"Anthem" by Leonard Cohen

"The birds they sang at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what has yet to be...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"

Friday, December 26, 2008

The last time I saw Garth (1972)

This was taken at the wedding of my oldest brother, Jon, to his first wife. I was a bridesmaid and my brother Garth was dressed in his usual hippie-neo-edwardian style.

I remember my brother, he is still with me. I keep coming back to his memory. Ray Davies and The Kinks, his favorite group. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, lots of psychedelic 60's posters, artwork, clothes, long hair, mysterious and hallucinogenic attitudes. What is left are scars burned into my flesh that heal but will not fade with time. He is with me, but no one knows how much. I speak little of him because he brings an awkward silence, embarrassment, disbelief and amazement. But to me, he was just my brother and it was reality, it was the way it was and it was normal to me.

But look past the forced and faked smile, and something more sinister is just beneath the surface. It was my family, a nightmare I grew up in and finally left behind but not forgotten. What was it like to have a psychotic brother? I remember scary laughter as he paced the hall at night, lying awake and wondering if I would live to see the morning. Or if I would wake to find my mother dead at his hand in her sleep. Pacing, pacing the long hall of our NY apartment that was the length of 1/2 a city block. Long, dark and scary even when he wasn't home. My mother asleep, passed out drunk, oblivious to the madness waiting outside her door. Had she forgotten how he tried to murder her before? Scenes like this burned into my young brain, too young to even understand fully what was going on.

I remember he knocked her down and held the knife to her throat. She called to me to come help her. I did not respond. I waited in my room, behind my closed door, for him to kill her. Praying that he would just get it over with. Listening to her call to me to help her, but I wanted them both dead, dead, dead, so I could live in peace finally and not be caught between them ever again.

He didn't do it and I didn't go help. I was afraid and disappointed that he wouldn't follow through and put us all out of our misery. How many times had he tried to choke the life out me when I was little? I remember 3 times, but there may have been more. I told my mother, but she never helped or believed me. She told me to ignore him, while he was beating me in the head, choking me. "Ignore him", she said, "He just wants attention and if you ignore him he will stop" It only set him off more, and I learned to never fight back and be passive. So why should I help her now that he is big enough to attack her ?

"Ignore him", I say under my breath, "He only wants attention, sure he knocked you down on the floor, the kitchen knife to your throat, but if you ignore him, he will go away Mom, just like you said" ....

I remember when he wouldn't sleep in his bed. I found him asleep on the floor next to his bed. He asked me, "Did you ever read "Metamorphosis"?". Existential, intellectual delusions.... He wouldn't touch the teapot, because aliens were trying to control his brain that way. ...

I remember not opening the door to him. I heard him knock and I listened to him pleading, begging me to let him in but mom told me not to and I was all alone. I stood behind the big front door in the hallway with the lights on, looking through the peephole into the dark hallway, listening to him crying in tears, afraid to be out in the cold NYC winter one more moment. But mom told me to leave him outside the door, and not let him in, and then left me alone in this big house by myself to deal with it. I left him there, but felt torn apart inside. How do I do this to my brother? I was actually more scared of her than of him by this point. He hurt me, but he was crazy and they drove him to it. She hurt me because she did not care about me and she wanted me to die. I reminded her of the choices she had made that she regretted. And she never forgave me for that.

Garth the frog prince, pretend poet, the one who wanted me dead. Mom, the light of the party, the one everyone wanted to be close to, the monster, the tyrant, the raging drunk, who hid her darkness so well from everyone except those closest to her, she also wanted me to die.

But I lived. And I survived them all for the sake of my daughter whom I brought into this world and who didn't ask to be part of the darkness that surrounded me....


Arvind said...

Beth, thanks for sharing so much of self. I hope time has helped heal some of the wounds and am sure your daugher must have brought a new meaning to your life. *hugs*

Beth K. said...

Thanks Arvind. She has.

Anonymous said...

I fought with my mother over my brother. I was angry that she let him do what he always did to her and her promises that this time she would keep her promises to deal with him. But we fought and now we dont talk and she no longer remembers me but she still longs for my brother's visits.

His name is Tucky. He is a dope addict and a thief and stole my mother's money and all of her property every time he was let out of jail. The only happiness I have now is that the place where my mother is taken care of checks visitors and another brother of mine takes care of my mother's money... Or he did until he kept on taking the money for his own use... Now my sister takes care of the money. It is a piddly sum but my mother does not remember.

I never fought with tucky because he ran away every time I got angry enough to do harm to him. But he never used knives. Not yet although I have heard rumours lately. I think it will get very bad. But he is far away and I think it was fear of confrontation-you cannot have a showdown with something truly bad I believe-It is like oil on water- you throw a rock and the circle breaks the hold of the oil, but it is soon back-Anyway it was this fear I think that kept me away from my father's funeral last year. So I guess that I am growing older and less confident of my strength and the power of my anger. I just want to drift away and forget. People expect ME to do something. The ex cop. The lawyer. The guy who made something of his life. I have betrayed my very self in all of this and it is something that cannot be cured in a moment and because it cannot, the sheer evilness of it wears one down. There are all sorts of victims Beth and I feel sad for you because I am sad for myself. I am not sure how all of this will end.

Beth K. said...

Best of luck in your troubles! I hope you find some relief soon.

irena said...

I dont know what to say...it reads like the beginings of a great novel. I am so glad you shared this, your story has touched my life.
I was drawn to the photograph. To me the image is one of the most beautiful I have seen, I am sorry to hear it has such a sad tale.

Beth K. said...

Thanks for your comments!

leaca said...

I stumbled across your blog from flickr. I hope you do not mind. I love the way you write and I really think you should write a book. It takes a brave person to relive the horrors of their past but I am sure there is some peace that comes with it.

Anonymous said...

What ever happenedto your brother?
He disapeared? I don't understand. I searched 'woodstock' in Flickr and saw your picture. Did you lose him at Woodstock?

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