A little sister’s tribute to her big brother
How do you capture the love you have for someone in words? Really convey what that person has meant to you and your life in all its form and complexities?
Our family is not the traditional family. Somehow over the years we managed to let it fall apart, let the bonds that connected us wither for reasons no longer clear until our most immediate remembrances are decades old. Arguments or conflicts become ghosts, rattling around in our heads.
Time is not kind.
My brother hates social media. And is a paranoid conspiracy theorist. A trifecta that ensures he would hate what I’m about to do, which is to share some sad news.
Last week, while crossing the street in Rio de Janeiro on his way into work, he was hit. My mother and I received the news only yesterday. We also learned that he does not appear to have any brain activity.
I have been in touch with his boyfriend who we hope will be allowed to make medical decisions and let Scott go when the time comes. We also want him to stay in the country he chose to make his home. We can’t travel to Brazil, but take comfort in that Scott has not been alone and is loved.
Scott is seven years older than me, which meant that I was a pain in the ass during the years he probably most didn’t appreciate it. I snooped in his room, tried to read his diaries and letters (thwarted by his affinity for correspondence in Russian, French, and Spanish), followed him around like a puppy, and ratted out his pot stash — a stash he convinced our mother was Oregano used in his Dartmouth dorm room for cooking.
I visited him at college with my parents and at times alone when he was in Boston – many of those times when my parents thought I was in school. He sent me his college reading lists, introducing me to Henry James, Kurt Vonnegut, and Tom Robbins and shared a love (albeit brief) of Kajagoogoo (which he would deny), Bugs Bunny in drag, and Edith Bunker. He read me Lolita when I was 10, a memory that is still strong for both the story and my parents’ reaction to it, thus teaching me the power of words.
Our visits were increasingly infrequent as he got older and came out to our parents – a wedge in the early 80s that turned into an everlasting bruise. It seems like I spent years trying to find him when he’d fall off the map, writing letters to old boyfriends whose addresses I’d glean from snooping. When I tried to kill myself at 15 with pills and was hospitalized, he reached out in a way that only he could, calling the phone on the unit and asking exactly when I turned into Liza Minnelli.
As a teenager, I would run away from Plymouth and travel to see him in NYC where he introduced me to underage drinking, the old Times Square, epic nightclubs, sushi, The Village Voice, the Halloween parade, East Village, and gay bars. Lots and lots of gay bars. And lots and lots of young and beautiful men, many of whom were getting sick. He got me high for the first time in Limelight and then forced me to walk through Washington Sq. Park while carefully explaining my paranoia to me. “What are they teaching you in health class?!” he yelled when I confused the effects of angel dust with marijuana.
Once he fashioned himself an intellectual expat, I saw him even less save for the occasional visit in NYC, DC, or Miami — a Thanksgiving we spent together with our mother in the latter locale memorable for both the live lobsters he dumped out on the kitchen floor to determine if they were in fact alive and the dinner party that featured more pot and men wearing white than it did food.
Throughout the years he was always in touch by email, though sporadically. He’d send his latest conspiracy theories, talk politics, or just send an interesting news or video clip. He knew everything about everything. Really. On occasion, he’d also connect me to his friends, like an old college friend who hosted me on trips to London, allowing me to peek at his life outside of our family and the people who were now in it. The consensus always being that he was a brilliant pain in the ass, but undoubtably one of a kind.
Scott isn’t easy to love. He isn’t traditional. He has his own ideas about behavior and niceties and likes to push the boundaries on both. He can be callous and rude and bone shatteringly insensitive, but he is also the most interesting and brilliant person I’ve ever known. He never stopped being curious, never stopped questioning how things worked or why. But most importantly, he is my big brother and my only sibling.
As a young person, he saved me over and over when I thought life was meaningless, showing me a world that existed outside of a small town with small ideas and beliefs. And while it wasn’t always pretty, he showed me “the real world” by lifting the veil and I’ve always been grateful. That he spent twenty plus years battling AIDS only to be hit by a bus seems like a cruel joke.
When our dad was dying two years ago, I reached out to him via email, while I sat in the hospital. I wanted to give him the opportunity to say goodbye. More emotional than he thought he’d be, he drafted something for me read to our unconscious father. For that moment and with that experience, it was the closest I’d been to him in years. The closest the three of us had been in decades. It wouldn’t last, but I’m happy for the moment all the same.
Throughout yesterday and today I’ve talked to people close to Scott. Some that have only known him for a few years and others from the early 80s. The stories are all the same: he is a genius and an insufferable pain in the ass. He is also much loved and will be greatly missed.