I’ve written a lot about losing my brother. It’s been over four and a half years that he’s been gone, and still the wound feels fresh. I think about him most days, especially when I’m spending time with my children and thinking how much they would have loved their uncle. Every once in a while I hear a song or have a conversation that reminds me of him and it’s like he’s there all over again, leaving that feeling of loss moments later when I remember the truth.
But in November, I was able to find some small measure of peace. The tears have stopped coming so frequently, the pain has become familiar enough to carry, and the anxiety over what comes next has mellowed.
In November, four and a half years after losing my brother, his murderer was finally declared guilty.
Let’s interrupt the party to get mellow again. It’s been a while.
On November 17th, I welcomed my son Malcolm into the world. When my daughter Violet was born, I spent most of the first several months panicking. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I was sure I was going to mess it up. This time around, I felt more confident. From the first moment, I was just ecstatic to meet this little man. As time went on, however, I found myself facing some new concerns. I’ve done fine with my daughter so far, but she’s entering the age where she can interact with me a bit more. She can ask questions, she shows preferences daily, and I’ll have to worry about discipline more than I’ve needed to. In short, I need to teach her how to be a human. Furthermore, she has a little brother to look after now, and I have to teach her how to be responsible for those less capable than herself.
So today, I’m going to give you a peek into what it was like growing up in a lower-income, single parent home. With little supervision, I was left to fend for myself. With no male role model, I avoided a lot of stereotypical gender roles, but I also lost out on a lot of lessons my friends all know. And most importantly, I’d like to share some of the paralyzing terror of trying to be a father after being raised never seeing one in action.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve thought a lot about where I can find happiness. The sudden change in worldview was unbidden, but it ‘s made me reconsider my life in a way I hadn’t had to up to now. It’s caused a change in perspective in all facets of my life, for both good and ill. I’ll never again feel the same highs, certainly not in the same way. The world has lost some of its innocence and charm, the gray is a bit more pronounced, and the minute-to-minute joys of a day have all but evaporated. I struggle to reconnect with things I once loved, and results are mixed. Days go by where I feel like my old self, where I can happily write about a show I loved or my favorite games from the past. Conversely, there are days where I have to write to work through my mind. I have to try to give order to the storm, to piece back the ground after the quake.
Today is one of the latter. Writing, above many other things, has granted me clarity. I have found the important parts of the rest of my life, of course. My family will always be the most important part of my life. My focus at work has shifted to a greater passion for teaching, for culture, and for community outreach. But even my love of writing feeds into the core of what can make me happy moving forward. I don’t write in the hopes of it ever paying the bills. I don’t have any guarantee my words will ever be read by more than a handful of people, nor even that those that read them will care for them. However, they’re all written with the same purpose, the purpose that drives any passion I have left in my life. I want to make those around me happy.
I’m a little over two weeks since the one year anniversary of my brother’s murder. I’ve tried to write this a few times, but I hadn’t had time to slow down and really reflect. With family in town that weekend was more active than reflective, and that might be a blessing. We had a small get together with some of my brother’s oldest friends and had a chance to remember the good times and ignore the elephant in the room. A couple of weeks later, I’ve had time to look back. I’ve dealt with a few sleepless nights, a good cry or two, and come out with a feel for where I’m at.
If you want to see what grief looks like a year in, come on in.
I figure after being out of the world for a month, some explanation would not go unwarranted.
I’m not a religious guy. I never have been, really, though I played the part in my younger days to make my parents feel better. That still holds true, as I make sure to diligently call my family on the holidays that are important to them, and try my best to not belittle their beliefs. For the most part, holidays are a good reason to talk with family and connect during those periods when it’s hard to spare the time. Easter was one of those days that I never missed, making sure to cheerfully wish my family a happy Easter even though it held no special meaning to me.
This year, I didn’t call anyone. I didn’t think much of it at first, as my day was packed full taking care of my daughter (she totally got the point of the Easter egg hunt right off the bet, because she’s a fucking genius), as well as chores around the house and errands out in the world. It wasn’t until earlier today that I really thought about it, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Easter was one of those holidays where I always called my brother first, chatting with him for a while before he made sure I called mom and dad. It always took convincing to get me to talk to dad, so his encouragement always helped. But this year, without him to talk to, I never got that push. I made one feeble attempt to contact my mom, but never followed up after she didn’t get to her phone. It was a small thing, but it made me acutely aware of the loss and sent me downhill fast today.
I ended up going in to work closer to 8 than my usual 7 as a result, and found out that the company that shares our office space gets there promptly at 8 every day. Usually, my entrance is pretty solitary. I have some silence to take stock and prepare for my day, and my office is usually completely empty, affording me some solitude to get my day going. As I had to force my way through a throng of strangers this morning, I realized how much of a jerk I must be coming across as. Not holding doors, not making eye contact, not even acknowledging their friendly nods, I was just trying to get inside and get a few breaths in. It made me realize how easy it is to assume the worst of someone, when really, they could be going through things you can’t possibly know about. It made me consider that on any given day, that random person that bumped you on the sidewalk might be going through the worst day of their life.
Have you ever thought about what your greatest weakness is? Really sat down, turned off the world, and thought about it? Not the canned response you tell to your interviewer, trying to slip a selling point into a feigned moment of introspection. I’m talking about that one habit, that personality quirk that stops you dead and smothers your aspirations. It’s the bedrock beneath the wall standing between you and who you want to be. It’s hard to criticize yourself like that, and even if you find the answer, you might be wrong. But I think you have to find it, embrace what it can give you and then rip away what’s left, to mature. I don’t know if I’ve found my problem, but I feel like I’ve got a decent bead on it:
I always give up.
You would think I’d have a lot of reason to hate. My brother was murdered by a man who could get only 20 years in jail, being released well before I even consider retirement. My brother was taken the week before he was going to meet his first niece, leaving an exciting new chapter in my life instead marred by trauma and grief. My family is a mess as a result, and we spend our lives alternately smothering each other and just wanting to be alone. Oddly enough, however, I’ve found some serenity here. The only way I can cope with such terrible events is through forgiveness. I cannot let the man who took my brother’s life take mine, too. I can’t look out on the political world, or worse yet the warzone that is social media, and condemn other humans based on their differing beliefs. I’ve tried opening my eyes, and seeing other people’s points of view. Even when I find myself in direct conflict, I try to understand why the other person opposes me. When I cannot figure it out, I try to talk to them and work it out together.
Unfortunately, every day I see others letting their lives be ruled by hatred of other people. I can’t talk to my family, check Twitter, or read the news without it starting to dominate my life as well. This is my attempt to catalogue the daily hatred that I see- not to find pity or dwell, but in the hopes that those who read this can consider the daily effects of their hatred on themselves and those around them. An open dialogue between two disagreeing humans will always be more fulfilling than a war between demonized enemies.
I’ve been a pretty big asshole. Now I try not to feel bad about that, everyone has their moments. Generally, those “moments” last for years and years. It often takes an epiphany to snap out of it, and more likely, it takes dozens of those over the course of your life. I’ve not been fully cured of my asshole-ness, and most people reading this are in the same boat. But when a significant, life-changing event happens, it can set off a whole lot of those realizations at once. If you have several of those events in succession, it can give you a weird, social whiplash as it upends every way you interact with those around you.
Being a parent is pretty awesome. Raising a child, getting to mold them and watch them grow can be immensely satisfying, if it’s your bag. My daughter is just over a year old, and while it hasn’t been easy, it has been incredibly rewarding.
But that’s boring, let’s get negative.