epiphany

I knew that going to my brother's graduation would be meaningful. But I had no expectations that I would come to realizations about my life. I looked forward to the trip to Tuscaloosa because I like road trips. I like the anticipation of getting somewhere, the moving forward. I like the quiet of the road, the potential for conversation, the possibilities that lie on the other side of where you're going. The weekend had been 6 years coming for my brother who graduated with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. To see his accomplishments and hard work come to this point made me proud.

What I was not prepared for was how stressed, how fatigued and worried my brother seemed. Matt has, for the most part, been incredibly laid back as long as I can remember. It seemed he entered this world, relaxed while I stood on the other side of the glass looking into the hospital nursery, nervous that I would break him. He did not cry often and slept through practically everything. We depended on each other as my mother's depression worsened. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us in the afternoons when we watched cartoons in the playroom, trying to be as quiet as possible. We played outside in our imagined worlds. My mother seemed stuck in hers.

When I moved to college, I envied my brother's relationship with my mother. Even as her depression took her over again, he loved her effortlessly. At least that's how it seemed from the 325 mile distance between our lives. When I visited the house where I never had a room, the town where no one knew me, the place my brother lived his teenage life I felt left out but I also felt free from the responsibility that came with mother's "condition." I was still angry with her and with myself, though I would have never admitted it. I spent little time with my family in that town. Although, I called my brother frequently, I became a distant relative, dropping in and out of his life at will. (At the time, I was struggling with drug addiction as well as a whole host of other issues.)

Entering college had been an odd kind of escape for me. I ran from a lot of things and toward nothing. I do not know if my brother felt the same way or not but I suspect that leaving the small town as well as my parents' impending move must have changed him. The drive from Mobile to Tuscaloosa takes about 3 hours unless you get stuck behind log trucks or a police car. I must have driven Highway 43 at least once a month, sometimes more to see my brother, to check in, to apologize for not being around before.

The hardest part about being in England was missing my brother. I felt so guilty being so far away. I felt as if I was letting him down. When I moved to Illinois, I knew I would miss those trips to Tuscaloosa, those nights we sat on apartment steps and talked about where our lives would end up. The conversations over phone lines, between classes, exams and working on lab reports were poor substitutes. When he visited me in Illinois, he seemed the loving, happy, laid back guy I grew up with.

This weekend, however, he was frantic, conflicted, tired. Even the small decision about where to hang out, where to eat, what time to meet up with the parents sent him reeling. I know he felt a lot of pressure to make sure Mom, Dad and Gran were taken care of. I know he wants to make them proud. And perhaps he felt pressure to cater to me and M, despite our insistence that we were cool with whatever. The change in him seems to me more significant than a weekend graduation thing.

And then it hit me. This is his consequence. These are residual effects of our childhood, the pressure to "be good" to "do the right thing," to act properly, be considerate, mind your manners. The bullshit that comes with being a preacher's kid and the shit that comes with carrying a secret. I envied my brother because I thought my mother's depression did not cripple him, did not make him as tortured and conflicted and fucked up as it did me. I thought, somehow, he'd escaped its influence. But there it was staring me in the face. My brother is terrified that whatever decision he makes will be the wrong one, that every decision has a huge and life-altering consequence, that people will be displeased with him. Our whole life he tried to make my mother proud of him, tried to make her smile, tried to shake her free from whatever had a hold on her. And he is still trying to make everyone around him happy because it was what he was taught to do, to suppress his feelings for someone else's. "I know you want to play right now, but mommy doesn't feel good, so let's do this instead."

How is he supposed to know what he wants when what he wants is tied up in pleasing someone else? God, he's just as f'ed up as I am.