I wrote in a recent post over on my boat-focused site about my current situation in terms of work, life, the boat and, um, yeah, life. And as I wrote over there, I had a drive up to Massachusetts planned. The trip was going to be a quick one, a couple of days, to tackle some errands, most notably getting my car inspected and legal for another year. I did that drive this past Sunday and well, I’m still at Plum Island.
The day before I drove up I was at work showing some boats. And I was in a good mood, having finally closed the deal for the Tartan a day before. While showing the boats I got a voice-mail message from my brother asking me to call him. In between clients, I called him back and got his voice mail. I left a message saying I had planned to drive up that day but since work had gone so long I was going to stay in Annapolis and drive up on Sunday.
While sitting aboard Further around 9 a.m., my phone rang. It was my brother. I didn’t answer the phone because by that hour my brother had likely been drinking for a good 10 hours or more and I didn’t want to have another incoherent conversation, so I let it go to voice mail. He left no message.
The next morning I had packed and showered and was dressing when the phone rang again. My brother again. So I answered it. Pleasantries were exchanged and when I said I would be on the road in a few minutes he said, “I’m at Anna Jaques.” That’s the hospital in Newburyport. He told me he’d been feeling weak and short of breath, and that when he’d tried to mow the lawn he couldn’t do it. So he’d gone to the hospital and they’d kept him overnight and would be there another night. “All right,” I told him, “I’ll be there in eight hours or so.”
Traffic on a summer Sunday sucked so it took all of eight hours and then some. I went straight to the hospital upon reaching Newburyport and found him in his room. He’d been in a different room but had fallen trying to get out of bed so the nurses moved him to be closer to their station.
And he looked like shit. An unruly (even for him) mop of hair and a mangy Uncle Sam-style beard made him look like the Unabomber. Eyes sunk deep in a skull of yellowed skin. Bare legs splayed out below a filthy hospital gown. And when he talked he was unintelligible for long stretches.
He’d gone to one of those urgent-care places in a strip mall that are so prevalent in today’s fucked-up American health-care scene and they had told him he had to go to the ER. And now he’d spent 24-plus hours in the hospital.
I sugarcoated a lot of what I wrote in my post from a couple of weeks ago but one of the big question marks in my life has been the disposition of the house at Plum Island. And a big reason that’s a question mark is that my brother has been there for two years now. And that’s his right: he and I co-own the house. But I can’t live in that house with my brother because it’s too toxic. It’s too much like living with my father — which I did for several years while taking care of him — and I won’t do that again. And it’s too toxic being there with my brother for the same reason it was too toxic with my father: alcohol. And alcohol is why my brother is in the hospital.
My brother is a carpenter, and a good one, and he moved east in 2017 with all of his tools to take charge of all the fix-its and maintenance items our parents never got around to. That first fall I helped him as he rebuilt the decks. No mean feat, that: there’s a LOT of deck on the house. Since that project, nothing has been done. And in fact, my brother was living much the same life as my father: get up in the morning, read the paper at the breakfast table all morning, start drinking around 11 or 12, watch TV all day, fall asleep in front of the TV in the evening then wander upstairs to bed late. Then repeat the next day. The only difference was that my father was in his late 80s and early 90s and had suffered a broken hip.
And that was not an environment I wanted to be around again. So I retreated to Further in Annapolis. And that broke my heart because as I’ve written countless times, Plum Island is home. Even as I detest some of the changes the place is undergoing, it’s where my heart feels such joy. But I simply couldn’t be there with my brother there.
Except now I am. Well, he’s still in the hospital. When he described the symptoms on the phone I thought he might have had a heart attack. When I asked his nurse what was up she ran through a litany of “this test showed this and that test showed that,” and when I asked, “So, he didn’t have a heart attack or anything like that?” she replied, “It’s alcohol.”
So yeah, my brother has been in the hospital for six days detoxing.
I notified his daughters Sunday night after I left the hospital and his younger girl, who is a nurse, has taken charge of things. I visit him every day and up until yesterday was keeping the conversation focused on, “Hey, just get better, get stronger.” And over the six days he has gotten better: his blood labs are all much improved, he still has the shakes but they’re waning a bit, his eye sockets aren’t as yellow anymore, and he has begun walking again.
Yesterday I began mentioning that he needs to get help. The doctor told him flat out on the first day that if he didn’t stop drinking he would die, and he has told his daughter that he was properly scared by that statement. I hope that’s so but a couple of times he’s dropped the idea that we could put sheets on the couch in the living room and he could sleep there since the stairs in this house would be a challenge for him in his current condition. I’ve spoken with two friends who have been in AA for many years and they’ve been super helpful, offering resources to help him while also counseling me on how to deal with an alcoholic and what my brother is going through.
Next up for my brother should be physical therapy rehab, but his case worker revealed that because he has such shitty health insurance (thank god he has any) no rehab facility will admit him. Again, gotta love the American health care system. She’s still working on that, but there’s a strong chance that he’ll end up back here in the house in the next day or so. And I’m sorry, but I don’t believe my brother should come back to the house. Not yet anyway. I’ve already poured out all the booze that was here, but his daughters and I are in agreement that this place is kind of a black hole for him: for two years he’s been shut up inside with nothing going on. To come back to the scene of the crime, so to speak, is not going to be the temptation he needs. And how’s he going to get strong enough to be able to go to alcohol rehab — assuming he’s willing to go — living here on his own?
So then, selfishly, there’s my situation and my relation to these things that are going on. I had written my brother a letter a month-plus ago saying that when I came north for those errands we needed to talk about possibly selling the house. I have never wanted to sell it but as mentioned, I can’t live here with him. I won’t. But now I’m here and have begun some of the things the house needed: I paid a friend who used to clean the house for my parents to come in and do a heavy cleaning for a couple of days; I mowed the lawn that was knee-high; I cleaned the kitchen implements that had become just nasty; I’ve begun going through my parents’ stuff that I had set aside for my brother (and sister) to go through.
But more importantly, do I just leave if and when he comes home? I can’t just let him come back here and fall into old patterns and very likely kill himself. And the house was deteriorating rather than being renovated so letting it go further would be a major financial hit to him as well as me. But as mentioned, I closed that yacht deal so the boat brokering is starting to take off, and I also continue interviews as I look to resume my career. Do I focus my search on this area and settle in back here? Get the house back in order and live in my happy place at the same time while working hereabouts? Or do I just cut bait — on my brother, this house, Plum Island — and take a new direction in life, maybe even load up Further and sail away? I have no idea, and some of the major elements in the decision are out of my hands. And sorry, but I hate that feeling.
And sorry for another major-league vent in this space. But it helps me process information so thanks for indulging me.
Boy oh boy…another tumultuous stretch in the ol’ Smith Family Chronicles. Like sands through the hour glass…