She always ran to him. Any time of the day or night, didn’t matter.
He was her little brother; the only sibling she could bring herself to maintain communication with in a family whose tight knit history had died with the patriarch of the family years before. Little brother was her link to those better times, and she wasn’t about to let go of the boy who still made her believe in family. She understood the implicit danger in such a hold; the idea that she might get caught in the undertow. And she kept at it just the same, because she wasn’t willing to let go even though he had become really good at doing just that.
As far as little brother was concerned, I was resentful as shit. To put it another way, I hated the sonofabitch. Didn’t matter that I’d never met him, not in the least. All that mattered was that he was bringing my girl down, every time he called her in the middle of his latest dead end place.
I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand how she was able to possess that kind of loyalty to someone who was the source of so much pain for her, even if he was her blood. The way I saw it, my love for her was unconditional, it was selfless. Shit, I knew I was never going to call her in the middle of the night to come rescue me from a hellish proposition I’d constructed. I was all about being a good thing in her life. I was everything he wasn’t, and yet, she ran to him. And I knew the reason had everything to do with the life that had gone away. It’s why I never gave her shit about it. That, and the fact that she would’ve told me to go fuck myself if I had.
She was always going to put out his fires, because in her mind, if there was one chance in a million, she was going to stand up to the countless odds and she was going to lay it all on that one chance. Even if she lost a piece of herself inside all the times her heart was broken. Even if it meant she was going to have to take time away from me or her kids or the rest of her life. Even if each phone call carried the very real chance that she was just going to lose it, and never get it back the same way.
We lived in different places, me and her. So it was by chance that he called one morning when I was there, and we ran to him, together. It was an awkward, silent trip to his place; full of a painful hope and horrible questions whose answers were lost inside the mess of a life undone. When we got there, he wasn’t in his apartment, so she called his cell. No answer. She hung up the phone and she cursed.
“Fucking Brendan! Goddamit!”
She cursed all the way back to the car, and I just let her go. I realized that anger was the only thing keeping her from falling to the ground in a heap of tears. It was excruciating, watching someone you love fall apart before your very eyes while having no choice but to keep it together. I’ll never forget that, long as I live.
We went looking for him, and after a time we found him. Wandering along the sidewalks of a street several blocks from home in an aimless march to nowhere at all. She pulled over and retrieved him, as I moved to the back seat.
Our exchange was brief, but long enough for me to catch his eyes. He was so fucking high, it was frightening. He looked nothing like the pictures she’d shown me. Gone was the handsome ladies man with the million dollar smile, replaced with this ghastly old impostor . . who was barely pushing forty. I let them talk, during which time he told us how he’d gotten high and after which the details went blurry. All I knew was that it was a miracle we found him.
It took the rest of the day for Brendan to figure out enough of his old self, and then we were hanging out in the living room. Me and my girl, Brendan and the kids. When lucid, his words were big and strong and his stories, they were beautiful and hilarious places to lose yourself inside of. The definition of melancholy happened in her living room that night. There I was, laughing my ass off at the stories while crying inwardly on the boy gone lost.
So it was, I discovered that Brendan was everything I really hoped he wouldn’t be. He was kind and thoughtful and giving. He was insightful and creative and fucking brilliant, and worst of all, he was genuinely happy to meet the guy who was making his sister smile on a daily basis. It really would’ve been so much easier if he’d been a scumbag, but the sonofabitch went and fucked that up too. And that’s when I knew exactly what she was talking about, and why.
He was worth fighting for. And not for one reason, but for all the reasons she’d given me over all the time before I got to know him. As ready as I was to tell him to leave her the hell alone, I just couldn’t. Because man, he could make her laugh in a way that showed me what those best of times must have felt like, and he introduced me to her in a way I’d never known.
Life is never going to come simple, of course. Me and her, we didn’t last. No fault of Brendan’s, or the kids, or even the distance. It was all about the damage that had been incurred in our respective lives before we got to know each other, and sometimes there is no way to repair such a thing as that.
Thing is, all this time later I still appreciate the moments I shared with a woman whose life was falling apart in every possible way. Because I know I was that good thing, and even more than that, I know she was that good thing too. When the timing sucks? Well, it’s called life. Welcome.
So the choice becomes, lessons or bitterness, and I went with the former.
So it is that she taught me how to write. This way. It was equal parts Midwest upbringing, and humility and faith and perseverance and a whole lot of well placed swearing. And so it is that I hope she got little brother to that place she always saw coming, despite the locomotive that was telling her the tracks only ran one way.
And so it is that I ask the girls of Grace House, quite humbly.
Write a poem. Write a haiku. Write anything that has meaning inside the moment that is screaming to be written. Borrow from that crunched up piece of paper that you threw away and then dug out of the trash. That piece of paper you crunched up and unraveled a million times over because you knew how much that moment you wrote it inside of, meant.
The million ways of a story is all about the one chance. A girl I once knew taught me that.