Greg was my half-brother from my father's first marriage and about eighteen years older than I was. I didn't know him well. My brother struggled with an addiction to alcohol. While enlisted in The U.S. Navy, he learned he actually was allergic to alcohol, which made him an angry, violent drunk. Medically discharged decades ago, he went on S.S.I. and sometimes was homeless. Sometimes he lived in an apartment or rented a hotel room, but he never stayed in one place long. My parents tried repeatedly to get him help to no avail.
I was 22 years of age in October of 1998 when we learned my brother, Greg, was seriously ill with the new strain of tuberculosis resistant to antibiotic treatment; he'd gotten it from someone at the bar that he often shared bottles with. Greg holed himself up in his hotel room, continuing to drink heavily. He thought it was just a cold. My other half-brother tried to get him to see a doctor, but Greg, true to his nature, believed he was invincible and would beat this thing on his own. He continued drinking, having friends from the local dive bar deliver bottles of alcohol to his room, which he did not leave. By the time he realized he was very ill, it was too late.
My brother had to be placed in restraints at the hospital, so he would not pull out his breathing tube. He was so strong and the D.T.s were so bad, that the doctors decided to medically induce a coma to give his body a chance to fight the infection, but it was in vain. Greg woke up the only time my family and I visited him, confused and in a panic, trying to speak around his breathing tube. He looked like a caged, wild animal. My father rushed us from the room because Greg's heart monitor started bleeping frantically. I never got to say goodbye. That is the last memory I have of my brother. He died on Friday the 13th, November 1998. My father was 68 at the time; he has never fully recovered from having to bury his son. A parent is not meant to outlive their children.
I thought about Greg a lot last night, as the end of October nears. I couldn't sleep. This morning, I want to share one of the poems I wrote about my experience.
All Hallow's Eve
for my my father
Death stares back at him from a bloodstained phlemgy ventilator
and his eyes are like two slick oil pools
amidst the hiss of the oxygen machine
that pumps life into his tuberculosis ridden body.
He is a wild caged animal riddled with piss-stinking fear,
trapped by I.V. lines, oxygen lines, heart monitors,
and chest tubes to keep his lung from collapsing,
and outside children dressed as ghosts, goblins, and witches
are trick or treating on this dreary All Hallow's Eve.
He claws at the sterile white hospital sheets,
grasping for his father's hand to pull him back into humanity,
tears dripping from the corners of his eyes
like sugar water dripping through clear tubes into his shrunken veins.
I tell him that when he is better we will play cribbage together,
and meanwhile my father is on the phone talking to his ex-wife,
and making funeral arrangements,
teetering on the brink of indecision --
"should he be resusticated," the doctors ask him again and again
each day as his son slips further away from the living.
"Should he be cremated or buried," my father asks my mother.
My father decides on cremation.
They are arranging for his funeral while he is still with us,
and my father is trying not to cry, to be a man, to be the head of the family
the way all good little boys from the depression era
were taught by their mothers,
but he can't wind up so many loose ends into
a neat ball of string and brown paper wrapping.
He can't bind up all the memories of his son
and toss them into the trash to be recycled.
He can't forget December 27, 1954,
the day his son was born
in a renovated castle in San Juan,
or 1974 when his son graduated high school
and enlisted in the navy to conquer the world,
and so many holidays spent with the family.
He can't help but ask why he hasn't said it earlier,
why he hasn't said, "I love you, son."