This is Brendan when he was about 19 in 1989 when he was on the soccer team at Alfred State College. I recently discovered a bunch of letters he wrote to me dating from Fall 1993, Fall 1995, 1997 and 1999 (a couple of months before he died). So I went looking for some photographs of him and I gathered up about 11 so far. This is one of the earliest photos.
In the Fall of 1993 we had been together for just under four years. He was firmly entrenched in his alcohol addiction and would go through regular cycles where he would be abusive towards me. In early October of that year he got a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and was put in jail. Neither I nor his family would bail him out--me because I was afraid of him and them because they thought they were teaching him a lesson. He stayed in jail for a couple of weeks, even through his 23rd birthday till I finally bailed him out. While in jail he started writing, first two letters to me and then a sort of journal of his experience in jail. I read through the letters and journal and then typed them up and printed them out.
Here he writes about the racism in the jail:
"Today my district or north dorm received our first black inmate. He is visibly frightened and for damn good reason. He will not leave with all of his skin. Today his lunch and dinner were both eaten before he even had a chance to smell them. Like a fool, I have now alienated myself within my own district by sharing meals with "them". The only whites willing to hang with me are the "religious" whites who enjoy my passion for argument. Unfortunately, I am not scared and feel no need to fear a severe beating. I have already handled the unpleasantries of trying to be punked. It is common knowledge that I would have to be nearly killed for anyone to own me. I am now wondering how I will deal with the inevitable "peppering" of this good natured, young (Black) man. There will be no hesitation within this "mob" to beat me silly if I do decide to jump in for what I know is right. It may sound dramatic, but I do not exaggerate here. You can smell the hatred."
Here he sounds intelligent and perceptive dealing with a hard situation and showing some justice in his actions, but as another week goes by he gets more and more angry, not surprisingly:
"I am back physically fighting the best I have ever fought, but still slow to realize you cannot give anyone, friends, family, ex-lovers, an inch. There is no reason to concern myself with K any longer. A woman with her evil mind and self-centered crap belong with her own kind. She will fool her "acquaintances" and future fucks, but not for long I hope. I do wish you well, but I am still an open wound."
A few days earlier he was writing to me saying "Please understand I did this. My mistake. I am not angry at all with you. You're the best. I love you." That was the heart of the problem for me, the switch from love to hate and so quickly. That he had some training as a boxer was no reassurance for me when he would turn his anger in my direction while we were living in isolation together in the house. And yet, I read his words and I find myself once again drawn to parts of the person he was.
A couple of years later about a month or so after I left him for the last time in the summer of 1995 he writes to me from a rehab in Pennsylvania called Chit-Chat:
"On Saturday when I leave, we hold what is called a bell ringing. The community lines up and I stand in the center at the end of two parallel lines. In front of me is a large brass bell. The community wishes me luck and tells me I have helped them and what we have shared. Each member holds my sobriety coin and "rubs sobriety" into it while telling me what the "special" things are that we did together. There are predictions and advice and then good luck, God Bless and I know/think you'll do all right out there. I then address the community as a whole and ring the bell once for a certain reason of my choice. I have chosen once for my God, once for my sobriety, once for you, once for the love and support of my family and once for the community as a whole. I am really looking forward to this because my chances look pretty good this time around. If you can, please come. (Still trying) If I thought I was being selfish, I wouldn't do this and you know I am not trying to hurt you. Don't give up on me just yet, I've been down, but not for the count. I'm on my feet and going to fight this with all the talents God has given me."
"The main reason I feel good about this (the bell ringing) is that I have seen at least ten patients quit and head right back out to get fucked up and fuck up their loved ones in the process. I stuck to it, worked my ass off to get all that I could out of this and for once in my life did what I was told without being an insecure wise ass. And the greatest part of it all is I listened. I know what I have to do. I have no choice, its my last chance. No mention to my parents please, but I fucked up my liver a bit, a lot for someone my age. The doctor says it will return to normal with abstinence (from booze), so I know what I cannot do any longer. Otherwise I am healthy as fuck."
Around the same time I was writing this in my journal:
"Made it from JFK to Binghampton. Tomorrow it's back to Alfred--to my house & cats & brother. Night before last I was disturbed by a call from Mrs. M. (Brendan's mom). She told Brendan that she'd been talking to me. When he asked for my number, she refused to tell him, but she agreed to call me and give me his number. Putting the ball in my court so to speak. She said he didn't like the rehab much and was talking about leaving. She said he wouldn't stay with them--he mentioned going back to Alfred--that or to Kingston with Scott--to her that would be like "putting a gun to his head". All this unnerved me & the idea of talking to him just at a time when I would be heading back home was too much. Of course "the parents" weren't happy either & Dad said I should call Mrs. M. and tell her to tell Brendan that I wasn't going to call. I called Mrs. M. & said I couldn't handle it and that I'd rather he didn't call me. That took some pressure off of me. The guilt is what gets me. I'm trying to break up & I can't be friend & supporter while I'm trying to distance myself. Still, I feel lousy about it. Six years is a long time to be with one person--and I can't help it if I feel a certain amount of love & affection for Brendan. Unfortunately because he's addicted to alcohol and has certain mental problems stemming from his family & community--it's no easy thing to keep a good balance--and my tendency is to give too much, ask too little and that's just not going to work for me anymore. I feel so sad. This is a dangerous time for me. Whether I like it or not, I've got to be cautious. I've also got to get involved with things outside of myself."
Looking back and reading both Brendan's letters and my journal of that time, I see he was serious about his sobriety and that if I had given him one more chance, he might have pulled through. But I didn't. I would come back into his life as a friend, but never again as a lover. The abuse was bad enough that I haven't been in another relationship since the night I left him in the summer of 1995. At first that was because I was trying to recover and then, almost as a delayed reaction, I became seriously mentally ill myself. I believed I was just too ill to be in a relationship even after I began to recover. And now, I just don't really want to be in a relationship. I'm finding that my creativity suffices. I get too isolated, but I still enjoy my own company.
I read in some book on domestic violence that it can take twice the time you were in a relationship to begin to heal from serious abuse. For me, because of the schizophrenia, it's taken till now to actually look back from where I came, to look at Brendan with some justice. Really, he was a good person living under some very hard circumstances. And now I'm able to miss him in a way I wasn't able to before. Maybe I can reflect some of the good things about him in my JournalBook. And so it's back to typing up his words and mine...