Every August 15th I bake a German Chocolate cake even though no one in this house eats it. Well I do but I can’t eat the whole thing myself. I have taken to only putting the coconut icing on half so that my Chef will eat some of the cake, his aversion to all things coconut winning out over his love of pecans. I make the cake anyway, once a year and have since 1998. I make it for my older brother on his birthday, it was his favorite.
I’m not one for visiting gravesite, my sister-in-law is so faithful at this. She ensures my mother always has flowers and a grave blanket in winter, something that was really important to mom. She and my little brother go to all the graves and then send me pictures of their work. I went right after mom died, right after Joe died, but then rarely go back. They aren’t there. So I bake a cake and remember my older brother, focus on the good times and try not to beat the eggs too roughly as my anger rises again.
Everything good in my little brother was missing in my older brother. I can explain it away by the high fevers he had as a toddler, the extra time he spent with our abusive father, the addiction that grabbed him as he hit his tweens. He was just a shit. He stole from us, mom’s keepsakes from her mother, my babysitting money. He introduced both his younger siblings to drugs and alcohol and then told mom on us, reaping the rewards of the confiscated goods and gaining points with her. He was a shit but God was he charming. Four years older than me, with a group of rowdy friends, always ready to party, always laughing. My friends thought he was gorgeous, wanted to be around him. I tried to escape him, his bullying and late night parties when mom went away. I loved him because he was my brother and hated that he was my brother, that I couldn’t turn my back all the way on him.
My mother learned to enable as a child with her own father, she hid his bottles from her own mother, told lies to protect him. She did no less for her son. Fresh starts broken promises money slid across the table. Leftovers always packaged for him to grab, no need for him to spend his money on food. This boy never had to grow up even when he fathered a child. We all stepped in and began to provide for this beautiful boy because my brother would rather buy beer than baby bottles. My sister-in-law raised this boy into man who has his own family and provides for them. A man to be proud of, a man my brother never got to know.
My brother killed himself in 1997. He finally gave up, stopped fighting his desire to use drugs and to drink. He wanted more and had no idea how to ever get there, at 37 years of age and most of his life high. Friends had gone on to college, gotten married, were raising their kids instead of hell. He gave up after dozens of times calling me threatening to do so, me talking him down. He didn’t call me this time. His life has been a cautionary tale for the nieces and nephews he barely knew. We can’t play with substances like other families. We have bad genes. His life was not wasted even though he mostly always was. I grew strength, resolve, to stand strong in the face of my own son’s use. I left him in rehabs while he begged to come home. When he made promises and pledges that I knew were lies and out of his control to keep, I walked away and into a parents group. I testified to judges about addiction and the need for help and not just incarceration. I have fought with and for my son. I have fought the urge to enable with every breath. I have seen the outcome. I don’t want to see pictures of a gravesite my sister-in-law has decorated for me. I don’t want to bake a cake for him that no one will eat.
Every August 15th I bake a cake. By August 20th it is in the trash. Wasted, no more candles ever. A cautionary German Chocolate cake. And I remember my brother.