Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sweet Dreams, Baby Brother


This is by far the most difficult thing I've ever written about, dealt with or had to talk about.  But this is also the only way I've been able to 'talk' about it. By writing.

I have braced myself for this day for a very long time. All of us, as a family have. We've had to. For years. For years I've been prepared for it. Sometimes we have all said, at one time or another, it would be better if it happened. When it did happen, I thought I would be able to breathe a sigh of relief. But that's not how it happened.

My little brother was always funny growing up. As a kid he was super hyper and lanky. He ran around the house like a spazz, jumped on beds and was ticklish as hell. We were always warned not to tickle him too hard because with his asthma he would lose his breath easily. We always seemed to push that, take him so far with tickling because we could. But we'd stop, and we'd all laugh. He had this laugh, as a child, like a chipmunk.

I also dressed him up as a girl, in my frilly clothes and made piggie tails because I wanted a sister. There's one photo that exists of this. That photo was a thing of legend. Dad always threatened to whip it out to embarrass him with it. 'NOOOOO!' he'd yell. Heaven forbid anyone see my macho baby brother dressed as a sweet little girl. Well, I found that photo. I've had it all these years. I know he is laughing at it right now. I hope he is.  

I was almost three years old when he was born. He was the fourth of us. He was the one to complete the set. He was our little brother. Brown hair, huge brown eyes. As a teen, buck toothed, braces and limbs like a daddy long leg. The 'hair flip' he did so well. But, always trying to fit in. He wasn't the hunter, like my other brothers. He was more creative. More artistic. He drew. He was self taught on the piano and guitar and the drums. He was a original one, in the 80s. He was a computer whiz. He was a Lego master. He was a singer. He was a writer. He was obsessed with Def Leppard. Music and creativity...those are the two things he and I had in common that no one else shared in our family.

As a man, he was compared to Jesus....because of his hair, not his life. He grew his hair very long and at times had a full beard. As a joke sometimes he'd pretend to lay hands on my kids when they were tiny, then say "You have been rocked!" he had a wonderful sense of humor. I remember even braiding his long hair on occasion and telling him I was going to shave his long, thick locks and weave it into my thin hair. 

He was also a drug addict.

For the last twenty five years, he's been haunted and troubled. It's like he never found his footing or his place. Twenty five years heavily dotted with a darkness so dark that I can't even imagine.

Mother tried so hard to help him, in her own way. Her way ended up being a crutch a lot of the time. She bailed him out, she gave him money, a place to stay. She was always saying that maybe this time it would work....just give him a chance and he'll stay clean. This time would be the time. 

It must have been exhausting to live his life. I can't imagine how exhausting it was to live as an addict.

I remember after one rehab, he was doing his 'steps' and apologized for stealing money from me years ago. It was during the holidays and we were standing in our parents driveway. I accepted his apology and I hugged him. Hard. Then I looked into his eyes and told him this was the last chance. I shook him by the shoulders and told him to listen. "This is it, Gio! I can't do this anymore! If you fall again, I'm not going to be here! My daughters are not going to be here!"  He eventually fell again. It wouldn't be the first fall, or the last. He'd steal from people and pawn things. But I stuck to my word. Tough love. I thought that was the way to go. 

The last time I spoke to him on the phone I told him to lose my number. I told him he was not to see me or my kids. I thought he HAS to love us enough to be clean. He LOVES my daughters and they love him so very much. But if he couldn't get clean for his own child, I should have realized withholding my kids would do nothing. At the same time I felt I had to protect my children from him, his drugs and the lifestyle he lived.

A couple of years ago, my grandparents died within months of each other. My grandparents were very important and influential people in our lives. He was the one to contact me via email about my grandfather being sick. We touched base with each other a little bit. He told me that regardless of things, he's still my brother. I agreed. He told me he was proud of me being an artist. He told me to 'stick with it' and how impressed he was with my art, when no one else in my family ever recognized it. He apologized for choices he's made in his life. I let him know we all made mistakes. I know it never eased his mind. It didn't mean as much then as it did when I re-read that email this week.

The very last contact I had with my brother was through a text. The last text said that he couldn't talk to me any further because he was told not to. That stung.

Then I found out a couple days ago that everything was different and would be different for the rest of our lives.

He's dead. 

My middle brother and I talked a long time that night he called me. We cried for ourselves, for each other and for our baby brother. We can't understand what happened in his life that made him like this. We all grew up in the same home. We all had issues with a lot of things. Why did he have such dark times? So dark.  We all stumbled. We all have been depressed. We all dealt with our demons in different ways, but none so tragic as Gio.

But why was our little brother never able to move through it? Why did he never reach out to a sibling? What happened?! We are left with only questions. 

My little brother was smart. SO smart. So talented. He had SO much to offer this world, but it was all never achieved because of his addictions. He had clean times, but more dark, falling-off-the-wagon times. I find myself holding on to a lot of anger.  Anger about a lot of things. Anger at my brother, at those around him and at myself. Anger at those that shared a drink with him, or those who bought him a drink. He was an addict.

If I put my tough love and stubbornness aside, would it had made a difference? Could I have saved him? Was there something I could have done? Did he know I loved him? What was he thinking?  Did he know what he was leaving behind? Did he know how his daughter would take the news? Did he know how my daughters would take the news? Did he care? Did he know?! Was he crying? Was he begging for help? Did he feel all alone in this world? I'll never know and that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Gio took his own life on Saturday, July 20th. Alone. He chose to end his life. He's gone and we're all still here...left asking why. We'll never know, but in his mind this was the only way out. There was so much good in his life that he couldn't see or even participate in. 

And now our siblinghood of 4 dwindles down to three. We're not supposed to bury a sibling like this. So early. Never being able to say goodbye. My brother is dead. He's gone. I'll never hear that oh so recognizable laugh of his. He'll never randomly sit down at the piano and just play for the joy of playing. He'll never pick up a guitar again. He'll also never hurt again.

My oldest daughter asked for video of her uncle laughing. Those of you who knew my brother, knew his laugh was very unique. I sat that night in my den surrounded by boxes of photos and old home movies. I went through every photo I have in my possession. I watched so many old movies. And then I found it. That laugh. Gio playing with my oldest daughter and oldest nephew as toddlers. Blowing bubbles. Laughing. Making the kids giggle uncontrollably. Then he got up and sat at the piano, and just played. Those were good times. He was clean in that video. That was my brother.

This morning while coming back from the grocery store, a Journey song came on the radio. Honestly, I've not heard this song in a very long time. I turned it up and started loud singing. Like yelling singing. Then it turned into a crying yelling singing. I was flashed back to my Suburban, on the way to school with Gio in tow. We were jamming to this very song. We always jammed out on the way to school...wearing school uniforms and looking like dorks. I could see him, clear as day, next to me. His foot on the dashboard, playing air guitar, then air drums. This is a memory I've not had pop up in my head that I can remember. Not like this. But, I was Gio. He was with me in that car this morning. Jamming right along with me. I know it.

I didn't attend his funeral. I couldn't. I couldn't see him lying in a casket. I know people won't understand. But I couldn't bring myself to see him. Honestly, the sounds that have come out of my mouth this week during breakdowns...I've never heard before. I didn't recognize my own voice. My daughter and nieces and nephews are stronger humans that I can ever be. I can't imaging having to bury my child and I hope I never have to. I can't imagine what my parents are going through. I've had nightmares and not slept well. I've cried every single day. It may sound like a cop out, but I really don't care what people think. I couldn't do it. 

I thought I was ready for this. But I'm not. I don't think I'd ever be. I hope he can rest now, for once in a very long time just rest and be content. I also hope his demons in life aren't haunting him in death. I hope he's reunited with our Gaga and Popo and meeting their son, our uncle whom we never got to meet, Jackie.

Gio would have been forty this October.

I love you, baby brother.

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