Mama said he was born with a hard line for a mouth. He was curious as a child but laughter wasn’t something that broke across that line all too often. Matter of fact, no emotions broke that hard line.
We almost lost him. We almost lost him many times.
“Go pick your brother up,” Mama instructed me late one night as she placed the phone on the table, “he’s over by the school you used to go to. Rankin, that school. He said he’s right across the street and will be waitin’ outside”.
I slid the keys off the dark wooden kitchen table. Any reason to drive since I got my license was a good enough reason for me. I fired up the truck and was grateful that it didn’t snow again so I didn’t have to brush down the vehicle. When it was cold like this the air bit at your exposed skin and even though I always joked about having “thick northern skin”, I still hid from the nipping air. That cold air must be coyote reincarnated, always biting at you and playing tricks. When you get so cold, you start to feel warm and almost like your burning. Coyote trick. One time when my cousin was stumbling home drunk she mistook a snow bank for a bed and fell asleep in it. If Uncle hadn’t been driving down to the store for a late night pack of cigarettes for one of their all night poker tournaments she would’ve kept on sleeping and never woke up. Sounds like Coyote to me.
I turned the truck down the long running road to Rankin Elementary in search of my brother. At 6’4 and with stocky figure he shouldn’t be hard to spot, even in the dark. I seen him straight away swaying and trying to steady himself by holding onto a parked old blue Chevy.
“ ‘Bout God damn time,” he slurred as he got into the vehicle.
“Seatbelt,” I said.
“Fuck a seatbelt. Drive,” he ordered, his speech wobbly but his anger present.
“When you going to stop doing this?” I asked him, annoyed.
“When I fuckin’ kill myself that’s when,” he barked.
“That’s not funny,”
“Who the fucks trying to be funny?”
“Settle down,” I said. I started to get nervous.
“Let me out of the truck,”
“No, Mama said to bring you home. I’m taking you home,”
“Fuck,” he roared as he hit his hand against the old scratched up dash.
“Jackie Boy, we’re almost home okay? Just hold on,”
“Don’t call me that,”
“Don’t fuckin’ call me that neither,”
“But it’s your name,”
“No, it’s not,”
His voice on top of slurring sounded different. My anxiety grew into fear. My brother was bigger than me and I became aware that he could hurt me, or hurt us both, or was going to hurt himself. He turned and looked at me, a dark menacing look in his eyes.
“You’re Jackie Boy, you’re my brother,”
“Your brother isn’t here anymore. I’m not your fuckin’ brother,” he yelled as he swayed in his seat.
I started to cry. I didn’t know what to do but to drive faster to get home. I called mama on my cellphone and told her brother was scaring me and she needed to be outside when we got home or call the cops.
I was turning the corner when he opened his door and began to lean his body outwards.
“No!!!,” I screamed as I dropped the phone and tried to pull him back inside.
“Noo, Jack, No! You can’t fucking do that. You’re my fucking brother. You’re my brother!!”
“Let me go!!” he screamed.
I was hysterical, trying to hold him and trying to drive down the road, my vision blurred by my tears.
“Please,” I cried, “Please brother come back”.
Finally I pulled down our street and held onto him long enough to pull into the driveway. Mom was waiting outside in her house coat and told him that this time she called the cops.
He began to fumble with his shoes and through them down the driveway.
“What are you doing son?!” mom yelled at him.
“I’m going to fuckin’ die,” he said as he took off down the winter road in his socks towards the woods.
“Stop,” mom yelled as she went to grab him but he turned and pushed her so hard she almost fell to the ground.
Mom began to weep with me as we watched my brother’s figure grow smaller in the streetlight. He was almost where the light stopped. Almost.
A cop car came down the road and my mom pointed towards my brother who was just turning into the woods. The cop nodded and sped down the road towards him. Once they had him in the car they came back and asked Mama what they wanted her to do with him.
“Take him in for the night,” she said, “I’ll come get him in the morning.
This was the third or fourth time my brother lost it like this. His anger and sadness together was a Molotov cocktail waiting to be ignited, but it didn’t need fire, it needed whiskey. My brother would only talk about the sexual abuse when he was drunk, and he would sit in the living room with tears streaming down his face. Jackie Boy never showed emotions so these moments of your big and older tough brother crying like a child crippled your soul. If you weren’t careful an anger burned in your chest and it would make a home there and burn you from the inside out until you were nothin’ but ash. These midnight confessions started within that year where he constantly was threatening to throw himself off of the edge.
I know he didn’t really want to die. I knew that he just didn’t know how to keep living with memories like that. I was the same way at one time.
That night, while Jackie By slept it off in city cells, a great wind came through. I heard it howling and whistling through the cracks in my window. I remembered what Grandma said and the darkness of what was happening to my family settled around me like a blanket I couldn’t escape. I wanted to sing, but I didn’t have a song, so I prayed.
Sometimes that great wind comes down to take the pain away I think. After that Jackie Boy smartened up and he drank less than before. My family pulled themselves together to tell him they loved him and that all of us, aunties and cousins, were there for him whenever he needed us. It became a little easier for him to live after that knowing that he was loved and no part of his experience made him any less of a man. A calmness settled in the house.
My brother was back.