9:11 pm. Just finished my Zoom writing group. Happy to spend time with my fellow writers, reading our pieces and receiving critique.
I read a chapter of my revised memoir – the story of us coming from Texas to California to help my brother Jim as he faced the last year and a half of his life with AIDS. This version of the book I’ve written in several different ways over the years is gentler in some ways, more honest in others. It may have the benefit of my age as an equalizer in a way that the other versions have not had. We’ll see. The best part of this process for me is that I am resolved to tell this story as honestly as I can based on my point-of-view.
It is Jim’s story of gradually dying and my story of becoming more alive. The story of a brother and sister who love each other but have a serious falling out right in the middle of the dying process. It’s is a tough story in many ways and covers the most difficult part of my life.
My brother: the gay man, the surgeon, the bodybuilder, the retired Navy Lieutenant Colonel, the former hippie. So many variations and iterations. Someone I loved with all my heart and could also hate with all my soul. His temper made short by steroid use, his behavior unpredictable. And yet, one of the most generous people I’ve ever met and one of the most loving. An adventurer, a risk-taker and pusher of boundaries, The guy who had to have the latest gadget and drove a red Rolls Royce convertible. Who owned a 40’ sailboat and an airplane. Who took my children on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive once we moved here, hoping to spoil little girls who didn’t quite know what to do with that kind of freedom. One of the only people in the world besides my husband with whom I’ve confronted with his foibles and listened while he recounted my every shortcoming. The only one besides Ray that I’ve gone head-to-head with on the mat, staring him down to see who would blink first. The only person besides Ray with whom I’ve told in no uncertain terms that he was screwing up and needed to get his head on straight. The brother who raged at me, fired me from the job he’d brought me out to do, then called a month later just to say hello.
Yes, this is a story that’s hard for me to tell. I was with him every day as he was dying and watched as he allowed himself to be manipulated by someone who professed to love him, but kept asking for stuff. Stuff, stuff and more stuff. Anything he could get before Jim died. So painful to watch. And then those talks we had – our reconnection, our reconciliation, our times together as he wasted away.
Lordy, Lordy. A sad story indeed. But I am so grateful for that reconciliation. Love triumphing over greed. Love healing past hurts. Love making death the exact right ending while dignity was still possible.
This is a road that’s hard for me to travel along once again. But I’ll do it because I have not gotten it right. I was too angry the first time I wrote it; too cynical the second; too afraid the third time. And now, the fourth time, I’m just going to tell the story one word at a time, trying to tell the truth and also see the humanity.
This is a healing journey for me. Walking this path once again. Not for hope or glory, but rather just to tell the story. It is truly a lovely story. A transformative story. But first I have to relive the hard parts and face the pain. Hard for me to do. I guess this is when I can see the true value of taking it one step at a time. Or as Ann Lamott would say, “Bird by bird.”