. Things that I got to do twice.

The youngest got more of her than either of us other two. She was actually there in his life as he grew up from birth. He’s actually the only son she’s ever really had. I’ve never heard from him on his own, and haven’t had contact with him since he was an obnoxious dingdong 7-yo. She’s also oblivious to the pain I might feel about my own childhood as she’d send me emails over the years of his school accomplishments and the events she’d attend there. Averaging an email every fortnight, she rarely missed an opportunity to tell me all about whatever was going on in his life, completely with pictures, even though I have never, ever asked.

One might suggest that I’m having my nose rubbed in it, yet I still, to this day, have no idea what grievous sin i perpetrated other than falling in love with someone on another continent. If there’s something else, or something that I actually did or said, I’d fucking LOVE to know. I really would.

Because otherwise, that’s pretty cold, and fuck that shit.

4th of July, 2005

It feels like the real truth will never be known. But I know what I believe. I believe you were trying to abandon me for a final time.

I’ll never know what it was that you took. Because you’ll never tell me. Maybe because you don’t remember. Maybe you’ve killed the part of your brain that was capable of retaining that knowledge. Murdered the last witness to your crime. Maybe it died of natural causes. A victim of time and the spongy atrophy of an aging mind.

What I do know is that you took something. They confirmed it at the hospital. They then tasked me with searching around your house to find out. The house empty, your partner and her son up north, I felt like both criminal and cop while I dug through your garbage, rifled through your drawers and picked through your medicine cabinet. I found nothing.

Not nothing though. I found some crumpled-up pieces of paper. Your signature yellow lined notepad sheet filled with your even-more-signature calligraphy handwriting. A journal piece, a letter from yourself to yourself, yet discarded. Filled with your own navel-gazing on how I’ve found someone that is to be the centre of my universe, and how much that’s affecting you.

Was it a suicide note? I never found any other journals or your personal writings but then again, I wasn’t looking for them, was I? I was looking for empty pill bottles or popped-out blister packs. Something, anything, that could account for the massive amount of propylene glycol you had in your system. They couldn’t find a meal and the amount of alcohol you had didn’t account for it either. They weren’t toxicologists, but they’d seen enough to know that you’d have to drink about 600 bottles of white wine to get that much PG in your system.

Radiator fluid, or some other household chemical, was the best guess. Though I never found evidence of anything like that. And I looked. If that’s what happened, then you drank it straight from the bottle and politely put it back, then lay down on the back patio and waited to be found.

And I did find you.

You were asleep, or so I thought. The sun was setting on a hot but beautiful Rocky Mountain day. It was shaping up to be a lovely night to view the fireworks from just about anywhere. At first I felt tender, like you’d just tuckered yourself out doing yardwork or something. That would have been quite like you. Though napping wasn’t really your thing.

Then the sun set, and it cooled quite quickly, so I went out to put a blanket on you, ostensibly to look after you but my ulterior motive was to be just noisy enough, just jostly enough, that you’d wake up and we’d have a good laugh at how much you’d sacked out. But you didn’t wake up. I put the blanket on you and went back inside.

But worry became too much. I moved quickly past the point where I worried about the awkwardness of the situation, all anxiety about social pretense fell away and I stomped back out there and tried to wake you. I called your name, louder and louder, and then took you by the shoulders and gently shook you. I got more and more scared with every passing second, my heart starting to beat painfully in my chest.

Then, you woke up. You blinked your eyes in that confused squirrel kind of way that you’ve always had and looked right at me.

“I just wanted to feel better,” you said. Calmly, clearly, simple as.

“Okay,” I’d said, “That’s fine. But it’s getting cold out and–”

“I just wanted to feel better,” you said again. Same tone, same pitch, as if you hadn’t just said it a second before.

“Yeah ma, no probs.” I knew enough to know that when you were woken up you were a bit dumb at first. I figured I just had to ride this out.

“I just wanted to feel better.” You kept saying it. Sometimes you’d blink at me as if I’d just arrived, and you’d say it again. Sometimes you’d appear to be pondering something, then I’d call out “Mom!” and you’d turn and look at me with varying expressions, and you’d say it again.

And again.

I pulled you to your feet and walked you into the house. You walked on your own strength, though I had to guide you, and when I brought you into the living room you were happy enough for me to bring you to the couch. You didn’t need to be told to lay down, but you didn’t stop repeating the phrase.

“I just wanted to feel better.”

I got the pillows situated and I tried to make you comfortable, but you kept flinching and looking at me intensely, repeating the line over and over again. Sometimes your inflection was urgent, sometimes it was regretful, sometimes surprised. Always the same line, verbatim.

I told you that you were freaking me out, and that I was going to call 911. I gave you one last chance to say something different. I think I even said that if you said something different, then I wouldn’t call them. Then I think I said that if you wanted me to call them then you’d say the line again. I’m not sure what I was saying to you at that point, to be honest. I was freaking the fuck out.

The emergency operator wasn’t great, but she wasn’t bad. When they transferred me to the locals, I described what was happening and they said that they’d better get over there quick. I didn’t argue, and I said that I’d unlock the door and wait. I sat on the stairs and looked out the front door, almost afraid to keep being in the same room with you because you kept looking at me with recognition and my heart would leap in the hopes that you were finally in there, only to have my hopes dashed when you’d repeat that same fucking line.

Then my phone rang, and I wondered if it was the 911 people calling me back. But no, my new wife, calling from her morning in Australia. Ringing several hours before our scheduled time because she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very, very wrong.

I don’t remember what I said to her other than that the emergency people were there and I had to go. She was great, very understanding, and asked that I contact her when I could.

The firefighters came in with a stretcher and didn’t bother talking to you for long before laying it out and getting you onto it. You didn’t seem to recognise them, and were maybe even a little frightened, so you didn’t open your mouth as much as you had when I was there. But when you did, you repeated that same goddam line. When they’d taken you out to the ambulance and were opening the doors, you looked up at one of them pleadingly, then repeated it again.

“I just wanted to feel better!”

Almost as if you thought that somehow you were talking sense, that you were explaining you didn’t need to be hauled away to the Emergency Room. That they shouldn’t pump your stomach and hook your veins to an IV.

I watched them go and followed in my truck, ignoring various traffic laws as I caught up to them. By the time I saw them wheeling you into the ER I couldn’t tell if you were still maddeningly repetitive, and I had to circle around for a place to park.

Time blurs in my memory at this point. Perhaps I went in and waited for some interminable amount of time to be told what was going on. Perhaps I went outside and rang my wife and spoke to her to calm myself down. Perhaps I just paced around. I don’t know.

What I do know is that they took me up to the ICU as soon as you were there, and stuck you in a room that was kind of like a huge aquarium. They must have sedated you because you were asleep when I got there and I met Joe. Quite possibly the greatest nurse in the history of nursing, he was everything I could have ever wanted. He had a rather imposing voice and boomed his name at you when you shifted and looked around with anxiety.

Blessedly, you’d stopped repeating the line, but you weren’t speaking at all now. At some point, you’d nodded at something he’d said and we both got excited that you might be nearing lucidity, but you still never uttered a word. Better than before, but still terrifying.

Joe talked you through how they were going to hook you up to all the tubes and wires and you were compliant, to a point. When he talked you through the process of inserting the catheter, you jerked roughly, trying to sit up. He held you with a firm hand, smoothly commenting that he figured you wouldn’t like that, but you still didn’t speak.

He talked to me with that same smoothness, working with me and bouncing ideas off in our search for what it was that you had done. Neither of us came up with anything but he was an enormous help in what might have happened and what I should be looking for.

When the doctor came in, a person I don’t even remember at all, Joe was noticeably deferential but when I kept speaking up and pointing out things that Joe had thought of, I remember the doctor being kind of a dick about it at first, like Ken Jeong in Knocked Up, but then settling down and agreeing with every single one of Joe’s ideas and points.

When they left, it was like they hadn’t even been, but I let Joe know anyway that he had solid ideas and was fifty times more helpful than the white-coated egotist. He gave me a look and then told me he’d stay with you while I went out for a smoke. I worked my way out to the parking lot and found a pay phone, ringing my wife back and talking with her through it all. She was, of course, amazing.

But for however great Joe was, nothing could have prepared me for that night. Joe was on a long shift and had promised me that he wasn’t going to leave me for long. And I needed him. Every 5 to 15 minutes you’d wake up and thrash, trying to either escape your bed or tear your tubes out of your arms. Joe was there for enough of them that he started just sticking by, hovering either in the hallway or in the room itself.

Then an even bigger emergency pulled him away. Some car accident had helicoptered in and it was an all-hands situation. I was left alone with you and your thrashing, fighting self. Boy, you’re strong too. I had no idea how strong you really were until I was fighting you to keep you from ripping your IV out. You were seriously dehydrated, dangerously so, and those fluids were vital. And boy, you fought.

The cadence was always the same though, almost like your repeated phrase from earlier. Wake up startled, grab for either the covers to get up or the tubes to pull them out. I’d then grab your wrists and hold your flailing arms from doing any damage. You’d fight, pushing and pulling your arms this way and that, sometimes just straight pushing and straining as hard as you could, to the point that I’d use my weight and hold you back.

Then, as quickly as the fit came on, it would go. Your strength would leave your arms and you’d lay back down. Mostly to fall immediately back to sleep, sometimes to simply go limp, staring blankly out the window. Either one of them might precede yet another thrashing fit. Sometimes minutes, sometimes a half hour, but never farther apart than that.

This went on all night. The entire night.

At first, I didn’t want to sleep, knowing I had to stay on top of things, but then I’d just get my hands in ready positions and wait. It was hours until a nurse came back and all they had to say was to tell me about what was going on with the emergency, and that Joe had sent his apologies. When I said to them that you were waking randomly and trying to rip your catheter and IV out and that I was the only thing stopping you from doing it, the nurse looked relieved and even commented the thanks that I was there.

She didn’t offer to help though. They were still so short-staffed that I was on my own. All night.

The only time I started to notice larger and larger gaps between your fits was when the sky started to brighten a bit. By the time I realised you’d gone over an hour without fitting, it was 5am and I fell asleep in the uncomfortable chair by your bed.

At about 8am, the nurse came in and was bustling about, gently waking me so I could clear out of the way of them taking your vitals and emptying your urine bag. They seemed satisfied that the fluids they’d been pumping you full of were flushing through your system. Whatever it was, whatever you’d done to yourself, you were through the worst of it.

I was cautioned that I might never know the full extent of whatever you’d done to your brain. You might have some brain damage, you might have nothing wrong with you at all. Only time, and someone that knew you, would tell.



My brother David was a cat.

Cats, unlike dogs, don’t pursue your affection. They won’t sacrifice their own dignity for your attention, and they will refuse to engage in anything that endangers their ego, pride or public-facing image. And it will always, always, do whatever the fuck it wants.

A cat won’t sully itself for your love. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want it. A cat will sit by the window sill, on a perch, somewhere removed, yet still present. Does it hide away under a bed? Does it escape and run as far away as possible?

No, it stays nearby, but just out of reach. Aside from food, engagement with you is on its terms, and only on its terms. And if food is involved, if the cat’s very survival is in your hands, well then yes, they’ll engage with you. A cat will harass you, make noise, follow you and be in your face, even giving you loving attention, because they want food. Once they get it, they are ungracious and ungrateful, going back to doing whatever the fuck they want. You haven’t earned their love simply because you control their survival, you’ve only earned engagement.

But you can earn their love. It just takes years, and you’ll only ever know because they haven’t run away. It won’t be something that you feel every day. A cat’s love is something you’ll only know by its proximity to you. If it stays near you and allows you to love it, then you’ve earned your place with them.

A cat cannot change its nature, nor would it ever want to. It is what it is and it doesn’t even have pride in what it is because that would suggest it has built itself into something or gone through some sort of transformative process. No, a cat is the most supreme arrogance. A cat doesn’t change or grow into anything that you’ll be able to quantify. They’ll never be or do anything purely for someone else’s benefit.

A cat is self-serving, self-absorbed, arrogant and removed. But you can love a cat. You can love it with your whole heart, regardless of anything it is, or does or doesn’t do. You can give all your love to a cat and at the end of their too-short lives never really know the depths of their love for you, or if they even did at all.

Loving a cat is more about you than it is about the cat. It says more about the person you are, the heart that you have that you choose to open up and give to this animal that is incapable of giving back equally in return.

Often, there are even multiple households that will love one cat. If that cat shows up at just the right time in any given window sill, sliding glass door, or even front stoop, they’ll receive a greeting and be welcome in some random home. They’ll come when called, no faster or slower than anywhere else, regardless if they’re being called “Bootsie”, “Bonbon”, “Banjo” or “Buttons”. They’ll show no more love or loyalty to their original “owner” than the retired gent two doors down that puts out the expensive tinned food and then goes inside and leaves it the hell alone.

A cat doesn’t want to be around you if you’re too affectionate, smothering it in your love. A cat will seem to want to be around someone who doesn’t want it around at all, finding the random in the crowd that’s allergic, or claims to not be a Cat Person. They sense the challenge, and pursue it. The same as having to earn your place with them, they’ll endeavour to earn favour from someone removed from them. Someone that’s not a push-over. Someone that’s not going to make it easy on them. Someone that doesn’t need them.

Because that’s the easiest for a cat. To not need and to not be needed. Then everything that happens in the relationship is more dignified. The transactional nature of their interactions will be to feed their ego, if not their bellies. They’ll respect you more the more you respect them.

For these people, the cat will appear to have more affection, loyalty, love. But at the end of the day, no matter who you are, or how you are, none of you will ever truly control a cat. It will always do whatever the fuck it wants, serving its own interests first and foremost. And if it appears to be doing something for you, be that a gift of a dead mouse or gentle licks on the back of your hand, it’s ultimately for the benefit of the cat. The gift is so you’ll keep feeding and housing them. They lick your hand because they want you to pet them. They follow you around the house until you feed them. They are always, always, looking out for themselves.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t love you, and it doesn’t mean you’re a fool for loving them. Because while you can’t know what their love truly looks like, you know what your own does. How it feels to love that cat. Even how it feels to share that cat, to know that others are loving it and it might be loving someone else despite the depth and breadth of the love you give.

Loving a cat says more about you than it does the cat. But if something can be said about the cat that all of you loved, it’s that this particular cat seemed to find pretty good people who gave their love. Even if every memory shared is in some way an example of the aloof, removed, self-absorbed nature that is inherent to a cat, the fact that whomever sharing it had such an open heart and so much love to give says a lot.

And it says more about you than it does the cat.


I *did* try

I’ll never know what it is that others might have thought about my feelings toward my only sibling. Perhaps that I was too harsh. Unforgiving. Maybe that I’m as much to blame as he for our relationship breakdown. I’ll never actually know.

What I know, is that I did try.

When we were kids, and most of my friends had an older brother around the same age, I watched how they interacted. I paid close attention to what they did to receive a positive reaction from their older brothers. Everything from Gordie Lachance in Stand By Me to Farmy calling out to his older brother as the High Schoolers crossed our playground to the cafeteria, “Danny, you’re stupid!”

Farmy would do this in a stage whisper, as if he were quietly trying to get Danny’s attention, hissing “Danny… Danny!” and then when he’d turn his head, “You’re stupid.” Danny would get a look of annoyance, then chase his little brother down and cuff him across the head, laughing as he’d get back in line on the way to lunch.

I did try.

But when I did it, he didn’t react. Not at all. Well, not until later, that is. Days later, when we’re both alone at home or the subject has come up of us at school and he’s looked at me coldly, as if deeply betrayed. Squints his face up as if he’s repeated the worst thing he’s ever heard. “Dave, you’re stupid? Don’t… ever, talk to me at school.” Nothing more said. And no, I didn’t ever talk to him at school again.

When I was a child, I did try.

He loved his Levi 501s. Button-fly and popular. They didn’t sell Levis in our town, only Wranglers. You had to go to Billings, where Mom lived at the time, to get Levis. When I asked for them too, Mom was quick to tell me that they didn’t have Levis in Child sizes, so that was that. I had blue jeans and corduroys for my only pants, so naturally I wore only the jeans. They weren’t Levi 501s, but they were blue jeans, and I wore them all the time, just like he did.

But I loved nature and playing outside, especially near water or up on the untamed hillside behind our house. And I got dirty. And I didn’t think anything of it. Hell, if I noted a patch of dirt on my jeans, I took it as a note of pride. Someone would look at that and clearly see a child that enjoys the outdoors, living and playing and being free as a bird out in the dirt, right?!

On one of the rare mornings I was ready at the exact instant he was and Dad was needed on some emergency or otherwise, I was lucky enough to get a ride in my brother’s car. He asked with derision, if that’s what I was wearing to school, and since I knew if I said “No, of course not!” in the way that he wanted, I’d get left at home while I changed. So I said “Yes.” because it was actually true, and I thought that rather obvious. He said nothing else.

Until later, that is. Another moment where it’s just the two of us, and he lectures me on how we’re “the Doctor’s kids and we have an image to uphold” and how I’m bringing shame on the family for wearing dirty clothes. I was asked who I thought I was, wearing the same jeans every day that week until they were covered in dirt, and didn’t I ever consider what that said about our family.

The answer was “No.” of course. I was 11 years old. I considered riding my bike, fishing and hiking the mountain hills behind our house with our giant Labrador dog. The washing machine was big enough to fit me inside of it, and I knew nothing more than that. I’d never considered the rest, and my brother was clearly disappointed that I hadn’t.

But I did try.

When I was in High School and he was in College, I went with my mother down to A&M to visit him once. He even brought me with him on his motorcycle to visit friends, zooming around College Station, Texas and feeling like the coolest little brother ever. With each stop and subsequent introductions, I felt more and more awesome. At one point, we’re at someone’s apartment and he and the guy are having a prolonged chat.

I’m a hick, fresh from the sticks, and every single thing is leaving me in awe. I’m in a Real College Kid’s Apartment, right near the campus and a bar and there’s a huge party building upstairs. It was all amazing, so I’m wandering around wide-eyed and excited. We’re back on the motorcycle and finish our tour as he drops me back with mom and we clean-up before dinner out with him. Which is the usual, where he and my mother circle each others’ planetary orbits and I simply try to be a moon here and there.

Later, when Mom’s otherwise occupied and the conversation has just been about my visit with him, I’m still feeling awesome. He addresses me directly for the first time all day by telling me that I can’t just wander in and out of rooms in someone else’s home. He tells me that now he’s going to have to uncomfortably approach those people, if he’s lucky enough to ever be invited to a party there again that is, and apologise for my behaviour. He asks if I’d never considered how it would reflect on him, skulking about like some sort of burglar, scoping out his next score.

The answer was “No.” again. I was 13 years old and had barely been out of our tiny Montana town of 700 people, plunked down in College Station, Texas, meeting and greeting real-live College Students at one of the biggest and best Universities in the Known Universe. I’d been standing outside Kyle Field thinking about how my entire town could fit inside the football stadium and how I’d never seen a structure that tall in person before. I was in utter awe at everything, so no, I hadn’t considered how that would reflect on my brother’s public image. He was clearly disappointed that I hadn’t.

But I did try.

When I was going off to college, I was elated. Nervous, anxious, but so excited to be getting on with living my life. Finally. He’d already made arrangements with our parents that I’d be living with him for at least my Freshman year. I couldn’t believe it. I’d finally arrived. We were finally going to be brothers.

My father, true to form, handed me an envelope full of US Treasury Bonds and wished me luck in my future University career. A short hug, and David and I piled into my truck and headed off to Texas A&M. Brothers. College Students. I was in his hands now. I trusted completely him with everything I owned, everything I was. If he told me to be a certain way in college, by dog I was going to be that way. If he’d said we were going to start a business of buying wrecked cars, fixing them up and flipping them for a mad profit, then that’s what was happening.

Ever the salesman, he pointed out that I had reasonable, and expected, options of course. I could just hang on to that money, pay for school and books and room and board for two semesters, sure. But at the end of it, all I’d have to show for it would be way less money than I had going in, and no real prospects of getting more. If I chose instead to invest that money in his idea, of buying cars from the salvage yard that he helped manage, paying friends of his to fix them up, and then selling them to Rich Texan College Kids, well then I could be making real money.

He spent the entire journey through the top-right corner of New Mexico outlining his plan. We could buy, fix and flip up to two cars a month. If I gave him $2000 for the cars and another $2000 to fix ’em, we could sell them for $3000 each and pocket two grand a month. He excitedly told me that after my first year of college was over, I could be sitting on $18K in profit, and what Freshman at A&M has ever run into that kind of deal?

Stars in my eyes was an understatement. Not only was I going to be his brother, live with him in an apartment, and be taken by the hand through this strange new world, but I had the opportunity to be the Chief Investor in a business idea that he’d had simmering. With my money, we could finally make this dream he had happen. I couldn’t have been more excited. I trusted him implicitly.

Sure, he’d ‘borrowed’ money off me my entire life, and maybe he’d never paid any of it back or even loaned me any when I needed, but that was the past. We were equals now. Both College Students. Real brothers. Finally.

We definitely weren’t kids anymore, like when I was 10 and got a shiny new Rossi .22LR pump-action walnut stock rifle for my birthday and he was 16 and took me aside to outline all the ways that his single-shot, bolt-action, pine stock 40-year old .22 rifle was a far better, more appropriate, rifle for me. And our trade wouldn’t be permanent, just until I was ready. A point in the future that he would determine after repeated shooting outings together. The prospect of being assessed by him while still owning my own rifle was wonderful to me, and I excitedly told Mom about how I thought that the rifle she’d given me was “too much gun” for me and that I was going to trade David for his old bolt-action “until I was ready”.

I hadn’t even finished the sentence before she exclaimed “Oh no you’re not!” and explained she got that rifle for me, and it wasn’t to be his, ever. I felt special. Loved. He was pissed. Hissing at me about how could I have gone straight to Mom and told her what we were doing, it being a deal between us and didn’t need to involve her.

But no, we weren’t those kids any more. He was a man, 24 and established there in the area. He had many friends and so many connections. This was a mother lode just waiting to be mined. He’d put on the hard sale, but he hadn’t needed to tell me how smart it would be to trust him with my money, I was in.

Besides, I told him from the passenger seat, I’d heard from mom about how it made him feel when our father had cut off financial support when he’d gotten bad grades and how I really didn’t agree with that decision. I took a hold of the moment, making sure I had his attention, and I took out the envelope of Savings Bonds. I held it up in front of him and said that I believed I probably got preferential treatment by being Dad’s biological child and that I thought that was shit. The truth was that had never, ever, occurred to me until Mom had suggested it, but it made such sense that I was infuriated. I showed him the envelope and told him in all sincerity that I considered what was in it to be half his. That I’d planned on sharing what Dad had given me with him anyway, but if it meant that we could start this business, chase this dream, then that was all the better.

Plus, wouldn’t that stick it to ol’ Dad if we were making so much money that we were paying for college on our own after a few years? To be financially free of him meant that we didn’t have to suffer his judgemental lectures for any bad grades, or anything really. We’d be truly independent.

I was so excited I could barely sleep the first few days after we got there. I was sleeping on their couch, which didn’t help when his roommate got up early for work. A tiny 2-bedroom apartment didn’t leave a lot of room for shifting around, it was explained to me, but he’d had a plan to build a bunk bed so that we could share a room. There was a slight shrug and muttered apology that the apartment was filled with someone else’s bags, boxes and stuff, but the guy’s wife just threw him out and what were they supposed to do? Roommate Carl had taken the bunk bed instead, as they certainly couldn’t turn the guy out on the street.

Besides, my brother assured me, he’d keep his bedroom window open so that he could hear if anyone helped themselves to my belongings sitting in the back of the truck and parked one floor below. That might’ve contributed a bit to my lack of sleeping as well.

But that didn’t matter, because every gas station sold fountain drinks that were like a gallon jug of milk, but Mountain Dew instead, and he was taking me to meet all of his automobile repair contacts the next few days. We were going to get this plan in action, and first thing Monday morning, we had a date at the bank, where we were going to deposit all $25,000 of Savings Bonds into a joint bank account where I would have control over my own set of finances and be able to track how the rest of them were going. For every withdrawal, he promised me there would be an equal or larger deposit not long after. His plan was perfect.

Savings Bonds don’t work on face value until a certain number of years passes though, and we were informed my father had purchased 30-year bonds. So if it said “$100” on it, it would have to be 30-years old before it was that value. These bonds weren’t more than 5 years old. This was all something it would have been nice to know, and we ended up with a little over $10K instead.

Not a problem, he’d assured me, we could still make this work. First and foremost, of course, we’d get tuition and books out of the way first, and I shouldn’t worry about keeping track of the checks because the balance would never be low enough to be a problem. Because we would be selling so many cars, of course, our balance would only ever grow.

Oh, and ignore if he’s taken large amounts of cash being taken out, some of the better bookstores only accept cash, and when you get into the higher classes like he was in, pre-Med and all, most students kept their textbooks because they would remain relevant in their careers, so there were never any used textbooks available. I’d been told to get used textbooks if I could, because they were about 10% of the price, but alas, he’d be forced to get new ones. The fact that you’d get up to 50% more when selling them back at the end of the semester had nothing to do with it.

Plus, I was reminded when writing the checks out for our tuition, I had promised that I’d considered half that money to be his, for the college money we both believed he’d been cheated by our father. I was honoured to have been able to write checks for both our educations with the money Dad had given me for college. It was a nice bit of defiance, a middle-finger in the air from the two sons that had both been shorted by his penny-pinching over our lifetimes. Wouldn’t we be showing him when the business was rocking and we didn’t need his money any more.

He’d scouted our first car, had cleared it with the salvage yard and the repair guys, and were were off. A Honda Protege, barely a few years old, trashed by some co-ed with a rich daddy that just bought her a new one. We got it for $1500 and only needed to put another $1100 into it to get it in sell-worthy condition, which was no problem with the money we had in our joint account. We were doing this thing, and it was going to make us rich.

Life moved on, I got stuck into my studies and we eventually built a bunk bed with a shitty foam mattress so that I had a place to sleep. It was cheap and shit, but I was in heaven. I was sharing a room with my brother, in college, out on our own, soon to be making our own money.

Months in and we were having too many adventures for me to worry about what was going on with the car. The unavoidable delays kept it from being finished, then there were some issues with getting it listed in the For Sale Ads. Then the phone calls came rolling in, but since he’d insisted that we were flexible in the price so we weren’t going to list the price, we got a shitload of calls. Most of whom hung up as soon as I told them what we were asking for it. I was assured it would sell soon, and not to worry.

In the meantime, I’m the designated Phone Person, because he already kind of had a girlfriend, Diane, that he’d had for a while. They weren’t a “thing” any more, according to my mother, since he’d made it clear he’d prefer to marry her and she made it clear she wasn’t going to marry someone who “worked at a junk yard.” He also had a friend, who’d started as just a friend, a study partner, but was now something more than that. So if she came over to “study” I was to stay out of the bedroom. There was also a bartender at the place we liked to shoot pool at, and they had a thing a while ago and she was still sort of hanging onto it and he didn’t want to be a real asshole and just cut her off and break her heart, so for her sake, he’d let her come around occasionally too.

Oh, and aside from working at an Auto Parts Store, Roommate Carl also owns a duplex that he’s rented out to a developmentally-disabled person who thinks there’s the owner, Carl, and the maintenance guy, Gibson. Carl is never around, being the busy entrepreneur that he is, but Gibson was usually available after a minute of prep. See, Carl Gibson was both, so he needed to get into character. Also, Gibson is Australian, so he’s got kind of a funny accent. I could tell stories of Roommate Carl for days.

So David is dodging every phone call and entertaining every female expressing interest while I’m trying to sell our car that no one wants. One guy took it for a test drive only for me to find out later that I wasn’t supposed to let him come over and he was really only there because he’s an old friend and gay and in love with David and sort of stalking him.

By the time the semester ends, we go home for Christmas and I’m still riding the high of us Being Brothers. Finally. I’ve done hardly anything to embarrass him or bring shame on our family, because you’re damn straight I’ve learned those lessons. And my only mistake came when we were out drinking with David’s Best Friend, Bret Green, and while he was trying it on with some girl and lamenting that he should know better than to try and hit on a girl when David is around because they always only have eyes for him, I commiserated, pointing out that David had plenty of attention. Oh, I’d said absently, forgive my delay but Marna called earlier. Again, and her message was the same as the last message. That it’s been two days and she would really appreciate him calling her back.

Bret Green had turned with shock and bemusement to my brother and practically shouted, “Who the HELL is ‘Marna’?!” David, flustered and missing the 8-ball during his turn, waved him off and took him aside from the pool table to explain in very believable and sincere ways that we were trying to sell the Protege, something Bret Green knew as he’d test-driven it too, and sometimes his little brother got confused as to when women would call and had assumed that she knew David, and instead was likely just a prospective buyer. He told Bret to look on the bright side, giving me a look, that we’d surely be selling that car soon.

Later, when alone, I was dressed down for my mistake and how I hadn’t considered that Bret Green, despite being David’s sworn Best Friend and Closest Confidant, was also roommates with Diane. How could I be so stupid as to go and mention another woman’s name to the roommate of one of the main women? There would surely be some explaining to do later, and was clearly all my fault.

But somehow that was my only real transgression for the entire semester. I’d done real good, I figured, and we had money to spare on nice presents for friends and family. I did, at least, as he was so busy with Finals, and we were such a tight unit by the end of the year, that he not only valued my judgement, but trust me with the finances necessary to get our parents presents for Christmas. Oh, and could I get something nice for Diane too? And something small for Marna, nothing too big, maybe a CD or something because I’d know by now what music she likes. He’d handle the present for this new girl, Anne, because I hadn’t met her yet and he didn’t want to fuck it up.

I’d gone into the 2nd semester of my Freshman year almost as confident as the first one. Financially-stable and still free and easy and able to pay for both my tuition and books, but for all of David’s fees as well. The first day of classes approached and I was finding that my truck’s gas tank was almost always hovering around empty when I took it to school in the morning. Granted, I’d told David to use it whenever he needed, having sold the Saab that Dad had given him two years before and his Buick always being worked on, but he’d promised that he’d never, ever take it out without putting gas in it.

When I came in with the mail one day I found a letter addressed to both of us from the bank. It wasn’t like the thick ones with our statements in it or ads for other services, it was a bright yellow inside. Roommate Carl commented that he recognised that as a bounced check fee. $50 please, do not pass Go. I said that was impossible, we had thousands in there, room and board for both of us couldn’t have cost that much, and it surely must be something else. Roommate Carl laughed, and said that he’d used the same bank for years. We owed them for the overdraft fees, $50, and the cancelled check fees, another $50. A cool hundred had disappeared like a fart in the wind.

David came home and I’d waited to open the envelope, as per his instructions, because since both our names were on there, we had to open them together. And if he’d opened them without me, it was just because he always got so much mail that he hadn’t noticed. And we didn’t need to open this one together because yes, Roommate Carl was right, this was a bounced check on our account. But it was all just a simple mistake, easily rectified. He’d moved some money over to a different account so that he could pay for some unforeseen repairs on the Protege, which were obviously why it wasn’t selling, and he’d straighten everything else out with the bank, and I wasn’t to worry about it.

As the semester moved on, he was seeing more and more of Anne, and I was seeing less and less of the other girls that came through. Anne’s parents lived a few blocks away, it turned out, in the rich people’s section of Bryan, instead of the crackhouse section, where we lived. They had a big, fancy house, with a pool and everything. Not that I would have known though, never having been invited over.

Anne also lived in Houston, which made it hard to see her, but thankfully he had a little brother that wanted to support his pursuit of love and would loan him the truck whenever he needed it. Never two weekends in a row though, he respected my need for my own freedom and didn’t want to monopolise my wheels. He’d fill it up every time, he promised.

This lasted one month before it turned into every weekend, but it was because it was her birthday, then her friend’s birthday, then the Dave Matthews concert, then their six-month anniversary. I knew my math wasn’t bad enough to think that it had been more than a few months since he’d spent the night at Diane’s or the bartender’s, but maybe the anniversary in question was retro-actively agreed upon after their relationship was deemed mutually exclusive.

Then came the time for me to meet Anne, and she was not what I was expecting. I was told on the way to the bar that I was not ever to mention his recent nights at Diane’s and never Marna, let alone the bartender or anyone else. No other women, that was the rule. I knew the score by now, I knew how to avoid his disappointment. I didn’t even let on to him that I didn’t know about his recent visits to Diane’s.

The evening was fun and he seemed pretty smitten, giving in to every one of her ballsy, brassy, bossy little demands. I did fuck up though, making some joke about how she was the reason that my truck was always out of gas, to which he reacted defensively when she gasped and turned to him accusingly, chastising him for leaving me high and dry on Monday mornings when I was late to class and he’d run into traffic coming back up from another weekend’s visit and I’d miss my first few classes because I’d have run out of gas too. I knew I’d get in trouble for that later, probably when she went to the toilet with her girlfriends, but the evening had a happy vibe, a good energy, and I felt the Stay of Execution.

Later, I nervously tried my hand at smooth-talking her and trying to fix things on his behalf. I wanted to prove to him that I could play this game too, where you lied to someone’s face to make the situation better. To make it so nobody got hurt and nobody had any problems. They’d come back from the bathroom and she’d plunked down on his lap, looping her arms around him and commenting that she was tired of yelling over a table and she liked that I was so funny like he was and she wanted to have front-row seats to the both of us.

I waited for a lull and got her attention, explaining that my faux pas earlier was because that model of Ford Ranger has two fuel tanks, with a simple toggle switch on the dash, and silly me, I’d simply confused the two tanks, believing the truck to be empty when David had, in fact, put gas in the other tank. And he was never the cause of me missing any classes, everybody always skipped first thing Monday morning 8am classes, and that I was exaggerating to give him shit because I wanted to see for myself how he handled it in front of her. Because, I told her, I could see how much he likes her, and I wanted to put her through the paces to make sure I was looking after the fragile heart of my only brother.

She was miffed at the suggestion that anyone would need to suss her out, and lowered her already husky voice to another register while aiming her power eyes at me to clarify that she wasn’t somebody that needed sussed out, thank you very much, she wouldn’t go around breaking people’s hearts.

Fearing I’d fucked up yet again, I prepared to retreat completely and ready myself to eat the inevitable Shit Sandwich that I’d not only get from him later but from her every time after, should I ever be allowed around her again. All I knew was I definitely wasn’t getting invited into her parents’ pool now.

Then something surprising happened. He took her chin in his hand, aiming her fiery little gaze at himself instead, and said, “Hey, you know when he said that he ‘could see how much he likes you’?” He slowly shook his head while gazing into her eyes and said, “He was wrong. ‘He loves you.'”

She melted into his arms, of course, her eyes suddenly as big as dinner plates while wobbling wetly at him instead of drilling holes into my skull. As we were leaving and they’d said their good-nights, I remember thinking that I’d thank him for the save. But the evening didn’t have that kind of vibe. He was happy, content, and I wasn’t going to remind him of anything that would bring up the subject of his disapproval of me, so I stayed silent, and enjoyed the moment.

The semester ended, I failed Chemistry 102, and my truck never got refuelled again even though it was gone from Friday midday to Monday midday. The occasional envelope from the bank rolled in with yellow paper in it and Roommate Carl occasionally hassled me about how late we were with rent, even though I told him repeatedly that wasn’t possible given how much money we surely still had.

I told him not to worry about it anyway, as I’d be taking my truck back north with me for the Summer, and would be seeking other arrangements when I got back. Nothing amiss, completely amiable, but it was time I live on my own. He was happy for me and wished me the best, but could I pretty please, with sugar on top, remind my brother about rent?

A day or so before I took off David woke me up while he was leaving for work. He was happily informing me that it wasn’t so that he could borrow the truck, as he understood I had planned on being in Dallas to visit Mom for an event she wanted me to go to the next day and then I was off to Montana for the Summer. He wanted to tell me, with a pause and a sigh for gravity, that he ‘was probably gonna get married.’ and what did I think?

“Aaaaaaaaaah!” was my reply, and I genuinely thought I was being funny. I mean, he was joking, right? Married? I didn’t even know if I should ask if that meant he’d stopped sleeping with the other women, because I was afraid that he’d have some way of explaining The Rules to me again. Was he moving to Houston? Fuck, I had no idea what was going on.

I laughed, a genuine laugh, because a bachelor is supposed to be upset when a fellow bachelor is “lost to the enemy” or some other bullshit that I thought I was supposed to say. He acted hurt though, and moved slowly out of the room. I called out to him but he left the apartment. I didn’t bring it up again, and I still wasn’t even sure if he was kidding about being hurt or not.

At the end of Summer I’d come back down through Dallas and had timed it so he’d be there, having caught a ride with his friend Steve, who had also coincidentally been the one who had finally purchased the Protege after David offered him a great deal on it. That the deal also happened to be about $100 below what we’d put into it was never mentioned. It was Summer, hotter than fuck in Dallas, and I’d just been driving for nearly 24 straight hours, pulling over only in New Mexico to sleep in the cab, just so I could get back to have a full weekend with my brother at our mother’s house.

Mom was never one for rules, ever, so we liked it that she put her foot down if we were to be coming up on the occasional weekend to have her cook for us and do our laundry, that one of us was going to mow her lawn each time, as they were months apart, and we were taking turns because we were both going to be doing it.

I was fucked from the drive and the heat and just didn’t have it in me. He’d already been there a full day, lounging in the air conditioning and having his favourite meals trotted out to him. When Mom brought up the lawn-mowing, I mustered up my courage and asked him if he could do me a favour and take my turn. He baulked, telling me that it was my turn, him having done it the previous time back in May (this was August). I told him that I was asking for one favour, just one, I would do the lawn twice in a row next time, and I asked him “How many favours have I ever asked of you? Can’t you just do this one for me? All I’m asking is for you to mow the lawn.”

The truth was probably about two. Two favours I’d asked in 19 years. And he’d turned me down on both of them. So silly me, I figured he owed me. Instead he looked at me with that same hurt expression he wore that day in the apartment months ago and said, “And all I asked of you was for you to be happy for me…” and trailed out as his sentence trailed off.

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t having it. I sat in the air-conditioning and read my comic books, stubbornly refusing to hit the optimal time just before dusk to mow Mom’s spiny, spikey, hotass Texas lawn. I knew, I just knew, that he was waiting me out. The day would get too far past it and the window for mowing would be gone, and we’d have disappointed our mother, something neither of us ever wanted to do, ever.

He was at the computer desk, ostensibly working on his homework for Summer School, but really I knew he was just keeping an eye on me to make sure I knew he wasn’t going to mow the lawn for me. I could feel the tension coming off him, and when I suddenly got up, I felt it release. His relief was visible, as he believed he’d won. I hadn’t even known quite what I was going to do until that moment, I was probably going to buck up and just go out there and do it and resent the fuck out of him for every second of it.

But fuck it, I figured, I still felt like shit and it had really struck me at how little I’d ever asked from him and how much he’d asked from, and taken, from me. Having seen him visibly relieved that he didn’t have to do something as simple and mundane as mowing the lawn hearkened back to every single time he was ‘just being lazy’ and had me do his chores, or shirked his to-dos that Mom or Dad had drawn up for him. For all the times I’d run to the shops for him, gone to the convenience store for him for cigarettes or drinks, or Mountain Dew and Doritos when we were kids. He’d never done any of that for me. Not ever. And he wanted to be pissy at me for not getting excited that he was going to marry a girl that knew nothing about him? Who was one of three or four sharing his bed without her knowledge or consent?

Instead of going outside, I went to the fridge, grabbed a can of Mountain Dew, went over to the comfiest chair in the house, plonked down heavily, opened up a comic book and chook-hissed the can of pop open, my intentions crystal clear. I wasn’t mowing that fucking lawn. I put my head down and comic book up so that I wouldn’t be tempted to watch his body language or catch the inevitable dirty looks, so I was suitably surprised when I heard the back door swish open and shut, then minutes later the growling of the lawn mower.

I half expected him to come in and stand in front of me and tell me that he’d gotten it going for me and I better get to it. I would have expected that from him. Hell, I made sure I was scarce when he was halfway done because I still expected him to come in and tell me that he was doing me the favour but we were splitting this time and I still owed him for an entire full session as that would have been reminiscent of many deals we’d made before.

Instead he mowed the whole thing and nothing more was said about it. I wasn’t going to fake excitement at the prospect of his impending nuptials, something I found ill-advised, stupid and, quite frankly, wrong. And I wasn’t going to feel guilt about his disappointment either, or his displeasure with having to mow Mom’s lawn on an August day. He came in and I offered him a beer and he took it, and I considered that a win. Maybe one of my first wins with him ever.

We headed back the next day to College Station and at some point he asked me about how the Summer had gone in Montana. I told him bits and pieces, mostly stories about people that knew him and missed him as those were the stories he always wanted to hear. Then the ones about our Dad and when he was being a doofus, he always liked those too. Anecdotally, I threw in how the Savings Bonds didn’t add up to what was written on them, so when Dad mysteriously found another stack of them in the ancient Old West Solid Steel Safe that he had at his clinic, I didn’t expect them to add up to much, but at least it was something.

When we got back and I got most of my stuff moved out, I went to the bank and gave them the Savings Bonds, just like before. But unlike before, I had them put it in my own account, now that I knew all about how to open them, and I happily saw my balance of $1,200. By my accounts of the comings and goings of our joint account, there should have been exactly $1,012 still in there and I’d decided to leave it all to him. I figured that was a more than fair trade, and I’d feel no guilt in taking the money meant for my college education and actually spending it on my college education.

I was still coming and going from the apartment for the next week or so, moving stuff out and ferrying him around to various things. At one point I remember him asking me if I’d been to the bank to deposit those Savings Bonds yet, and I told him that I had. I deliberately didn’t tell him I’d opened my own account though. The way I figured it, if there was what there should have been in there, just over $1,000, then there was no way he’d be put out. Because he had no idea how much I’d have put in there and there was no way he’d write a check for more than what was in there. Right?

I’d picked him up at work one day and taken him home and the mail was sitting on the table, like it always was, and he picked up the white bank envelope with the yellow letter inside, like he always did, but instead of carrying it swiftly and directly to his desk, he paused and gave me a genuinely curious look.

“I thought you said you deposited that money.” he said, and I watched him regard me with more and more scrutiny the further he got through that sentence.

I squared my shoulders, made myself as tall as I could, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I did.”

And I didn’t say anything more. If he’d asked, if he’d been confused, I would have explained I’d opened my own account. If he’d felt betrayed, if he’d been pissed at bouncing a check based on the assumption that I was putting more money into our account after he’d drained it without my knowledge, then I would have pointed out to him that recouping our money recently from the Protege and accounting for his upcoming tuition and fees, we should have still had more than $1,000 in there, and that if he was writing checks bigger than that without first checking that he had the balance for it, then he better rethink the responsibility of having a checking account. And if he was going to do that on an account with my name on it, then we’d do better to split that money and open separate accounts.

I had all that ready to go, stored up and primed and ready to be laid out in a way that would be impossible to argue against. If he’d come at me from any conceivable angle, I was covered, and I’d spent days preparing for any direction of attack. Emotional blackmail, sentimentality, you name it, I was ready for whatever he might throw at me.

But he didn’t throw a thing. He just nodded like he understood the entire situation and quietly took the envelope to his desk.

It turned out that I did still have some residual guilt for not telling him I was going to put those extra Savings Bonds in my own account, but I figured I’d paid my imagined debt to him.

I did try. For a whole year, I tried.

After that, our relationship went back to its origins, of us playing off each other and entertaining our mother, or whomever else we were around, but really we only hung out at Thanksgiving and Christmas, then again at he and Anne’s wedding in February 1995. Nothing about the car-flipping business, bounced checks or Savings Bonds was ever mentioned between the two of us again.


For the next 10 years, I only saw him for about one weekend a year, including all the time that I lived in the same town as he worked and the 8 years I lived within a few miles of Mom after moving to Denver in yet another futile chase of her affections. He never came to my house except the one time and he never met my friends or my girlfriend/fiance. Even though I saw every single one of his High School Football games, he never saw me play an instrument or a sport, despite being of semi-professional status of both at different points in my young life.

The one time he came to my house he’d been drinking all day while he and I and our mother went out fishing in Colorado. We’d both been begging him to come up for a visit because it sounded like his mental health was suffering. Mom continually mentioned that Anne was rather hard on him from time-to-time, usually right around the time of month when they’d have to send a check to a small town in Texas to pay child support for the illegitimate child he fathered while working out there (while Anne was home pregnant with their first).

When he finally did come up for a visit, he was miserable and not terribly talkative, the drinking just made that worse. He tried to be a big brother at some point and acted like he was putting me on the spot and asking me about whether or not I was happy with the person I was with and if I was making the right choice in marrying her.

I wasn’t, and I wasn’t. I was miserable too, but stupidly did what people expected of me and thought that asking her to marry me might straighten her out and away from the drugs. But I didn’t feel like that was his place any more, and I looked him right in the eye and lied. Not very convincingly either. In fact, I deliberately did a poor job at my lie to force him to press on. To bait him into digging deeper.

He didn’t though. He nodded with smug self-satisfaction and went back to drinking, citing jet lag (after a 2.5-hour flight the day before) as the reason he was uncharacteristically tired at 9.30pm, not the easily-double-digit beers I’d watched him drink, and he had me drive him back to Mom’s to sleep instead of staying at the home I owned in the guest bed I’d lovingly made up for him.

That would be the last time I’d see him, as I would be married to another woman and living in Australia by the same time in a year. I didn’t see him at our step-sister’s wedding, nor our grandmother’s funeral (despite it being a few hours drive from him), and I didn’t hear from him on the 4th of July when our mother tried to kill herself and I had to ring 911 and spend the night in the ICU with her, keeping vigil over her bed as she woke every 15 minutes and flailed at her IV and connected cords, holding her hands tight and fighting her back into bed where she would once again pass out. I didn’t hear from him when I got married, I didn’t hear from him for the birth of my first actual baby (second child) or my second baby (third child, 4 years later).

I rang him twice the first few months I was married, in August 2005 and again in October. The first time was to introduce him to my wife, who he promptly announced, “If Judd loves ya, I love ya.” and then when she told me how highly she thought of me as a person, he said, “I taught him everything he knows.” When I insisted Anne meet my wife, and Jo mentioned that one of the kids wanted more breakfast, Anne replied “Oh! You got a kid?!” then signed off on the call by saying that if Jo were ever in the States, to “come on down to HYOO-stun TAY-yexas.”

The one thing I did get, in the 18 years I’ve been here in Oz, was a comment on something I posted on my website. The same website I’d had since 2000, He left a comment on the About Me page that read, “Pretty cool, little bro.” I replied to the email address supplied. I’ve never heard anything back.

But I did try.

I didn’t reach out to him again, and when Mom defended him by saying that he’d always been bad about contacting her, being a day or more late for things like Mother’s Day or her birthday, sometimes not even ringing her at all as he’d simply forgotten completely. I told her I didn’t need much, and I hated talking on the phone since all anybody did since I moved to Australia was make draw attention to how I talked.

He never emailed me. He never rang me. And if he did, he never left a voicemail, so I never knew about it. He never told our mother to have me ring him or email him. When he joined Facebook years after I did and became friends with both our parents and extended family, just like I had, he never sent me a friend request. I simply never heard from him again.

But I did try.

Because I would have answered the phone, despite my protestations. I would have listened to the voicemail and rang him straight back. I would have accepted his friend request and tagged him in pictures of us as kids. I would have answered his email and written him volumes on my life and family and kids and all the things that I was proud of. I would have asked him endless questions about the beautiful niece I once had and I’d have reminded him how special she once was to me. I would have asked to talk to the young nephew I never got a chance to know, and I would have tried to know him. I would have shown mountains of interest in his life and I would have done flips and twists to get him to show any interest whatsoever in mine.

But he never did. And now he’s gone.

And I did cry. Still do.