YOU CAN’T DIVORCE YOUR BROTHER—Karen Uffelman
YOU CAN’T DIVORCE YOUR BROTHER
“Can you come by the house tonight?”
“What? Dad, it’s 10:30. I almost didn’t pick up the phone.”
“Yeah. Well, there’s kind of an emergency.”
My dad’s voice starts to crack and I feel my stomach clench.
“What’s happened? Is Mom okay?”
“Yeah. Actually, no. I’ll tell you about it when you get here.”
I must be imagining it but it sounds like my dad is starting to cry.
“I’ll see you soon.”
The dial tone hums.
I change my pajama pants for a pair of jeans and pull on Darren’s hoodie.
Darren looks up from the television, “Who was that, calling so late, and where are you going?”
“It was my dad. I’m going over there.”
Darren raises an eyebrow.
“Do you need company?”
“Nah, it’s probably my mom having a panic attack or something.”
Darren is not a big fan of my folks, or my family in general. So it says something that he’s offering to accompany me. I must look terrified. And normally I would jump on an offer like this from Darren except that my relationship with him isn’t up to dealing with anything serious, and my dad’s voice sounds, well, serious.
Darren settles back into the couch and I’m digging through my bag for the car keys in the entryway when he calls to me.
“Lauren, your folks live in Shoreline, right?”
“Yeah, it’s going to take me a half hour to get there.”
“And isn’t their house white?”
“What? Why do you ask?”
“I think there’s a police raid happening at your parent’s house…I think I see your brother on the television…Lauren, I think the police are arresting your brother.”
I walk back to the living room and see a grainy shot of my brother in a t-shirt and boxer shorts as he’s pushed into a squad car. My mother is sobbing on the front stairs.
Oh my god.
“Darren, I’ll call you okay?”
“Look, let me go with you.”
It might have been a genuine offer but I’m already out the door.
My car keys are miraculously in the side pocket of my bag. I locate them as I’m running in my flip-flops across the flooding car park and jam them into the door lock.
Jeremiah, I think, Jeremiah. What have you done?
There’s not much traffic, but it’s been pouring all day and I try to avoid the standing water on the freeway. My windshield wipers should have been replaced several times over, and it’s tough to see.
My little brother, Jeremiah, has been needy and irritating and a little bit off for a long time. I can’t say that I’m surprised he’s had a run in with the law. I used to say that I wanted to divorce him, and my mom would quip, “You can’t divorce your brother!”
He’s been living with my folks for the last year because he doesn’t have a job and is broke – maybe he held up a convenience store or stole a car. But that idea doesn’t fit with the tone of my dad’s tone earlier on the phone.
My car hydroplanes and I almost hit the guardrail on the off ramp.
I slow way down, reminding myself that what waits for me is definitely not a happy situation.
I finally pull into the driveway. There’s no sign of police, now, but all of the lights are on in my folks’ house as well as in some of the neighbors’ houses. I see curtains part next door and know people are watching me get out of my car and walk up to the front door.
Jeremiah was a sweet but overactive little kid, desperate to be noticed. The kind of child that you meet as an adult and know needs attention, but as a sibling he drove me crazy and I avoided him. He so wanted to be liked. He’d offer up his toys to get other kids to play with him and he told the kind of tall tales that invite bullying. He got beat up a lot. When he was 12 he brought a gun to school for self-defense, and bragged about it to the wrong friend (or maybe the right one, who knows). It was about the time that school officials started to get tough on guns, even play guns (although the gun Jeremiah had was very real, borrowed from my dad’s gun locker), and my little brother was suspended for an entire year.
My mom and dad were both working a collection of jobs to make ends meet, and didn’t have the resources or patience to deal with my brother. No school in the school district would take him and we couldn’t afford private school. Jeremiah was left alone at home for the entire school year. He became obsessed with a particularly violent video game and played it at all hours. A family friend sometimes came by, and there was an older neighbor with an X-box that Jeremiah would visit, but that was it for supervision. Something happened that year, I think we all sensed it, but no one had the time or energy to figure out exactly what was going on. Jeremiah became secretive, withdrawn, hardened somehow.
“They took our computer,” my mom blubbers.
“They took our computer, they thought he might have pictures on our computer. He’s never even used our computer. He had his own. He had his own computer. I tried to tell them.”
“What are you talking about Mom?”
I look around. The house has been trashed. I look at my dad and he opens his hands. He has clearly been crying.
“What’s happened here?”
The year my brother turned 14 he returned to school a different boy. Big now, for his grade, since he’d missed a year of school, and no longer a target for bullies. Now he was the bully. But a careful one. He was never caught, but I knew he had a racket with some of the younger kids. Made them give him lunch money and whatnot. Do his bidding. Jeremiah was bright, but after the year out of school his grades went in the toilet. And except for ruling his “little minions” – the younger kids he had in his thrall – and playing video games with the older neighbor down the street, he wasn’t very social.
Jeremiah was my mom’s favorite child. She made excuses for his poor school performance, and let him do whatever he wanted. She turned a blind eye to his late night gaming and the fact that he didn’t have friends his own age. My dad barked a little, but was mostly too exhausted to parent. By that point I was trying to become my own person, was ready to divorce my entire family, not just Jeremiah, and I didn’t do anything to help him. Or stop him. And now we all get to pay the price.
“They say Jeremiah is part of a child pornography ring…”
My father’s face is ashen and his voice drops off as he finishes his sentence.
“They’ve taken everything out of his room. All of the computers in the house. His arraignment is on Friday. They say he will be charged with production and distribution. They say…they say they have all the evidence they need for a conviction…” My father sits down in a chair and buries his face in his hands. My mom is still sobbing.
The news makes my head hurt. It is shocking, but somehow not surprising. I look at my parents. They seem so old and pathetic, so unlikely to produce a criminal deviant. There’s a framed poster on the wall and I can see my reflection in the glass. That’s what the sister of a monster looks like, I think. What has happened to my poor little brother? Did we make him into what he is?
“I have to make a phone call.”
I retreat to the kitchen and dial Darren’s number.
“Hey – is everything okay? Did the police really arrest your brother?”
“Yeah. Yeah they did.”
“So I’m going to stay here tonight.”
“Okay. Yeah, of course.”
I hang up, thinking Darren would be a waste if you only had one phone call to make.
I sit at the table and put my head down. My dad comes into the kitchen and says, “They said we can go and see him tomorrow. Will you come with me? Your mom doesn’t think she can.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll go.”
Because you can’t divorce your brother.