Things I Learned from R. B. (April 12th, 2020)


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 11

She was well-known for beauty pageants, plugging orange juice, singing sad songs and heading up a campaign against the homosexuals from her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Her name was Anita Bryant, and her favorite phrase: “I love the sinners but hate the sin.”

We were still living in Shreveport, Louisiana, when Anita was the hottest thing on the news, stirring up hornets that seemed to have no nest.  Into this environment stepped R. B., right in the midst of the redneck, righteous South.

R. B. was skinny, almost frail—except for the small pouch of a belly which he had begun to accumulate through drinking his beer. His skin was ashen and pock-marked, giving him a face with the appearance of crushed gravel. He sported a huge head of hair growing from a widow’s peak and combed straight back into an Elvis pompadour—circa 1955.

He walked a little funny, leaning forward as he moved, dressed very conservatively and wore his clothes too long, avoiding a needful donation to Goodwill.

His voice was thin and wispy, with a tenor tone.

So in the heightened climate of bigotry sweeping the country, he was occasionally accused of being a “homo,” or having people quietly make the assumption.

Complicating the problem was his lack of interaction with females. Because his ego was very large and his listening skills very small, most women spent about thirty minutes with him before moving on to a better choice.

One night he confessed to me that he’d never been with a woman, explaining that only a year earlier he had discovered masturbation, but felt guilty every time he touched “his own.”

His lack of companionship with women, a daintiness in his demeanor, and an overwrought assessment of his viability made him a target for all the “Anitas” looking to victimize the gay community.

It all came to a head one night after we held our weekly meeting, at a local restaurant our gang favored. The manager was a friend of mine and always gave us a lovely banquet room in the back, where we could stay for a couple of hours, eating, drinking and enjoying our loud conversations.

One night there was a tussle. R. B. was talking to one of the fellows from our group. He explained that he wasn’t dating anyone and had no prospects in his near future.

The chap, lacking grace or style, jokingly asked R. B., “Well, if it’s not working out with the ladies, did you ever think about trying guys?”

It was barely audible to the rest of the table, but R. B. immediately stood up, grabbed the crass fellow by his shirt and threw him to the ground.

This led to a small, brief brawl. A table was knocked over and some chairs flew against the wall. It raised enough ruckus that the manager appeared, wide-eyed with horror. Some folks stepped between the feuding brothers, and I turned to the manager and explained that we had the situation in hand. He kindly chose not to call the police.

Normally in this type of predicament—after two feuding parties have their moment of physical struggle—they calm down, catch their breath and make peace. But oddly, as R. B. sat there, he became more angry—seething, breathing heavily, staring at his assaulter, ready to explode again at any moment.

I suggested we break off the evening and made sure R. B. got into his car as the other party quickly slipped away.

It was so odd—because R. B. never stopped fretting. Right before he started his vehicle, he rolled down his window and quipped to me, “I’m not coming back. I hate him.”

I did not know what to respond. I didn’t feel there was any future in trying to get him to mellow his mood, so I just said, “Go home—and don’t drive angry.”

He didn’t come to our fellowship for one month, two months, a third month. I heard little snippets about what he was doing through the grapevine—finally hearing that he lost his job and was moving to Dallas.

Figuring it was time for me to connect again, I dropped by his house. He came to the door shirtless, unkempt, with a bottle of beer in his hand.

He offered me one. I passed and sat down.

Concisely and briefly, he explained that he hadn’t shown up because he was too embarrassed and wasn’t sure anymore if he believed in “the God stuff” because he hadn’t gotten much out of it.

I chose not to evangelize. I just listened.

Deep in my heart, I believed he was just distressed and would change his mind. But three weeks later when I tried to visit again, his apartment had been rented to someone else, and he was long gone, leaving no forwarding address.

He didn’t contact me.

All I knew was that the last time we were together, he was going to Dallas.

Perhaps to my shame, I was relieved.

R. B. always turned me into a referee. He ruffled the feathers of those around him with his ego and his insecurity, and I was always cast in the role of his defender.

I was tired of being noble. I welcomed the distance between us.

Maybe we were never meant to be close. Perhaps it was just a friendship of convenience.

But I settled into a life—one which apparently was going to be conducted without R. B.

Not Long Tales … January 14th, 2020

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23.

Gerzie and Roach Boy

(Warning: Adult Stuff

No Children or Mosquitos)

by Jonathan Richard Cring

Gerzie sat quietly in her room. She was surrounded by two hundred and forty-eight square feet of monotony.

Three months earlier, she had moved to New York from Eugene, Oregon, to pursue a career in theater. She was shocked to discover that not only were living spaces limited but priced at a rate that deserved a giggle—as if the real estate agent was kidding.

It was all catching up with her.

The lack of space. The dismal surroundings. The repetition of food.

Matter of fact, the only unique thing she had come up with to eat was adding vegetables she found discarded in the trash can from the People’s Market to her ramen noodles. She didn’t do that very often—but whenever she did, she referred to it as her “healthy night.”

The cattle calls for the plays would not be nearly as depressing if she didn’t have to come back to such a tiny space and eat from a dumpster like a racoon.

She was trying to learn.

Growing up in Oregon, she had no comprehension whatsoever what it was like to live in an international city like New York. She was born Geraldine Collier Shemansky. She’d always hated the name Geraldine, so when she was in the fifth grade and did a book report on cows and mentioned the Jersey variety, her friends started calling her by that name—Jersey. This delighted her and eventually evolved into Gerzie.

However, it was impossible to think she would become famous with a name like Gerzie Shemansky. So she changed her last name to Stills.

Gerzie Stills.

It wasn’t great, but it was better.

Matter of fact, that’s the way she felt all the time. Nothing was great, but it was better than sitting around Eugene, Oregon, waiting for some boy to decide to pick her to impregnate.

This week had been particularly depressing.

She was up for a part in an off-Broadway play which offered little to no finance but was going to be performed at a theater the stars often frequented out of curiosity.

The play was about Abraham Lincoln—but not from 1865. More or less the story of what would happen if Abe Lincoln was born today. She wanted the role of Mary Todd, his wife, who ends up stripping because Abe keeps flunking the bar exam.

Gerzie was down to final call—just her and another girl. She lost the part because the other girl was sleeping with the assistant director. (At least, that’s what Gerzie believed. She saw them necking behind the building, and the next thing she knew she was back out on the street with the other cattle, waiting for the call.)

All at once there was a scratching sound. It wasn’t loud. It wasn’t even persistent. It happened just once and then stopped. It was like someone took a set of car keys and ran it across a kitchen counter.

Even though the interruption did not continue, Gerzie was spooked. She was pretty sure it had come from her bathroom (which, by the way, her landlord referred to as a latrine).

Gerzie had to make a decision. She hated decisions. After all, she had decided to come to New York. How could she be trusted?

Unnerved but unwilling to sit without knowing what was going on, she slowly rose to her feet and inched the three steps to her bathroom. She peeked around the corner and jumped back, screaming.

Sitting in her miniature tub was a young man—one of the small varieties—with mounds of curly hair threatening to bush. He was dressed all in black, and peered at her sheepishly, seemingly terrified that he had been discovered.

Gerzie turned to grab her phone and call the police, then realized she had left her cell at the coffee shop down the street. (Another chore she needed to take care of today.)

She glanced at the window, wondering if she could raise it and scream for help. But she had heard such screams in the middle of the night, and not given them a second thought.

“What in the fuck are you doing in my room?” she asked loudly and slowly, emphasizing each word.

The young man—probably in his mid-twenties—replied with widened eyes, “I was investigating.”

Having no idea what he meant by that, Gerzie grabbed a hanger lying on the sink and hit him on the shoulder. He grabbed his arm, moaning. “Why’d you do that?” he asked.

Gerzie heaved a huge sigh. “Because you’re in my bathroom and I don’t know who you are. How’d you get here?”

She glanced over at the front door. Still shut.

All at once the man leaned up on his knees in the bathtub, excited. “You see, I crawled through the wall space that runs through this whole building, and I ended up here—at your vent.”

He pointed behind him. “I pushed ever so slightly on it, and it opened up and lifted out. So I just…” He paused. “I just came in.”

As the fellow talked, Gerzie felt that he was not volatile, and maybe not dangerous, so she put down her weapon—her hanger of choice—and said flatly, “Okay. Well, now you need to leave. You may use my front door.”

He held up one finger. “Before I go,” he said, “would you mind if I explain to you why I am investigating behind this wall space, and why I ended up here with you today?”

Gerzie was unnerved. His soft manner was unnatural. She was accustomed to young men his age being aggressive, silly and overbearing. A soft-spoken gent was not really human.

She shook her head, but he continued. “My name is Richard,” he began slowly. “I am a Huco.”

Gerzie frowned. Noticing her confusion, he elaborated. “I will tell you what a Huco is in a second, but first I want you to understand that I’m not crazy—just inventive. I’m not mentally ill—just mentally expanded. Do you know what I mean?”

Gerzie shook her head again and replied, “Those all sound like the things a crazy person would say to prove they’re not nuts.”

“I don’t want to go into all of my story,” Richard cited, ignoring her comment. “It would be rude to take up so much of your time. But let me just say that I am part of a very important experiment that was begun by my mother, Maxillena, who, for twenty-five years has been a belly dancer down at the Arabian restaurant—the Middle Feast.”

Gerzie almost smiled. It was the first thing she had understood. “I know that place,” she commented. “I’ve eaten there a couple of times. They have a soup night or something—where you can eat for two dollars.”

“Tuesday nights,” said the young man. “What’s your favorite?”

Gerzie shook her head. “I’m not going to have a conversation with you about soup.”

Persistent, the young man continued. “As I said, my name is Richard, and even though I may appear to you to be part of the species Homo sapiens, just like yourself, I am actually a mixed breed.”

Gerzie was worried again. The soft, easy tone of his voice could quickly change to a maddening roar as he reached up to slit her throat. “Listen,” she said, “I know you probably have an interesting story. Maybe you should write it down. Slip it under the door. I’ll read it. I’ll even edit it. I’m in theater, you know.”

“If you’ll let me continue for just five minutes,” Richard said, ignoring her, “I need someone to talk to. I grow weary of discussing my future with only my mother—and when she returns from work, she’s so exhausted… And besides, I’m really uncomfortable watching her dance at the restaurant.”

“I was born unusual,” he said.

“And remain so,” poked Gerzie.

Richard smiled. Good. Maybe she could talk him down from his ledge.

He continued. “My mother was of the belief that she wanted to have a child who was indestructible and would live—well, if not immortal, a lot longer than other humans do.”

“Isn’t that what every mother hopes?” said Gerzie.

Richard ignored her. “Here’s the heart of it. And I ask you to give a chance to get all the details before you reject.” His face darkened. “I hate it when people reject! How would they feel if I rejected them?”

His tone became increasingly hostile with each statement. Gerzie held out a hand. “Relax. No one’s gonna reject you. Have I kicked you out of my bathroom yet? No. So be cool.”

Richard sucked in a deep breath and replied dramatically, “Thank you. You are one of the good ones.”

He looked around the room. “Did you know,” he said, “that cockroaches have been on Earth for two hundred and fifty million years?”

Spooked, Gerzie also glanced about the room, wondering if some of Richard’s brothers and sisters were listening.

He asked, “Did you know a cockroach can live for three days without a head? It actually dies of thirst.”

Gerzie was speechless.

“And did you know,” Richard went on, “that cockroaches can survive under water for thirty minutes?”

Gerzie carefully reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Richard,” she said, “why are we talking about cockroaches?”

He straightened his shoulders, lifted his head and proudly declared, “Because I am one. At least half of me is.”

Gerzie looked at the window again. Even if she couldn’t yell out it, maybe she could crawl out of it.

“There!” Richard punctuated. “I said it. You see, many years ago, my mother wanted that child of promise and power. Having studied the cockroach for herself, she decided to mingle human semen with cockroach semen, and then shoot it into her body with a turkey baster.”

Gerzie was devoid of both thought and words. But for some reason, Richard decided to pause, waiting for her to reply.

Finally, Gerzie said, “Industrious…”

Pleased, Richard continued. “She wanted to find a scientist, a genius, a musical star to provide the seed for the human part, but none were available. So for the human sperm, she had sex with Mickey, who played at the piano bar. He was very talented and wrote songs. And not really knowing how to extract the semen from a cockroach, my mother advertised on Craig’s List, requesting a sample of cockroach semen. Strangely enough, she immediately got eight calls. It cost her three hundred and twenty dollars, but she got the stuff necessary to mix together semen from the cockroach and the piano man. She put it in the turkey baster, inserted—and squirted.”

Gerzie began to imagine what condition her body would be in when the police found it. She hoped she would still be clothed. It would be very embarrassing to have strange, New York cops staring at her tits and her v-space.

Fortunately, Richard seemed comforted by telling his story, so she decided it would be best to listen—careful not to appear cynical.

“It took three times,” he said gently, “but on the third time, it worked. She was pregnant with me. She was going to have the world’s first Huco—a human and a cockroach.”

Gerzie silently weighed her choices. She didn’t want to die—but she couldn’t stand for this fellow to be so ignorant. “Richard,” she said sweetly.

He interrupted. “Most people call me Roach Boy.”

“Would it be alright if I stayed with Richard?” she returned.

He nodded.

“Richard,” Gerzie purred, “I need to tell you something. Interspecies mating is not possible, even if by some reason you were able to get your hands on cockroach semen.”

Richard frowned. “But I am a cockroach.”

Gerzie nodded her head, and then asked, “How do you know you’re a cockroach?”

Richard pulled up the legs of his pants. “I’m very, very, very hairy,” he offered, showing her his limbs. “My arms are very long, and I have a strong inclination to crawl into small spaces. And…Oh, oh!” he stuttered. “Also—people scare me when they come into the room.”

Gerzie began to speak but Richard interrupted. “And did I mention? I will eat anything.”

Gerzie changed the subject. “So,” she said, “Roach Boy, is there a reason you crawled into my life today?”

“I’ve been watching you,” he replied.

“I was afraid of that,” moaned Gerzie.

“No, I have been,” said Richard, the Roach Boy. “And I wanted to give you the honor of being the mother of the second generation Huco.”

Gerzie squinted. “What is it you’re suggesting?”

Richard became very excited. “We need to continue to improve. Evolve!”

Gerzie held up her hands to stop him. “Richard, suddenly the word ‘we’ has come into the conversation. Roach Boy, there is no we. Just you, your mother and your hairy legs.”

Richard was undeterred. “I was just wondering if you would like to mate with me, and together we could make a more human example than I am, but still possess the attributes of the Huco inside my double-helix,” he proffered.

Gerzie was tired of it. “Listen,” she said wearily. “I’m very happy for your double helix. It’s always good to have a second one, just in case. But I’m not going to mate with anyone. I’m an actor. It’s difficult enough for me to mate with enough money to pay my bills. I don’t want to be the Mama of a Huco. I know that sounds strange to you. You think you’re offering the chance of a lifetime. But honestly, it’s a chance I will never take in my entire lifetime.”

Richard sat for a moment in the bathtub. He was disappointed. He breathed deeply, gathering strength. “Would you at least like to meet my mother?”

“No,” said Gerzie. “Bellies have always scared me. Even if they’re dancing.”

He followed up. “Would you like to go out to dinner at the Middle Feast with me?”

“No,” said Gerzie, “I think, Richard, that this is going to be just a single affair.”

Richard nodded his head, leaned forward and gave her a hug. Gerzie couldn’t help but think that it felt very much like a cockroach.

He climbed out of the tub, waddled the four steps to the front door and then spoke dramatically, as if offering a proclamation:

“One day, my dear, Hucos will rule the world for the next two hundred million years. I hope you won’t be sad because you were left out.”

Maneuvering toward the door, Gerzie replied, “I don’t think so—because I’ll be dead.”

Richard stuck his head out the door, looking right and left, and then gradually exited, first with his shoulders, then the trunk of his body, his waist and finally bringing out his legs. He scurried down the hallway, certainly resembling his filthy vermin kin.

Gerzie quickly shut the door.

An unbelievable experience. She wondered if he would return. But part of her knew that he would have to be out and about, seeking his mate.

She sat down to continue her musings when it occurred to her, “This would make a great movie. Or a play. I mean, what happened here might be very entertaining if you didn’t have to live through it yourself.”

She could even use her own name. Just think: Gerzie and Roach Boy.

It would draw people like flies. She laughed at her own cleverness.

She absolutely needed to write up a treatment—something she could pitch. Maybe she could play the part of the girl.

Yet…

She would certainly have to lose some weight, get a collagen injection in her lips, and practice the accent.

Iz and Pal (Bedouin Buddies)


Iz and Pal

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Sitting Four

It was nearly dusk when the aging patriarch stumbled upon the make-shift camp of the two escaped lads–one his son.

Early in midday, a bus-load of tourists had spied the site as they journeyed and had casually, almost jokingly, remarked upon their return, to the townspeople, about the two boys they saw perched in the desert.

In the early afternoon, Jubal’s father was contacted by friends who knew about his missing son. He decided to follow the directions and retrace the bus route, to see if he could locate his wayward lad.

While the father was climbing the hill, still a good distance away, Jubal recognized him. “It is my Pada,” he said to Amir.

“Pada?” asked Amir.

“My name for my father,” Jubal said nervously.

Amir patted his shoulder. “You knew he must come.”

Jubal replied, half laughing, but mostly terrified, “I was hoping it would be yours.”

Amir shook his head. “I don’t expect him. He would never pursue me in the desert.”

“But he loves you?” asked Jubal.

Amir rubbed his chin and said, “He knows he made me and he takes that quite seriously.”

Jubal gazed at his father, who was now close enough to make out facial features. “What am I going to do, Pal?”

Pal did not know. He said quietly, “We’ll just have to take it as it comes.”

Jubal’s father stopped about a dozen meters away from the camp and beckoned to his son. “Jubal! You will come here right now. Stop this nonsense and pray to God that I will find it in my heart to forgive you of your insolence.”

All the words collided and exploded in Jubal’s head. God. Forgive. Come. Here. Nonsense. And even though Jubal was not sure what “insolence” meant, the tone of voice told him that his father considered it a great sin. Jubal felt his muscles tighten. He jumped up instinctively, in a ritual of obedience, but Amir grabbed his arms, pulling him back to the ground.

The father continued with renewed vigor, stepping closer. “I am not speaking to the wind,” he bellowed. “I have told my son to come to my side and return with me—now.”

Jubal sat, fidgeting, heart racing, mouth dry and his hands shaking. Pada moved closer to him.

Amir spoke. “Dear sir, we mean no harm. We are just boys on a journey of sorts, enjoying each other and the beauty of nature.”

The older man snorted like a bull. “You are certainly right about the ‘boys’ part,” he spat. “And little boys do not belong in the wilderness. They should be close to home where they will be safe.”

Jubal winced. Memories flashed into his mind of arguments with this man, where logic and reason were soon replaced with insult, then intimidation. How many times had he cowered in fear? How many occasions had he nodded in agreement when his heart screamed dissent? How often had he felt the hand strike his cheek in anger as he recoiled, submitting?

Amir spoke again. “We will return when we return.”

The hulking presence advanced more quickly toward the lads. Iz and Pal interlocked their legs and arms, becoming one flesh.

With a final lunge, Iz’s father reared back and slapped his son. Pal squeezed closer to deflect some of the blows. Pada continued to smack his son over and over again, until he finally stepped back from exertion. The brutal insanity of the moment hung in the air with a frightful wheeze and a pending sob.

Iz screamed, “Pada, please stop hitting me!”

The old man, panting, replied, “You will come home with me.”

“I won’t. Not now,” said Iz.

Pada glared at him. “What are you trying to do?”

In a tearful voice, Iz replied, “I just want to be with my friend.”

Pada reached out to grab his arm. “You are embarrassing our family, and you, young man,” he said, turning to Pal, “you are a disgrace—leading my fine son astray. It is the way of the heathen.”

Iz screamed, “He is not a heathen! And he did not lead me astray. He is Pal, my friend, and I am Iz—his friend.”

Pada stopped pulling and demanded, “What is this Pal and Iz?”

Iz wanted to explain but as he looked into the unflinching, unyielding face of his father, he chose silence. The old man raised his hand once again to strike, and Pal leaped to his feet, holding the grenade in front of him. “Don’t touch us!”

Pada paused, gazing at the weapon in Pal’s hand, alarmed, but more amused and perplexed. “What’s that?” he asked scornfully.

Iz eased to his feet next to Pal and answered. “It is a grenade. I stole it from an Israeli soldier.”

Pada shook his head. “And what do you plan to do with it?”

Pal replied, “Nothing if you will stop beating us and leave us alone.” He choked back tears.

Pada struck another threatening pose. “I don’t have to leave my son alone, you little pagan.”

When Iz heard these words, he snatched the grenade from Pal’s hands and moved toward his father. Pada backed up in respect to the weapon. “You don’t even know how to use that, do you?” he challenged.

Iz chuckled. “And that would be a good thing?”

The father remained motionless, exchanging glances with Pal and Iz. “If you kill me, don’t you kill yourselves?”

Iz’s eyes filled with tears. “I haven’t lived long enough to miss life, but you—you are old and have many more memories to lose. Don’t test me, Pada. Everything I believe in is right here. I don’t know whether I’m right or wrong. I don’t care. I’ve found a friend. If I go with you, I will never have that friend again. If I stay here with him, all I lose is you.”

The old man peered at his son, not certain of the boy’s motives, but definitely convinced of the intensity of his emotions. He pointed a finger at Iz and threatened, “I will be back, with the police.”

Police? Iz and Pal hadn’t thought that far ahead. But now it was more than a boyish prank.

They just might have to decide whether they could live or die with their decision.

 

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Cracked 5…May 5th, 2015

 

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Ways the Police Department Can Improve Its Image

A. Don’t let your “arresting” personality “color” your judgment

 

B. Don’t “cop” out

 

C. Don’t sing “Bad Boys, Bad Boys” when walking through a park with happy families on a Saturday afternoon

 

D. Cut down on the number of people you kill

 

E. Do not donut

 

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Untotaled: Stepping 34 (March 19th, 1967) Water Buffalo … October 4, 2014

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(Transcript)

Jack Forrest was my friend.

He was one of those adolescent chums who I was sure would always be my next-door neighbor, as we borrowed lawn and garden tools from each other and swapped spares in the neighborhood bowling league.

We played football together until I quit early in the season–and sure enough, he also abandoned the sport in reverence and defiance. So I think he was a little confused when I returned to play basketball.

It was not an easy choice for me, either. I never wore shorts and because I was so large, the little tank-top jersey they provided was too tight and made my promising pecs appear to be burgeoning breasts.

But by the same token I was athletic. I was good enough to be a starter. So one afternoon, the Olentangy freshman basketball team came over to play us and Jack attended the game.

I was hoping to do well in this particular competition because I had secured the starting forward position, and I wanted to impress the coach. When I walked onto the court in all of my chubby glory, a young student from the Olentangy campus yelled out, “Hey, look! A water buffalo!”

There were some titters from the opposing faithful.

Even though I shouldn’t have, I looked around to see who was taunting me. There was this guy with a smirk on his face sitting right behind my buddy, Jack.

The coach whispered in my ear an exhortation to put it out of my mind and the game began.

But I didn’t put it out of my mind–especially when this fellow continued to call me a water buffalo and once even generated a “M-o-o-o-o!” in my direction. Honestly, the thing that crossed my mind was that I didn’t think the buffalo species “mooed.”

But being a kid, the insults affected me. I dribbled a ball off my foot, missed an easy lay-up and fouled the opposing team a couple of times in frustration. I found myself peering over at that screamer instead of paying attention to the game.

Jack just sat there quietly in front of him without moving a muscle.

All at once, when the fellow yelled out his most recent insult, Jack stood up, turned around and punched the kid in the nose. He didn’t knock him out, but the guy did bleed. Jack didn’t care. He just turned around, sat back down and watched the game.

It was amazing.

  • No one stopped the action.
  • No teacher jumped in and sent Jack off in hand-cuffs with the police.
  • And the fellow who had done all the yelling stopped his taunts, never filing a lawsuit.
  • Matter of fact, no one ever even talked to Jack about what he did, assuming it was a rite of passage between two young, emerging studs.

I finished the game free of interference and actually scored a couple of baskets.

After it was over, I thanked Jack for his assistance, but said it wasn’t necessary.

Jack replied, “I didn’t do it for you. His squawking made my ears hurt.”

I smiled–because I knew he did do it for me.

He was loyal. And even though loyalty can be misguided, it’s a pretty powerful thing to carry around … on your way to acquiring good sense.

 

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Brother’s Keeper… October 24, 2012

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Live from October 1st filming

Mary and Russell had five children.

I was the fourth intrusion. I do not characterize myself in that way to be mean-spirited. No human being is good at parenting. Even Adam and Eve were not “Abel” and ended up raising “Cain.”

Here’s the problem: By the time we figure out babies, they become toddlers. We graduate that phase, and suddenly they’re children. Just when we grasp the concept of childhood, they escape into the great tunnel of adolescence. Some brave souls actually try to follow them into that cave–and are never heard of again. The intelligent ones stand on the outside of the deep, dark hole, pray, cross their fingers and wait for their dear offspring to emerge about eight or nine years later.

Feel free to purchase books on the subject of raising children–although some piously insist that the term should be “rearing.” Your little darlings will be more than happy to dash all theories and bring to rubble great plans for household advancement.

So it was no different with Mary and Russell. Their particular skills were stuck somewhere between the McGuffie Reader and Dr. Benjamin Spock, causing them in their confusion to be too mean when compassion was required and too gentle when my four brothers and myself were desperate for discipline.

The only regrettable conclusion of this situation is that the five brothers grew up not particularly fond of each other. We were too competitive. We were too self-involved. We were too much of everything that is associated with the word “too.”

My oldest brother passed away before he and I were able to make peace with each other. Sad.

The third son and I made a truce which lasted until the day he died.

My younger sibling expresses affection in my direction, which is never followed up with any connection.

But Brother Number Two has become my project over the past twenty years. He was an intelligent, promising student many years ago, who had a vision for becoming a high school English teacher extraordinaire. He pulled it off for many years, but in the mid-1980’s he had a nervous breakdown and has lived on disability ever since.

I have great devotion for him. You notice I am careful not to call it “love.” To me, “love” is reserved for those excellent earthly moments when true connection is made between souls and an unearthly understanding of the universe unfolds.

No, I am devoted to him. For twenty years I have written him. For twenty years, I have visited every chance I can–whenever I get within a hundred miles. And every week I also receive a letter from him, ranging in tone from the kindness of mundane to the anger and virulence of vicious.

I endure.

So imagine my mixed emotions this week when I arrived in Central Ohio knowing that I needed to see him, but realizing that there was a reluctance in my heart to be confronted–especially at this time in my journey–with such a malevolent presence. I always have to remind myself that he strikes out at the world around him because he feels struck. But it’s not very comforting in the moment.

So I made a plan to pick him up at 9:15 yesterday morning, confirmed it with him by phone, and drove into his driveway to discover that his entire front yard had been transformed into a giant garage sale, strewn with trash and old junk. I thought to myself that at least we had a good topic for opening conversation. As previously agreed, I tapped my horn to let him know of my arrival.

There was no response.

My present physical condition does not permit me to leap from the van and go to the door to pound upon it with urgency. So I waited five minutes and tapped my horn again. Nothing.

My mind flashed back to the last three times I tried to connect with this dear brother, and had been stood up by him with a nasty letter from him following, explaining that it was my fault that he didn’t appear because he knew deep in his heart that I don’t really care anything about him.

So I started to wonder how long I planned to stay in his driveway, tapping my horn, before leaving with the realization that once again I was to be viewed as the ugly girl at the junior prom.

Yet I persisted. After five horn beeps and twenty-five minutes, he appeared sleepily at the door and told me he would be right out. Ten minutes later, I was rewarded for my perseverance by the appearance of my brother at the side of my van, and we were off.

The next two hours that I spent with him are a study in human behavior and an exploration into the definitions of feeling helpless. For you see, the reason his front yard has been turned into a flea market is that he has allowed two vagabond young men to come in and live in his home, and they have completely taken over his abode, and are beginning to fight with him to such an extent that the police have actually had to be called to the scene.

I resisted running away in horror.

He explained to me that these same individuals have chased away his beloved cats, which are really his only family, leaving him without feline protection. One of these young intruders has also brought a homeless man into the house to stay, further complicating the chemistry brewing in the cauldron.

Then my brother explained to me that he is trying to evict one of the squatters, while said squatter is also taking him to court for reimbursement on construction supplies that the young fellow purchased to build in a living quarters–for himself–on the back porch. (Now, I realize that all of this is very confusing when written into a story form, but let me comfort you by telling you that it was no easier to understand in the original telling.)

My dear brother had no trouble whatsoever filling in 129 minutes of conversation on his own, only once asking about my doings, in passing. He has a life that is full … without having a full life.

You see, it’s what happens to all of us when we don’t decide the purpose for our breathing and moving; circumstance and crazy travelers can come in and fill in our empty space with their own trauma and terror.

This is why I pity grown people who make their children their lives. Your seed will be more than willing to destroy your garden of hopes. I am always careful to warn those who have retired to start a second career, finding a reason to get up in the morning. Otherwise, all of the insanity of the world will crash in on you, exhausting you with its nuttiness without ever granting you fruit.

My brother was exhausted but had nothing to show for it but sadness, exasperation, apprehension and defeat. They had broken his television set, taken his car and left him desolate. And because it appears that he has given these things over to them, it is impossible to prosecute the perpetrators.

I was so depleted. I remembered the lament of an exasperated brother from thousands of years ago: Am I my brother’s keeper?

It’s so easy to walk away from insanity and allow it to be turned over to the general asylum. You can disassociate yourself from it so easily, returning to your own peaceful ways.

But he is my brother. He would be my brother if we had not shared a common womb, because we share a common God.

I did my best to encourage. I did my best to bless. I did my best to promise him that I would return again very soon to renew our conversation. I did my best to give him some money so he could spend it on himself instead of squandering it on his emotional assailants.

I did my best not to cry.

Mary and Russell did their best, too. But like many of those born after the Garden, they grew some weeds. It is now the job of those stray children to find one another and make some sense of it all.

I am my brother’s keeper. It’s just that sometimes the most difficult part of caretaking … is cleaning up.

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