(NOTE: In this missive, I air some dirty laundry. If, in the process of telling this truth, I cause pain or hurt to people I love, I regret that. But so be it. As an artist, the substance of my life is the material I draw from. For me, the Truth is more important than evasive pleasantries.)
> Settling in to Irish time, on this- my 13th Irish sojourn, was more difficult than any of the previous 12.
. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my creeping age. When I first came to visit my mother and her husband Paul in 1993 I was just about to turn 37. Now, I am just about to turn 60. BIG difference. Probably doesn’t help that I’ve been suffering with a mystery illness for nearly a year that can be quite debilitating. The time difference, (a loss of 8 hours), wrecks havoc on my internal system. Day feels like night, night feels like day. I find myself chugging along nicely and from out of nowhere- WHAM! I hit an invisible wall of fatigue. Just as last time, I spend a great deal of time in bed trying to will myself to feel better. It never works. I just have to wait it out. But this has not my biggest challenge. Hell, I’m used to feeling like crap. The hardest part has been being in the same universe as my brother JK.
. We played together nicely as youngsters, but sometime among the early teens, something went very awry between us. Everybody has somebody in their life they find it very difficult to interact with- somebody who is extraordinarily adept and finding all your secret reactive buttons and pressing them, gleefully. For the Israelis it’s the Palestinians, and vice versa. I often note how nice it would be if my brother and I got on as famously as these two neighbors do. For my part, I know exactly what my issues are. Not sure he is in touch with his feelings enough to say the same. For me, the problem stems from being horribly bullied from first grade to my second year of high school. That’s 10 years of torment I endured nearly every schoolday, and sometimes, for good measure, on the weekends as well. JK was my big brother. Somehow, I expected him to act like it. Instead of standing up for his little brother, he was often one of the bullies who tormented me. It’s not that he ever meant to be. It was just his way of being. I’m convinced he never understood me 1%. He was a rougn-and-tumble boy’s boy- an athlete, active and physical and very in his body. By contrast, I was “different” than most of the other boys. Gentle, sensitive, very much in the playground of my head. I suspect JK, like my father, was more bothered by this “otherness” than practically anyone else. Comparing myself to him, I was just a complete mystery. So when the other kids bullied me with taunts of “fag, pussy, homo”, (tellingly, the very worst thing they could think of to call someone), he remained silent, probably wondering if these were in fact, accurate labels. (The big irony in all this of course: I was “playing” touching games with the cootie-covered girls while the boys were more interested in playing touch football with each other!)
. It came to the point where I just had less patience with JK than any other person on earth. I use this analogy to best describe it: Suppose someone poked you in the arm every day in the same spot for years and years- not a sharp poke mind you- a light poke. But a poke nevertheless. That exact spot would become very, very sore over time, until it got to the point where all they had to do was point their finger in that direction for phantom pain to erupt. Every time I saw JK through the years, he would whip out that finger.
. Some years ago, I decided it was best if JK and I simply did not occupy the same space at the same time, to spare the rest of the family from our mutual volitility. Most of my family seemed to think this was a terrible shame. Only my wise mother praised it as a mature decision. Now flash forward to June 2016. Both parties to this conflict are hovering around their sixth decades. Nothing has really changed. I get word that both my wonderful sisters are planning a summer visit to my aging mom in Glengarriff, Ireland. JK will be there too. I find it vitally important to see my mother annually if even vaguely possible. How many more years could she have at 86? I happen to stumble upon a (relatively) cheap summer fare that amounts to $300 less than I spent the previous year. On this same day, my annual tax return arrives. Ironically, the poorer I get, the larger this rebate gets, and this was the largest check ever- enough to cover half the cost on day one. I bite the bullet and decide to slide further into debt to make the trip. Sure JK will be there- but so will my sisters. I rarely see them, and miss them both terribly in my daily life. Apparently, they could help run interference between us. So what the hell? I had no summer work anyway- nothing to tether me to santa Cruz. I pushed the send button and bout the ticket.
. Then, a few weeks before my departure date, I got word that both sisters have cancelled their trips. Health and economics conspired to prevent it. I certainly get both those issues, having been ill for nearly a full year now, and poorer than ever because of it. But what was I to do now? This meant I would be cooped up with JK for weeks on end, with nothing to insulate us from each other… NOT a good development. Too late to get a refund, I packed my bags and set off.
. When I (finally!) reached the train station in Killarney- there was my mother, waiting to pick me up- by brother at the wheel. Not two days later I was screaming at JK at the top of my lungs and wishing I were in America where I would have easy access to an assault weapon to murder him with. And you should have seen the look on his face! Being all but totally un-selfaware, he poor guy had NO IDEA what I was screaming about. On the surface of things, I was exploding over the silliest and most trivial of things. Of course, there was much more going on than he was alert to. It was all over… how to cook a pizza!
. The night before, we had burned a pizza egregiously in my mother’s oven. I knew how to avoid this. JK did not. I tried to explain it to him- but that would have required him to shut his mouth and open his ears long enough for me to compose three sentences- apparently, more than he was capable of. (Pretty simple really: mom’s oven runs hot. If the instructions say 200 degrees with fan-assisted baking, simply set the dial for 180, put it on the bottom rack and let it run the allotted time.) But JK could not get unstuck from a single word in the instructions: the word “gas”. Mom has an electric oven, the instructions were for a gas oven. But 200 degrees is 200 degrees whether it’s in a gas oven, an electric oven, a wood fired oven or an oven heated by dragon’s breath. He kept absolutely blocking me from saying sentence two or three, repeating over and over again: “But KEVIN! It says “gas”! These directions are for a gas oven!”, as though I were hard of hearing or too simple to understand basic language. I am so fucking fed up with being treated like an imbecilic baby by this man that I am just no longer willing to be his doormat… period. By the fourth interruption from the man who characterizes me as “the biggest interrupter he has ever known”, I just snapped. I had been as patient with him as I could. I opened fire, double-barrell. Afterward, I started to walk away and retreat to the sanctuary of my room to protect him from my fists, but found I was not done unloading on him. I still had lots more ammunition, so I returned and exhausted my metaphorical rounds until they were (temporarily) spent. The anger revolved around a complete and utter lack of simple respect. JK would not take my word for ANYTHING… EVER. If I were a doctor specializing in diseases of the spleen, he would want to argue with me about exactly where in the human body, the spleen existed. Was it silly to explode over such a trivial thing? Yes. Sure it was. Do I regret it? NOT ONE BIT.
. From that day forward, until the end of his trip, my brother seemed to think twice before he opened his mouth to me. This was an excellent outcome to a petulant outburst. Do I want my brother (or anybody!) to feel they have to walk on eggshells in my presence? Of course not. Am I available to be anyone’s doormat. No. NOT AVAILABLE. I find it terribly, terribly sad that these temper tantrums appears to be necessary to get my brother’s attention, but they do. The following day, I turned to my sisters for guidance. All they could say (all anyone could say, probably), was to keep away from him when he’s been drinking. The problem: following in my father’s footsteps, JK is an alcoholic. He drinks nightly, and is largely incoherent in the daytime before his nightly benders. He does not need to be drinking for us to have conflict. In the wake of this blowout we had a big, wrenching heart-to-heart, where I found the courage and language to tell him exactly what my issues were. He was drunk, with blazing red eyes, and weeping. Weeping for at least an hour. I would have thought he had the opportunity to do the same, as he had plenty to say, but in the aftermath, he characterized the conversation in very different terms to my sister, indicating he still doesn’t get it AT ALL.
. I told him the genesis of my antipathy, and explained that, for many years, I had blamed our inability to get along on him. Then I had a long overdue ephiphany: I was at least 51% responsible for our struggles. It’s simple really: If one blames the other for the bulk of the communication problems, there is not a damn thing one can DO about it. It is like taking poison and expecting the other guy to die. It was necessary for me to take personal responsibility for the sensitivity of these buttons he presses, and stop blaming him for always pressing them. In so doing, I owned up to my part in the dysfunction that is our relationship. Did he hear me? Did he reciprocate in owning his part of it.? Nope. Not one iota. He let drop the Big Hurt that he has nurtured all these years- an incident I have no recollection of whatsoever. At least that was some progress. JK insisted I once tried to KILL him by throwing a heavy object at his head. It was only his lightning-quick reflexes that saved his life. Even without any memory of it, I do not doubt his story. It feels like something I would have done in the thick of our childhood squabbles- though of course, I never had a conscious intent to kill him. I was just reacting to outrage I had no tools to express in a more constructive way. But according to JK, attempted murder it was, and he had never forgiven me. I apologized for translating my frustration with him into violence. He did not accept my apology, saying: “You can’t just apologize for attempted murder!”
. So this is where we left it. I, trying to forgive him and move on, him refusing to give and preferring to remain locked in his pain and hurt.
. Through the course of the intense conversation- certainly one of the most intense of my life- I came to see how terribly, tragically damaged the man is. My father’s drinking, the marital problems this caused, the abuse he would unleash when drunk, was simply more than he could deal with in this lifetime. It fucked me over too. It fucked all of us over. But the difference is, the rest of us have managed to move on from it. JK has not. He will not. He cannot. When my father died, we had a family outing in the Monterey Bay where we spread his ashes at sea. I hadn’t counted on it, but it seemed everyone suddenly turned to me, as the storyteller in the family, to deliver his eulogy. Unprepared for this, I spoke my heart in the plainest, most concise and direct manner possible. No long, flowery oration from me- I said simply: “Dad: I forgive you.” JK will never do the same.
(Do I still own 51% of the blame for our problems? No. I see that I need to be infinitely patient for someone suffering from PTSD, as he clearly is. But am I more at fault than he? No. It’s 60/40.)
. Some good news to close with, by way of some very bad news!
. The remainder of our time together was not difficult. My mother suffered a sudden medical problem that required immediate surgery and hospitalization. In the aftermath of this release of suppressed tension, when facing a common challenge- we managed to come together, put away our pain and hurt, and focus on caring for our wonderful mother. By the time he left a week later, I was almost sorry to see him go…
. The keyword here being “almost”…
> Check in later for the next chapter in the saga of my Irish adventures, in Missives From the Motherland #3…
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© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.