“You cut me off like you cut off mommy when she died.” Only four days back from a drug relapse, my brother Billy's statement would have charged me up for a week. This time I understood how entwined I was with him.
I didn’t feel the electrical surge in my stomach when my guardians were doing their jobs perfectly. They had blocked the seduction to get into a long drawn out saga with him. I no longer felt compelled to lash out or try to explain my fit of exasperation because they hollowed the space in my heart where my brother had inhabited.
Who was Billy anyway? At 4 years old he was looking for a better deal. “Is that all I get, one quarter!?” he asked the woman who tipped him for delivering her lunch to her.
Was Billy a survivor because his life was riddled with shame? He came from a broken home and spent many nights wandering in the streets when he hit puberty. Perhaps he was fulfilling his father’s, our father, (Joe's) perception, “You can’t get close to that kid.” His mother, our mother, (Emma) was a compulsive gambler, always complaining about not having enough money for things like heat or toilet paper, while Billy was left stuck with her. Joe, a factory worker, provided child support every week after their divorce, while he lived elsewhere in his new apartment with his new wife.
Billy is probably still reeling from the bind he was in -- wanting to be with Joe meant being disloyal to Emma, who he was ashamed of.
Was he a survivor because he used his personality to survive? He was such a fun-loving, spontaneous and charming kid. I remember when he stole food from the local supermarket, the manager ended up lending him money and giving him a bag of groceries. At the time, my only thought was, “Thank God I was there.”
Perhaps asking who Billy was is not the question I need to be asking, but rather, “Who am I?”
The entire 54 years of my life was encapsulated in flashes of time. “Could it be that I was just a transmitter who sucked energy from my brother, in order to compensate for my own hunger?” Being as involved as I was with him certainly took the attention off of me. There was a seductive quality to feeling needed. I felt better because I was helping him.
The thought of me sucking energy from my brother was intolerable. My mind raced. “How could I have been consuming his energy?” As the oldest sibling I embraced the responsibility of protecting my brother. But maybe what I really agreed to was, “I’d be there for you as long as I get something back.”
Now it is clear. There was never enough energy for him or for me. His obsession with drugs, alcohol, food, porn and gambling fueled our joint insatiable appetites. How could I have been depending on his energy when he was running on empty? It seems that at the time just the sight of him could have kept me going for weeks. I was always sniffing around for a fix under the guise of wanting to provide for him in some way. I was an energy sieve.
Suddenly I was flooded with memories related to having red hair and what a big deal that was. Comments continued throughout my life, “She has the same hair color as Great Grandpa Morris’s red mustache!” I was different in a bad way with light hair; light skin, light eyes while everyone else’s was darker and better.
Was it too far a stretch to consider that genetics accounted for an agreement that required the payment of energetic debts? Did my Great Grandpa consume other people’s energy in order to exist? I heard that he was a successful businessman because he knew how to take care of himself. Did Billy get that from him?
These memories triggered other associations. I visualized a forty-four year old hole. There was a man snapping pictures. He was moving very quickly. I was in an argument with the nurse who caught me sneaking up to the hospital room to catch a glimpse of my new baby brother. “I am mature enough to visit,” I shouted. I wasn’t going to be denied. I found another way to get to him.
Images continued to flood my mind: The night my brother fried chicken livers for himself when he was 9; Christmas Eve with my boyfriend Rusty, and his band. My eyes widened as I stared at the one of him with his pocket filled with worms walking to Sheepshead Bay. Hours later he came home with a smelly bag of trout. He was so excited when he said, “Look what I caught! I’ll fry these tonight!” I’m sure I wasn’t comfortable with him going out by himself at age 9.
I took several long gasps. It became clear that I had to delete all of those pictures and get rid of the person I was. I continued to visualize a new basis for our relationship.
I closed my eyes tightly. I became an updated version of Billy’s sister. I no longer require his energy. And I void the personalities I use to depend on to feel alive. Then I replaced the energy sucking machinery with a keen mathematical mind. I am drawing nourishment from within.
I envisioned an updated version of my brother as well. His soft blue eyes were resting on mine and we just stand there in the quiet hollow of my heart. I intend with all my power that we begin again.