The Taming of a Pharisee, Part 4 (or, The Start of the Dark Years)

Sometimes a heart breaks over time, a piece falling out here and there.

I remember the day mine fell on the floor and shattered in a million micro- bits.



First Love

When I entered this world kicking and screaming, three beautiful faces smiled down on one of the ugliest babies on record.

Early on, I thought of them collectively—like a giant three headed gift of joy. Three set of arms to hold me, lots of kisses on chubby cheeks. But soon, they separated into distinct love-toys for my tiny amusement.

Milton Junior—my Moo Moo. The oldest of the tribe and most handsome male ever to walk the planet. Gentle, kind hearted.  He held me close and I still recall wrapping baby arms around his neck. When he rode away on his awesome chopper at eighteen, my nine-year-old self grieved for months. In fifty years, he’s never spoken a harsh word to me.

Picture: Left to right: John, Milton Jr. , James with me at 3  down front in 1964.

James Ray—smartest boy ever  with an IQ flying off the charts and a guitar to rival Bob Dylan’s. His patience with a little sister stands uppermost in my memory. He wrote poetry, sang songs to break your heart. He didn’t mind a pesky little girl watching over his shoulder for hours on end while he worked out the chords on new song or glued little pieces together on his latest model car.

John Max—bundle of energy, always throwing a ball or racing his bike.  He sang loud and off-key. Even my baby ears knew but  how I loved his voice.He tended to break things—like fingers and arms. I worried about him constantly.

Dad was busy with the congregation, running for city council and flying airplanes. My brothers were my heroes. They stabilized my world. I learned to tell time by watching the clock, waiting for them to come home from school. I wanted to be Elvis so I could be cool like them. When they laughed and told me I was a girl, I gave up and decided to marry Milton.

Even at four,  I knew you couldn’t marry all three.

The Times, They are A-Changing…

It was the sixties. Brothers grow up and leave home, come back for awhile and leave again. Parents whisper and worry. I waited for their visits like Christmas morning.

It didn’t matter what my brothers did, I loved them like crazy.  As far as I was concerned, they could do no wrong.  I fretted over them like a tiny rat terrier. I wanted them to quit smoking so they wouldn’t die of cancer and go to hell but otherwise, whatever they wanted was fine by me.

There was lots of hand wring amongst the adults. I missed the two oldest who’d gone off to be hippies in Southern California. I fought with John, made fun of his wig and ratted him out when he smoked cigarettes and cursed.

And then, Mom said James was coming home to stay.

Some Things Just Aren’t Fun

I ran to his room, bumping over to see my gentle brother again. I found a stranger sitting on his bed, playing his guitar.

What the hell are you looking at?

I ran away.

I didn’t stop running for years.

The scene plays over and over in my mind  four decades later and I still don’t have an answer. What wasI looking at?

Back then, no one knew what mind altering drugs could do to a person. Nobody mentioned the mind might go on vacation and not come back.

He was just a kid himself, only nineteen. His mind was gone. My brilliant brother couldn’t read or write. Mom retaught him to make his bed and wash the dishes. His thoughts raced and every syllable came pouring out. Mom said he was sick. She said I had to be patient. She said he couldn’t help it.

Nowadays, folks would say we were a family in crisis. Someone might suggest we get counseling . Someone might mention it wasn’t healthy to have an unstable manic living at home.

I don’t want to focus on my brother’s mental illness. He spent two full years fighting his way out of hell and those living with him got to play along. Even once he stabilized, he was never, ever the same and I could never reconcile the brother he was with the brother he became.

Anyone who knew my gentle brother in later years could never imagine what that time was like. I don’t think he remembered.

We never talked about it.


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