Brother: An Abecedarian Essay
Around Christmas, he’s on the run again; five nights without sleep, running from people he says hide in the shadows.
Baby brother posted this on Facebook—that’s how I found out, not that my family would tell me.
Called my father, immediately, who said it wasn’t his place, as if it would be gossip.
Dad doesn’t want to admit it’s meth because he’s done meth and never had delusions; I never saw my father do meth, but maybe little bro did, and now I bear witness to my brother’s downward spiral, the events running from A to Z, despite me not wanting them to.
Every person’s body is different: one gets addicted to alcohol (like Dad and me), another to cocaine (like my mother), and for baby brother, who’s actually 36, it’s meth.
For me, I secretly hope he’ll get arrested and have to do enough time that he’ll be forced to quit.
Granted that’s how most of the meth addicts in the videos I watch online said they got off the drug—cold turkey in jail.
How my brother runs from the people he says are after him is he gets into his truck and drives as fast as he can, sometimes going over 100 mph.
I’m afraid he’ll crash and kill himself or crash and kill someone else; he’s been running for two years now, if I had to guess.
Just a year ago, his wife committed suicide, and it’s hard to consider whether his drug use played a role in her hanging herself; he drove her to it, that’s what my father says.
Keahole is the airport where I land whenever I go home, so I am immediately greeted by rugged black terrain; it’s where I landed last October when I tried to see my brother, but he was running from me too.
Luncheon at my father’s place: baby brother didn’t show, even though my father made a lot of food, even though my brother said he’d come, even though the family waited until we couldn’t wait anymore.
My brother is a great talent: he has a beautiful singing voice and plays the ukulele; he works construction and is considered a fine finisher; he can fix almost any car without computerized parts; he loves to surf; he’s a skilled fisherman and an excellent father.
Nowadays, however, he doesn’t do any of those things; mostly he works just enough to get money to keep running.
Of course, his three sons were taken away, which is a good thing because it’s damaging for them to be told people are always after them; they live with their maternal grandmother, who makes sure they go to school—hopefully they’ll graduate; my brother never did.
Part of why I worry is because meth is so toxic; I’ve watched meth addicts online describe the damage the drug has done to their bodies.
Quitting, they say, is nearly impossible, and many admit they were addicted from the first hit.
Remember that morning when my brother went out early with my father to set nets; the water was so calm, and there wasn’t any reason to be afraid, but there is always a knot in my belly when the men in my family go out to sea; I worry they won’t come back.
Sarah Ann was his wife, such a cheerful name; she cut her father down when he hanged himself, and in turn, her oldest son was the one to cut her down when she did the same.
Thing is people always called my brother kalohe, the Hawaiian word for mischievous; at two years old, he somehow climbed from his crib to the highest shelf in my parents’ closet; my father found him there, crying because he couldn’t get down, and at three, he pulled a cup of hot coffee from a table onto his little body; my mother found him on the floor, trying to pull his coffee-stained shirt off his chest; also at three, he was bitten by a dog in the face; when I ran to chase the dog off, fatty tissue hung from my brother’s cheek, and at four, he burned our house down with my father’s matches.
Underwater, he is the most graceful of beings, part merman; I have pictures of us snorkeling; I took them with one of those disposable film cameras; in the shots, I’m wearing a pink bikini; he’s got a spear gun in his hand, and when he goes down, I go down; he’s down, trying to wait out a fish from a rock; I’m down, trying to wait out my brother; I want a shot of him spearing his catch, but I can’t get it because he can hold his breath much longer than I can.
Vital to his survival were two drug tests—I sent one to our father and one to our uncle. I asked them to administer the tests on my brother, since they lived near him and I didn’t; I wanted them to know what I knew, but they refused to do it, saying he was just having a hard time; never mind that he had all the outward signs, including weight loss and rotten teeth; my father thought he wasn’t right in the head and wanted to get him committed; I wanted my father and uncle to stop giving him money to get by; now that he was homeless, he was probably using it for drugs.
Water can sometimes feel like a solid surface when you’re barreling toward it; my brother and I used to go cliff diving; I always climbed down to a lower shelf but was scared of the sting when I hit all the same.
X marks the spot in Haina where cliffs descend into sea, too steep and too many rocks to survive a dive; it’s where my brother shot his dog in the face because the dog bit a baby girl—not his baby girl, because his baby girl died in the womb at nine months—but the dog had to make him think of his baby girl, the one they buried in a small coffin; so he shot the dog in the face and threw it over the cliff, but the dog came back, like in Pet Sematary, and my brother kept him—but the dog was different then, gentler; from that point, they called him Ghost.
You can’t imagine how I’ve tried to harden myself to the inevitable crash that’s bound to come, like when my brother said, “It should have been me,” and by this, he means Sarah Ann and her suicide; he took two dozen red and yellow roses down to Waipi’o Valley and cast them into the sea, a gift to her on her birthday, and a single yellow one came back; yellow roses were her favorite flower; he cast the returned rose out again, but it came tumbling back with the waves onto the black sand; he thinks this means something, that she hasn’t left him; it’s a romantic notion; I think of an essay I read by an addict who described meth as his white lover—he couldn’t give her up.
Zenith of this story: someone is dying; I feel it in my bones, brother; someone is dying, and I think it’s you.
Tammy Delatorre was named a 2020-2021 Steinbeck Fellow. She’s received other literary awards, including the Payton Prize, Slippery Elm Prose Prize, CutBank’s Montana Prize for Nonfiction, and Columbia Journal Fall Contest. Her writing has appeared in Los Angeles Review, Zone 3, Hobart Online, The Rumpus, and Vice. She obtained her MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Read more of her work at www.tammydelatorre.com.