Any minute now, it will begin: first one car, then another, then another will drive into our cul-de-sac and park in front of the house across the street. As they do on every holiday, the Bishop’s children are coming home.
There are six of them, all adults now, several with children of their own. They clog the street with their SUVs and economy cars, and no doubt clog their mother’s kitchen with welcome laughter and unwelcome fingers picking at the platters of food still under construction. I imagine the scene, and I smile. If I’m lucky, it will be my future.
Our nearest family members live 800 miles away. In some of the years past, my husband’s parents have made the drive from Portland to share the holiday with us; a few times we’ve driven to them. But this year, like last, we’re home for Thanksgiving–the nine of us cozying up on a drizzly day with the smell of roasting turkey driving us mad. The air is rich with content. I am grateful, more than those eight letters can really signify, for the family within these walls. But then I think about my brother, and I am sad.
The call from Church headquarters came a month or so ago. “We have the records of (name),” the quavery-voiced woman said. I could picture her, white-haired and wrinkled, sitting in front of a computer monitor with my brother’s information glowing onscreen. “We would like to send them to his current ward. Do you have a street address or phone number for his place of residence?”
My mouth ran dry. “No,” I said. “I don’t.”
“Is there someone we can contact who might have that information?”
“Not that I know of.” I swallowed hard. “None of us has heard from him for almost two years.”
She paused. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Yes. I was sorry, too, to hear the words spoken aloud. It had been months since I’d had cause to speak of my brother, and my sense of loss amplified anew. After I hung up the phone, I wept and wept.
My brother, my only blood sibling, two-and-a-half years older than I. Throughout our childhood he was my mind-twin, or perhaps, more accurately, my heart-twin, understanding things nobody else understood. He alone could comprehend the unfillable void in my chest that had yawned wide ever since our parents’ divorce. He alone shared my particular parcel of pain in the troubled blended family created by our mother’s remarriage. We didn’t speak our understanding aloud very often. We didn’t need to.
But while my life took an upswing after leaving home, his continued along the slow downward spiral we’d both been following throughout adolescence. His drug use became drug addiction. He was homeless for years, sleeping on friends’ couches and enjoying, at least some of the time, the freedom of uprootedness. He visited me once, ten years ago, when I had three small children in a tiny house. He and his friend, the delightfully odd bearded man named Jelly, arrived in a battered VW van (natch) and stayed for the afternoon, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and filling our washing machine drain with dirt from their incredibly filthy clothing. That was the last time I saw him.
Then came the car accident. Two people died; a strict new DUI law held him accountable. He received two prison sentences, each two to twenty years. After serving his minimum four years, he was released on a writ of habeus corpus due to controversies surrounding the new law and his attorney, who was disbarred soon after his trial. But after eighteen months, the state’s appeal was granted, and he was summoned back to prison to finish his 36 remaining years. Instead of complying, he ran.
I heard the news two Decembers ago. The children and I were decorating gingerbread men for Christmas when my mother called to tell me my brother had disappeared. I stood in the middle of my kitchen, hands dry and itchy with flour, apron smeared with butter, and felt utter rage. How could he do this? I thought. How could he do this to our mother? How could he do this to me? It was a betrayal of everything he’d been given over the course of his thirty-seven years–love, nurturing, compassion, forgiveness, encouragement. It was a betrayal of Home.
My rage is gone now, for the most part. It still flares now and again when I see and hear the effects of his choice on my mother, who grieves a certain yet ambiguous loss. “He could be dead,” she says. “And whenever he does die, I might not ever know.” But I believe that no matter how thickly brewed the pain can taste for all of us who love my brother, his is greater still. Even as my mother and I spoke that December evening, with my children chattering in the background and gobs of frosting hardening on the countertops, I was standing in the midst of everything warm and good, and he was moving farther and farther away from the chance of ever regaining it.
I don’t think of my brother often. I’ve had to close the door on his memory in order to minimize the impact of his choice on myself and my family. But on days like today, the door swings open. I remember holidays past, when he and I would be shuffled from one family gathering to another, trying to bridge the gap of a severed marriage. I remember our psychic closeness, which I’ve never experienced with any other person, not even my closest girlfriends, not even my husband. I wonder where he is right now, and who he’s with, and what he’s doing. And as I look around at my children, praying that one day they will eagerly return, like the Bishop’s children, to the heart of their upbringing, I pray that my brother can still hold and touch and feel a small piece of his own.