“I am sorry I hit you with a frying pan.” Two months after I got sober, I was walking around Toronto apologizing to people. Going up to unsuspecting people saying I am sorry, the way newly recovered alcoholics do. I was going around bringing up pain everyone else had tried to forget. This was years ago.
I called my brother Kevin, and said “I hit you with a frying pan.” ( No, not when I was drunk. When I was babysitting, when I was 13. I was always babysitting, taking care of the younger ones, and Kevin would be such a pain in the ass,and cursing me out and miserable I’d frequently beat him up)
“I hit you with a frying pan, and then I made you a grilled cheese sandwich so you wouldn’t tell mom. And I am sorry.”
“Go Fuck Yourself.” Then he hung up.
I had tried to make it right. I had tried. I apologized but I didn’t change the way I felt about him. He got the eye roll: the eye roll all the siblings gave when he came into the room. He was an engineer. You asked him the time, and he told you how to make a watch. Most of our family get-togethers were spent backing away from his long-winded stories. I watched the clock during every conversation. When he was dying. I wanted it to be different. He and the relationship with my mom were two unresolved relationships. So like my friend Sue taught me years before, I pretended to listen. Sue told me to “Act as if one day it will happen.
One day he called, and instead of avoiding his call, letting it go to voicemail,I picked up the phone said,
“How are you doing?”
“Well, I have a brain tumour head. It’s all in my head.”
I laughed and for the next few conversations, I pretended I was a sister who was interested in him. I’d say,
“Oh my and oh dear and uh-huh.”
And then one day (and I can’t tell you which) it changed. I really was interested. I pretended I cared until it was true. So it was thirty years after making that first amends, I met my brother for the first time.
We talked every day and I discovered funny and insightful he was.
And one night we were talking and at the end of the call, I said: “I love you”. And there was this long pause, “Well, I don’t feel very comfortable with that.” See we weren’t the kind of family who said I love you. Not unless you are in a coma or a coffin.
But I said, “Tough. Kevin, I am saying I love you whether you like it or not. Get used to it.” And then one night I hear in this tiny frail voice:
‘I love you’
And then we were like two teenagers:
I love you.
No, I love you.
I love you.
You hang up.
No, you hang up.
We said 137, I love You’s.
Yes, I counted.
It is because he was dying that this was happening. We let down our guard.
Without death pending we would’ve stayed stuck.
Would we have ever done any of this without death knocking at our door? No. We would have never woken up.
I hate when people think it was all bad. We had some joy.
As the poet Mary Oliver says, “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.
Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Don’t be afraid of its plenty.”
( From my new book Windowshopping for God. – I wrote all day- and it was such a joy to create on this New Year’s Day.)
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