My brother called last week to ask if I had heard from our cousin (we’ll call him Zeus).
Zeus is older than me by about 6 years, I think. We didn’t know each other well ever, but of all of the people on that side of the family, he was always the one who seemed the most misunderstood but the least likely to burn something down. He was “asked to leave” a posh school he attended because he was caught selling pot, and he loved his scotch, but that was about it. The last time I saw him, before we each moved to states at opposite ends of the country, was at our grandmother’s funeral. We had been pallbearers, had held hands through the horrible ceremony, and were in my car on the way to the airport. “Dude,” he said, “I know this is not the time, but does your mom always have to wear pants? Couldn’t she wear a skirt this one time? It’s disrespectful.”
About a year later he started calling me, more than normal. He would be drunk and say inappropriate things that I would rather not repeat. I finally told him to stop calling me and asked my parents to reinforce that message if they spoke to him.
A marriage, two kids, and many years later, he reached out to me. He seemed sober and in a good place, and we talked over email and finally over the phone. I was wary because it is my nature, and he was a lot all at once because that’s his. We reached a stasis of minimal communication but no hard feelings.
Fast forward a year to my brother’s call. He wanted to warn me that Zeus had become addicted to opioids and had stolen money, pills, and jewelry from his sick mother. He had stolen from his wife. He had been to rehab three times, each time only to end up relapsing. He had moved from pills to heroin and his wife had caught him twice shooting up at home when he was supposed to be watching his two young children. She finally kicked him out and he was living who knows where doing who knows what. My brother wanted to warn me that if Zeus reached out to me, he was likely not in his right mind, or any mind at all.
We had our 30 minutes of “WHAT THE EFF CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING” time, our 10 minutes of “What should we do?” time and then our 5 minutes of pulling it together time, in which we accepted that Zeus was still a country’s distance away with a wife who had only mentioned this happening in passing and did not want any of our sorry arses involved.
He hasn’t called. I think about calling him all the time, but I am too scared of who will pick up, or of no one picking up. I search the arrest records of the state in which he lives once a week. I Google his name, like it’s going to appear in some “newly homeless and strung out” Reddit forum where they use real names. I dreamt that he was dead; it felt true for a couple of days and then it didn’t.
My focus is not because I miss him, or because there’s this big gaping hole where he used to be. It’s because it is totally unfathomable to me that he would go down this path, and so quickly. I want to find him so I can ask him why he made the choices he made and what would have needed to happen for things to be different.
I also don’t want his kids to suffer. They’re already going to be working this emotional tab off for the rest of their lives, and I would like for their sakes to not have the debt increased. It was his job to not do this to them, and instead he put them at the bottom of his list of things he gives a shit about. If it’s better for those kids that daddy gets cleaned up and comes home, then I hope that’s what happens. If it’s better for them that daddy dies and they can all move on, then I hope that’s what happens. If you’re reading this and you’ve never lived with anyone who was an addict, congratulations, and you probably think that last sentence is horribly cruel. If you are the rest of us, then you will know that crueler than that last sentence is addiction, and you will recognize the moment of realizing that this is what it’s come to.
Of course, we are WASPs, so there is always the possibility that he will come home clean from some resort in Thailand and we will never speak of this again.